Adidas finds sole in science
It looks like a ricecracker that’s been sprinkled with tiny white dragées, or a particularly outlandish form of polystyrene, but the bubbly, bouncy new adidas Boost foam is, according to the brand’s Head of Innovation Bernd Wahler, a change to running shoes “that only comes about every thirty years.”
In New York on the 13th of February, international media, athletes and a coterie of celebrities were treated to a presentation that was part tech launch and part pep rally.
This seemingly unusual combination of features makes sense given the context of the launch. The Boost foam project has been in development for three years, and as the brand’s Creative Director of Sports Performance explained, the marketing and design team of the international sportswear brand were on deck from the very beginning, adding jazz hands to what has been, in essence, a science project. Developed to compete with Nike's lightweight EVA+ Lunar foam technology, Boost is a trademarked innovation by adidas that the brand claim "changes everything."
BASF, the world’s largest chemical company were brought in to aid with concocting the new foam. The result is TPU (Thermoplastic-polyurethane) granules that have been blown up – sort of like popcorn – into larger airier capsules. This is what gives Boost its bubbly appearance. At present, TPU is used mostly for elastic replacement in apparel, and for industrial purposes. It is particularly prized for its ability to withstand cold temperatures. BASF’s particular brand of TPU is Elastollan.
Adidas have given the substance a Jetsons’ style gloss, explaining the mid-soles’ complex chemical properties as ‘endless energy’, which they’ve accompanied this season with a cheery bright yellow palette. These happy-coloured accents were present throughout adidas’ innovation showcase, in the form of speed lines on the floor and text on the three huge, high definition display screens, which flashed as adidas’ Head of Sports Performance Eric Liedtke talked the audience through the new substance.
The reason the new foam is so significant is two-fold. At present, the vast majority of running shoes (over 90% according to adidas) are made with EVA foam, which is less durable and less bouncy than Boost. Boost is also lighter than most EVA foams. The second reason is more cosmetic than pragmatic. Boost is a weird looking substance, but if it delivers the market leading “energy return” while running it offers, its bubbly look will fast become an adidas signature, setting the brand apart from its competitors. Boost has an appearance that would be hard to forge.
While introducing the new foam, Liedtke suggested it would, in the coming years, be rolled out across other footwear categories for adidas, up to and including the brand’s more fashion focused Originals lines. In an interview during the event, Bernd Wahler was slightly less grand in his ambitions, saying a company wide rollout was “a possibility”. But he was keen to reaffirm that the substance was to be used in running first and foremost.
When making running shoes, there is typically a tension between comfort and what many call “responsiveness”. The philosophy goes that running barefoot – or as close to it as you can without damaging the delicate bones in your feet – is the best way to go fast, and take advantage of the fact that humans essentially evolved to run, but it isn’t comfortable. Then there are the thickly padded, chunky soles you see on old lady shoes and hip hop sneakers, which are incredibly comfortable, but like a downy pillow, aren’t exactly great for moving in.
Boost’s aim is to be neither a pillow or a plank, but rather a tiny trampoline for your feet. The air in the capsules is meant to create a bouncy sort of tension. I’m yet to try on a pair, but so far, the reviews have been mostly positive. Famed marathon runner Haile Gebrselassie joked on stage at the presentation that the shoes would pique the interests of fairness authorities. Meanwhile The Huffington Post called the foam’s first model of shoe, the Energy Boost “extremely lightweight and comfortable” meanwhile sneaker guide Nice Kicks have reiterated adidas’ claim that the shoes have the “highest energy return of any running sneaker out on the market.” Gizmodo, with a whiff of their typical skepticism said "for now, it's promising, bordering on really cool, and if everything holds to form, possibly too good to be legal."
The shoes are slated for a March release date in Australia. They will for $170.
Alyx Gorman was in New York as a guest of adidas. Lead image: Supplied. Gallery images: Getty and Zoe Weber.