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Teen With Cerebral Palsy Inspires Nike to Design Zip-Around Sneakers for the Disabled

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With its latest sneaker launch, Nike is once again tapping into its pioneering design pipeline and appealing to the human aspects of athleticism -- a branding strategy that has helped make it the most beloved sportswear brand on the planet.

When the company’s first employee, Jeff Johnson, had a stroke and lost functionality on the right side of his body in 2004, CEO Mark Parker initially began brainstorming about a laceless shoe for easier entry and exit.

After the idea was set into motion, Nike received a letter on social media in 2012 from Matthew Walzer -- a then-16-year-old Florida high school student with cerebral palsy. “Cerebral palsy stiffens the muscles in the body,” Walzer wrote. “As a result I have flexibility in only one of my hands, which makes it impossible for me to tie my shoes.”

Related: Nike's Instagram Videos Have Helped Boost Following by Over 200 Percent

“I started thinking about doors on a hinge,” said Nike design guru Tobie Hatfield of his approach to designing what would ultimately become the Nike Flyease -- a basketball shoe constructed with a zipper around its ankle that can peel away for easier access.

After sending Walzer a prototype in 2012, Hatfield continued to work directly with Walzer to perfect the design, knowing that such a shoe could be helpful to untold masses. And now, Nike is selling the finished product on its website, the $130 Lebron Zoom Soldier VIII Flyease.

What’s more entrepreneurial than tackling a pervasive, unsolved problem through innovative design? “When we say, ‘If you have a body, you’re an athlete,’” Hatfield said, referring to Nike founder Bill Bowerman’s famous quote, “that means everybody.”

Related: This Program Wants to Help People With Disabilities Become Entrepreneurs

Edition: December 2016

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