The new Nike Flyleather Tennis Classic

The new Nike Flyleather Tennis Classic

US sporting goods giant Nike has unveiled a new "super material" – made with at least 50% recycled natural leather fibre and water power – that it says has the potential to be as "game-changing" as its Flyknit technology for performance footwear.

Five times stronger than traditional leather (based on abrasion testing) and 40% lighter, Nike Flyleather is said to be the company's lowest-ever carbon-footprint leather material.

During a typical leather manufacturing process, up to 30% of a cow's hide is discarded and often ends up in a landfill. To reduce this waste, Nike gathers the discarded leather scraps from the floor of tanneries and turns them into fibres. These recycled leather fibres are then combined with synthetic fibres and a fabric infrastructure via a hydro process with a force so strong it fuses everything into one material.

The material then goes through a finishing process, which can include things like pigmentation, and is completed by being put on a roll to be cut.

"The earth is the athlete's biggest playground, so one of our greatest opportunities is to create breakthrough products while protecting our planet," says Hannah Jones, Nike chief sustainability officer and vice president of the Innovation Accelerator. "Nike Flyleather is an important step toward ensuring athletes always have a place to enjoy sport."

While leather is featured across many of Nike's iconic footwear styles, it has the second-highest environmental impact on the company's carbon emissions and water usage. But the retailer says Flyleather can change that.

According to Nike, there are three reasons why Flyleather is its most sustainable leather material:

  • Creating it uses 90% less water and has an 80% lower carbon footprint than traditional leather manufacturing;
  • A pair of Nike Flyleather shoes has about half the carbon footprint compared to shoes made with traditional leather;
  • Because Nike Flyleather is produced on a roll, it improves cutting efficiency and creates less waste than traditional cut-and-sew methods for full-grain leather.

The new "super material" also has the potential to reinvent leather-like materials into performance footwear. Many performance football and basketball shoes used to be made out of leather, but over time it has been replaced with other lighter, stronger, performance-engineered materials. This could be reversed by Nike Flyleather.

"Similar to what Nike Flyknit did for knit, Nike Flyleather can do for leather," explains John Hoke, Nike chief design officer.

"Similar to what Nike Flyknit did for knit, Nike Flyleather can do for leather," explains John Hoke, Nike chief design officer. "New technologies and platforms allow us to get closer to working at the molecular level. Flyleather is the latest example of this, and is particularly exciting because it allows for increased potential to extend our craft with more precision. This means opportunity for greater strength, support, elasticity and so on, based on the needs of specific sports."

Meanwhile, Tony Bignell, Nike vice president of footwear innovation, says the discovery goes beyond the leather category. "Nike Flyleather completely mimics athletic, pigmented full-grain leathers in everything from fit to touch," he explains. "Unlike with traditional leathers, Flyleather can be produced with a consistent grade across a broader range of product.

"By opening up the possibilities to engineer performance leather, we are creating a new conversation across performance categories to include materials that have otherwise been retired from the options list for products such as footwear, apparel and equipment."

The very first product to feature Nike Flyleather, the Nike Flyleather Tennis Classic, a distinctive, all-white version of the premium court shoe, is available from today (18 September) online and at the Nike SoHo store, NikeLab 21 Mercer and Dover Street Market in New York City.

Nike has also created limited editions of the next generation Nike Flyleather footwear – versions of the Air Force 1, Air Max 90, Cortez, Jordan 1, and Tennis Classic— that are made in Oregon and will be seen in New York during Climate Week NYC.

Last week, the sporting goods giant launched a new initiative that merges digital design with traditional footwear making, allowing select customers to see how custom shoes are designed and manufactured.

Nike promises custom shoes in less than 90 minutes

Nike Flyknit, which debuted at the 2012 London Olympic Games with the Nike Flyknit Racer, is a digitally engineered knitting process best known for its role in lightweight, formfitting and virtually seamless shoe uppers. Nike recently unveiled the first apparel innovation utilising the technology in what it said is a "new generation" of sports bras.

Nike unveils "new generation" Flyknit sports bra