With the complex challenges facing businesses today, it’s not uncommon for them to go beyond company walls in search of real-world solutions. Now, one company is opening its doors to all types of innovators from different walks of life to create a product that meets the needs of a diverse set of consumers.
Two years ago, Nike launched the FlyeEase shoe, designed in collaboration with high schooler Matthew Walzer, a Nike fanatic with cerebral palsy, who had written to Nike describing the difficulties of putting on traditional athletic shoes. Since then, the company has worked to expand their footwear line for all athletes. In 2016, the company decided to invite non-employees to the design table by announcing the Nike Ease Challenge. The contest asked designers, engineers and innovators to advance and reinvent footwear designs for athletes of all abilities. The winning shoe designer would receive $50,000 and the chance to see their design come to life. In April, a judging panel that included Nike CEO Mark Parker, Olympian Carl Lewis and Paralympic medalist Tatyana McFadden picked a winner. Nike received submissions from people with a wide range of backgrounds from all corners of the United States, but the stand-out participant was Brett Drake, an architectural engineer from Cheyenne, Wyoming who used powerful, lightweight magnets in the heel of the shoe which simplified the processes of putting on and taking off the shoe—he was named the winner of the challenge. For Nike, the program was more than an innovation challenge; it helped the brand become more inclusive overall. “It wasn’t just about designing a new shoe, we wanted a big idea that would accelerate footwear innovation in a way that makes the seemingly impossible possible for athletes of all abilities,” said Jeanine Hayes, Nike’s Chief IP Officer.
With so many companies focusing on inclusion and acceptance in recent months, Nike was able to take its message of acceptance to the next level. Nike engaged consumers by inviting them to make a real impact alongside the brand by not only entertaining a concept, but bringing the idea to market.