Nike is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and it’s doing so while keeping the next 50 years in mind. In keeping with its sustainability goals, the company has debuted Nike Forward, the brand’s most significant apparel innovation since Dri-Fit. Using punch-needle machines, the line moves away from traditional knit and woven processes to rethink fleece and produce “a completely new material that drastically reduces its carbon footprint,” Carmen Zolman, VP Innovation Apparel Design at Nike, said in a release.
More than five years of research went into the development of Nike Forward, which ultimately seeks to reduce the number of steps in material fabrication. Rather than follow a multistage creation cycle — which includes spinning yarn, knitting, cutting, sewing, and more — Nike Forward connects multiple thin layers using a needle punching process, tangling them together to create the fabric. The simplified procedure significantly reduces energy consumption, du carbon emissions by an average of 75 percent compared to traditional Nike fleece. Nike Forward material also has a lighter density than its traditional counterpart, and the finished product is comprised of 70 percent recycled content by weight.
The future of fleece — Appropriately, the first styles to boast Nike Forward material are the brand’s beloved gray fleece sweatshirts. The garments flaunt a (figuratively) greener look and lighter feel while still meeting Nike’s Therma-FIT ADV technology standards to offer warmth without added weight. Keeping in line with Nike Forward’s sustainable ethos, the sweatshirts forgo embellishments and dyes, instead favoring raw cut pockets and zero water usage.
“As part of our commitment to serve athletes by offering more sustainable options and meeting our bold, science-based impact targets, we’re introducing a material innovation that can be adapted to different lifestyle and performance purposes,” Seana Hannah, Nike’s VP Sustainable Innovation, said in a release. While Nike Forward material will first appear through the brand’s fleece sweatshirts, the innovative process can be applied to a diverse range of materials — including industrial and post-consumer waste — and can be precisely tuned for athlete needs.
“We believe this platform has the potential to reset the way we think about material and apparel,” Aaron Heiser, Nike’s VP Global Apparel Product Merchandising, said. “This is the biggest Nike apparel innovation since Dri-Fit 30 years ago and has huge potential to transform the industry in the way that Air and Flyknit did for Nike footwear.”
Circularity is key — Nike has maintained that protecting the future of sport means protecting the planet, and its Nike Forward process is one of many steps towards circularity. All products featuring its punch-needle material are made without zippers, aglets, or extra trims, making it easier for the garments to be recycled.
Customers can shop Nike Forward hoodies and crewneck sweatshirts on September 15 at Nike’s website. A price has yet to be announced for the sustainability-focused styles, but here’s hoping they’re accessible to all kinds of athletes.