How the Nike Go FlyEase turned the adaptive fashion world upside down
Louie Lingard is a sneakerhead. He’s been one, he says, for years – New Balance, Reebok, Adidas, he loves them all, although Nike is his favorite.
But despite his interest, the 19-year-old is missing one thing: access.
âIt’s really the struggleâ¦ just finding something that fits orthopedics,â he says.
Lingard suffers from arthrogryposis, a condition that limits joint mobility and causes muscle weakness. This makes it difficult to find the right size shoes, as does maneuvering them around the suspenders he is wearing on his legs.
These difficulties, Lingard said, are not uncommon for people with disabilities. So when Nike announced the release of the latest version of its FlyEase shoe – which allows the wearer to put it on without bending over or even using their arms – he knew he needed a pair.
But although the Go FlyEase was touted by Sarah Reinersten, design director, as a shoe “for everyone,” Lingard said, it seems the opposite is true. While the shoe could have done the disabled community the most good, it was released in limited quantities and picked up by dealers.
âI was very happy to see them add that inclusiveness to their shoes,â he said. “It was huge for me. And it was really a big disappointment when I saw the way it turned out.”
Lingard quickly turned to TikTok to post about the irony of an accessible shoe becoming inaccessible to the community that would benefit the most. In the video, which quickly went viral, he explained how difficult it is for people with real mobility issues to acquire the shoe.
And in an interview with CBC, he and others explained how the situation highlights issues unique to the adaptive fashion industry – and the people who depend on it.
WATCH | Fan of TikTok sneakers disappointed with Nike’s deployment of accessible shoes:
“ Truly universal ”, but sold for US $ 500
Adaptive fashion involves designing clothing for people with reduced mobility, reduced mobility or other disabilities.
In announcing the Go FlyEase, Nike did not use the word “disabled” or specifically market to the community – despite the fact that it was originally designed with them in mind.
âThe original concept around the shoe was to better support our adaptive athletes,â designer Haley Toelle said in a press video announcing the shoe’s release. “We quickly saw, throughout the process, that the shoe was truly universal.”
And the first version of the FlyEase, which still required the wearer to use a zipper on the back of the shoe, was specifically inspired by Matthew Walzer. Walzer, a student athlete, had difficulty tying shoes because, due to cerebral palsy, he only had flexibility in one hand.
WATCH | What is behind the Nike Go FlyEase design:
But, Lingard said, the current iteration of the shoe has strayed from its origins. By treating the shoe the same way Nike treats its other versions, prices have skyrocketed with the only pairs available now costing over US $ 500.
Releasing limited supply of shoes to gauge interest – or stimulate demand – is not a one-size-fits-all strategy. Lingard said many shoe companies are using similar techniques when introducing a new line, including Nike.
He says that shouldn’t have been the strategy here.
“I think with the shoe they should have been held to a higher standard knowing that people could benefit from it.”
That’s because, whatever Nike calls it, Lingard has said the shoe is an example of adaptive fashion.
In a statement to CBC News, a Nike spokesperson said the response to Go FlyEase had been “overwhelmingly positive” even though “overwhelming demand” kept them from widely distributing the shoe.
The spokesperson said more units would be available later this year, and pointed to other shoes from the FlyEase collection currently available on their website. These other shoes – such as the Air Max 90 and Revolution 5 – feature adaptive designs like foldable heels and zippers, but lack the “tensioner” that secures the Go FlyEase to the wearer’s foot.
Booming world of adaptive fashion
Like Lingard, Canadian fashion designer Izzy Camilleri was disappointed with Nike’s rollout, but believes there is a silver lining to the shoe’s introduction.
Camilleri, who has designed wardrobes for names like David Bowie, Angelina Jolie, Daniel Radcliffe and Meryl Streep, switched from haute couture to tailored clothing in 2005 after Toronto Star reporter Barbara Turnbull asked her to design outfits that she could wear while working in a wheelchair.
People who use a wheelchair, Camilleri explained, may have different clothing design requirements – whether they are easier to put on or simply fall in a manner that is comfortable to wear while seated.
But despite the fact that the global adaptive fashion and clothing market could reach $ 349.9 billion by 2023 according to research and consulting firm Coresight Research, Camilleri said most people didn’t even know it exists.
âEven the people who need it don’t even realize the options that are there,â Camilleri said. “So there is this educational component that we have to constantly work on.”
On top of that, Camilleri said, there are additional barriers to advertising suitable clothing.
In 2018, suspected advertisers from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development used Facebook’s advertising platform to illegally restrict users who receive housing-related ads, including people with disabilities. Soon after, Facebook removed more than 5,000 targeting options to help prevent abuse and also demanded that all advertisers adhere to their non-discrimination policy.
Since then, adaptive fashion retailers – including Camilleri – have declared their ads can be identified as discriminatory simply to target people with disabilities or show medical devices.
âWhen we put up posts, they’re constantly deleted until we’re right,â Camilleri said.
This can prevent them from reaching customers and making people realize that adaptive fashion even exists.
So while ads that marketed the Go FlyEase specifically as an adaptive mode would have been ideal, Marketing for Everyone can increase knowledge about it – which could strengthen the field, Camilleri said.
âMaybe Nike could have approached it differently, but the whole accessible and adaptive market is still young,â she said. “And it’s really hard. It’s really, really, really hard.”
Gradual and widespread change
As the market is young, more and more big brands are making inroads into it. With Nike, Tommy Hilfiger offers a complete and adaptive collection, just like the American shoe and clothing retailer Zappos.
Christina Mallon – brand director of Open Style Lab, a nonprofit that helps design adaptive fashion for people with disabilities – said she applauds all brands that embrace adaptive fashion, including Nike.
At the age of 22, Mallon’s arms became paralyzed due to motor neuron disease. She said that since then she has had to find creative ways to accomplish seemingly simple tasks because “the world was not created with people with disabilities in mind.”
So to see the gradual shift in adaptive fashion become more mainstream, she says, is heartwarming. Fashion has ignored the issues people with disabilities face every day, she said, so seeing technology like Go FlyEase marketed as an option for everyone might suggest a more general change.
âPeople don’t understand how hard buttons are on people with limited dexterity,â Mallon said as an example. But why are the buttons always the same? Why can’t buttons just be magnets? â¦ I think designers need to ask these questions. “
Still, she said that the fact that the Go FlyEase sold out so quickly – and, probably, not to people with disabilities – is cause for concern. In the future, they could correct this error by giving first-time access to replenishments to nonprofits that represent people with disabilities, or open-source shoe technology so people can create it themselves.
Whatever happens with this shoe, adapting the world to make it more accessible is vital, says Mallon. Because whatever your current level of mobility is, that’s likely to change over time.
âEvery person will become disabled at some point in their life,â Mallon said. “So even if you don’t care about people with disabilities, you will become disabled at some point in your life, so you should care.”