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why Nike should democratize it’s manufacturing process

OpenIDEO and NIKE organized a competition for finding new purposes for NIKE Grind Materials – a material range made of reclaimed sneakers. Marleen took to liberty to use this opportunity to tell NIKE why they should democratize their manufacturing process.


Why Nike should democratize it’s manufacturing process


It is so amazing that Nike is willing to innovate their business for the benefit of this planet. This is a great opportunity to fundamentally redesign some aspects of our economy and create an economy that incentivizes empowerment of people and inspires them to take care of each other and their surroundings.

This is my suggestion:
Offer a program that teaches people how to make DIY sneakers using certified reclaimed materials that are managed by the NIKE TAILORED program. It puts people at the center of the recycling process and makes them co-owners and co-creators of the system.


NIKE TAILORED is a program for open sourcing shoe design. It comes with an online platform to which you can gain access when you buy NIKE TAILORED certified materials. It offers a whole range of tools and serves as a platform for educating people. It offers parametric tools to customize the designs, custom tailoring tools, online tutorials, 3D scanning setups, 3D printable CAD files, machine knitting codes, etc. And it also offers training for setting up programs in your community aimed at recycling, for taking apart shoes and sorting out the materials and returning them back to NIKE.

The grind materials could be used in this way:
reclaimed fabric can become certified NIKE TAILORED yarn and fabric
reclaimed plastic and rubber can become certified NIKE TAILORED 3D printer filament
I am sure there are a lot more possibilities here if we investigate this further.

All designs that are made available on the website should be made with a circular philosophy in mind. Meaning no glue is allowed and the shoes should be easy to assemble and to disassemble yourself. This also makes it easier to recycle the materials in the future and will open up new opportunities for future material development.

NIKE TAILORED could offer a whole range of open source shoe designs. From very high tech fully automated assembly shoe ranges with 3D printed parts and lightweight materials that are put together by industrial robots, to very minimalistic 2 dollar shoe designs that can be assembled with just a needle and a thread.


Think about it. It could be a great opportunity for a big brand like NIKE to commit to something like this.

What is in it for NIKE:
Instead of a manufacturer, NIKE can shift its role to become a manager of material flows. Its infrastructure with dealers can function as a platform for recollecting the materials that are used. It will be able to use its brand authority to take responsibility for the environment and to guarantee the quality of the materials. By shifting roles, it will become in NIKE’s interest to democratize the manufacturing process and to empower people. The more people that are empowered to use the materials, the higher the demand for the product, the bigger its value. So the more people NIKE can educate to become tailors, and the more talented and creative these tailors will get, the more it benefits NIKE. Great incentive, right?

This is really a big win here. Because it will become in NIKE’s interest to take care of the people that are making their product. Which is not the case right now, and is unfortunately the way our economy is designed. Which is not NIKE’s fault per se, it’s just the way it is. In our economy exploitation is very profitable. Greediness pays. Which is not only a systemic crisis, but it is also a crisis of the heart. We are in a shitty situation, which we can only solve if we open up and reach out to each other. We need to reconnect to a very important aspect of our basic human nature: which is to take care of each other and our surroundings. So, if we want to change a systemic crisis such as climate change, which is caused by exploitation, WE should really create an incentive for the opposite of exploitation: The empowerment of all of us, so that we all can be inspired to take care of each other and the world. We need love to solve this problem. It is really that simple, and this idea can contribute to that.

Just imagine you walk into your NIKE store. But not your regular NIKE store. But one that has a 3D scanner that measures your foot to make your shoe a perfect fit. And the people who work there are able to support you and help you to customize the design of the shoe just the way you like it. It will be laser-cut while you’re waiting and can be put together by hand by the shop owners while you are looking. That would be quite something, right? Hipsters will love it. Emerging economies will be quick to adapt to it, which will open up new markets. It will reintroduce tailoring to the urban environment, restore our connection to the stories of our stuff and cause a little spectacle.


Normally all the technical expertise and all the years of R&D that went into the design of a product remain hidden for the consumer, making it harder to develop a meaningful connection with the product. Because how can you truly love a product when you are not able to realize how special it is? If you are not able to realize what it took for it to be made? Becoming a spectator, or even better becoming a participant in the making process, will be an opportunity for consumers to shift their mindset. To become more mindful of what they are buying, and thus the consumer will be enabled to appreciate it more. Because the environmental crisis is not only a crisis of the heart, but also of the mind: It is a lack of awareness. We grew so detached from the stories behind our stuff that we cannot appreciate its value anymore and get bored with it quickly. It is such a shame to be so absent of love. We really need to open up. All of us.

So NIKE, here’s my call to you guys: Let’s go open source. Just do it. You can do it for sure, and it will be absolutely awesome. Let’s take on this adventure together.

More about this competition on the OpenIDEO web page