Sneaker companies are at a constant battle to find the most comfortable ride for it consumers. While the progression in footwear technology is commonly geared towards athletic performance, many pairs are now seen as a lifestyle sneaker.
Cushioning technology such as Air, BOOST and Gel are now household names. However, brands are all embracing energy returning foam as the new approach to cushioned rides. Under Armour have HOVR, Puma have Ignite and Nike have added React to it assortment. The best? I am not quite sure but its clear to see brands will be investing heavily into chemical engineering for the prolonged future.
Let’s take a look each brands leading foam technology.
Under Armour – HOVR
2018 saw the launched of Under Armours HOVR technology to the race to find the most responsive stride. While Adidas teamed up with BASF to create BOOST, Under Armour paired with one of the biggest chemical companies in the world, Dow Chemical. This relationship offered the company to research new materals which eventually lead to the invention of HOVR.
"UA HOVR™ technology provides 'zero-gravity feel' to maintain energy return that helps eliminate impact step after step"
The result, a 3 tier structure to maximise energy return whilst providing a robust stride. Layer 1 includes the HOVR foam, however it requires the 'Energy Web' in layer two to utilised its energy return property. The web like structure wraps around the foam to prevent losing shape. The third ensures the sole is long-lasting as it is soft and light. A rubber sole encases the energy web to add grip and robustness to the whole structure.
Dave Dombrow, Under Armour’s Chief Design Officer explains, “the development of UA HOVR was inspired by the insight that every step a runner takes has the impact of 2-4x their body weight, holding them down. When designing UA HOVR, we set out to create the perfect combination of cushioning plus responsiveness and energy return –to essentially lift you up"
Adidas – Boost
Boost undoubtedly changed Adidas’s trajectory. The 2013 release, alongside the co-sign and collection of Kanye West, saw Adidas propel once gain to be a worthy competitor to market leader Nike. Made with international chemical company BASF, BOOST is created from a process used in the automotive industry that blows pellets together using high pressure steam. The product is a energy capsule that has unriviled energy return alongside resitance to varying temperatures and increased durability.
“With their unique cell structure, these energy capsules provide soft, lightweight cushioning that help store and unleash energy more efficiently in every step,”
Puma – Ignite
IGNITE - "cushioning foam that disperses impact while providing responsiveness and energy return."
Introduced in 2015, Puma stated its IGNITE technology offered runners a more flexible and lightweight trainer that gives extra rebound and comfort to increase performance. Co-signed by Jamaican athlete Usain Bolt, the new foam consists of a polyurethane blend that is stated to have superior energy return compared to the previous EVA soles. Coupled with Puma’s ForEvaFoam placed underneath the IGNITE midsole, the ultra durable compound ensures long lasting performance.
2017 saw the cross-over of the performance trainer to lifestyle with the release of the IGNITE Limitless. The Run The Street campaign led by brand ambassador 'The Weekend', capitalised on the trend for performance technology for everyday use.
New Balance – Fresh Foam
In the mid 80’s it was ENCAP technology, 90s ABZORB, 2011 saw REVlite and 2014 saw the release of their refined Fresh Foam technology. Making use of technological advancements, New balance were able to alter the properties of the EVA-based foam to produce a stable yet springy material. The raw material is then injection-moulded through a heat process to a 3D mould that is shaped to produce altering levels of compression and resistance in impact to maximise compression and energy return.
New Balance promote that Fresh Foam displays the development in engineering, fusing scientific calculations with geometrics and shapes. Further advancements were made in 2018 when the LAZR released. While the technology remained similar, the foam was laser-cut from a single piece of foam which provides a more lush and natural ride.
Asics – FuzeGel
Debuted in 1986, the Asics Gel has been has been a staple part of the companies strategy. Made of soft elastomer encased in a solid outer layer, Asics states Gel weighs approximately half of EVA foam with 10% more resiliency and 20% more shock absorption. In 2016, Gel was fused with a new FlyteFoam design which used nanofibers between air bubbles to create a lighter yet more durable product.
Nike – React
Progressing from their popular Lunarlon that combined durability, flexibility and was incredibly light weight, Nike searched for a way of maintain those quality but adding more energy return. Their answer React technology.
Devised by Nike’s in-house team of chemical scientist, an entirely new synthetic rubber was born. Initially manufactured for basketball players, it was a no-brainer that the material then was utilised on running shoes and ultimately to the street. 30% lighter than BOOST, Nike aimed to regain it’s market share that was lost to Adidas’s leading technology. Fused with sleek designs, releases including the Epic React and React element caught the attention of consumers globally and became instant hits in the market.