Nike’s Experimental 2020 ISPA Releases

The "Improvise. Scavenge. Protect. Adapt." label references previous releases while remaining future-forward

Launched in late 2018, the ISPA label (and acronym for improvise, scavenge, protect, and adapt) fits within the Nike Design Exploration initiative, a space for the “convergence of athlete data and digital design” to inform new and interesting sneakers and apparel. ISPA also references Nike’s past and acts a bridge between the designs that predate its inception and those forthcoming. The label’s logo—an amalgamation of the AirMax, Nike Shox, Presto, and VaporMax text—reflects this intention. The 2020 releases—scheduled for 9 July through 1 September—further their mission of marrying future-forward research programs and references to iconic silhouettes but also define the label’s style and scope.

The Zoom Road Warrior, Overreact FK, Overreact FK Sandal, Flow 2020, and Drifter sneakers comprise the newest collection. If versed in Nike’s core designs and collaborations, one can identify the source of elements found on the aforementioned releases. “A hybrid of Japanese traditional work boots” and Nike innovations (namely the sock-style upper found on Fear of God’s 1 collaboration), the Drifter places a split-toe Tabi front atop reground Nike ZoomX foam. The Zoom Road Warrior uses Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next%, the controversial marathon record-breaking shoe technology to amplify the energy return of the Nike Air Zoom BB NXT. Experiments from the Nike React Element 87 era, including pressure and density maps and foot-strike data help designers place cushioning in the Overreact FK and its Sandal iteration only where it’s needed.

Shamees Aden (a researcher and multidisciplinary designer who joined the ISPA creative team in 2016) describes the label’s efforts as “building a collection and a story about the future of products within the emerging, built-in environments in cities.” An insights trip to Tokyo, where earthquakes are increasingly common, led Aden and ISPA’s other designers to consider how Nike products could cater to the adventurous, apocalypse-ready, city-dweller—many of whom were already customers of the brand.

“This collection and ISPA were born out of these insights and understanding how, in a human-built environment, we are going to adapt to seasonal change, weather change, natural disasters, and increasing temperatures. We created products to answer, or problem-solve, these questions,” Aden says.

It really is part of our design philosophy to scavenge from what Nike has to offer within

“ISPA is a big collective of people from different backgrounds,” she continues. “It really is part of our design philosophy to scavenge from what Nike has to offer within, as a massive company. It’s very collaborative. We’re very much open. And I think that’s healthy: you get lots of different perspectives, point of views. Diversity of ideas, concepts, backgrounds, and I think that helps to create these new products and ideas.”

The 2020 ISPA collection prioritizes performance and utility and appeases growing interest in gear and accessories once deemed “outdoors,” but remains mindful of aesthetics. Altogether, it’s futurist and somewhat post-apocalyptic, but still optimistic about what lies ahead. But Nike’s ISPA program isn’t naive to the fact that their research will reach a relatively niche market to begin with. Each collection will have a different direction, and will be informed by different insights, with the goal of exploring how far a company like Nike can stretch its experimental arm.

“It’s this idea that you can take a natural disaster as a source of inspiration, but then there’s some sort of positive element out of it. It’s not like, ‘It’s Doomsday, here’s your kit. Run. Get out.’ It’s very much to talk about—yes, you might be in these situations, through natural disasters, and what sort of tools could we give you and empower you to have in order to then go about your day… [ISPA] is never just one vision.”

Ahead of the 2020 releases, the design team considered various recent events, including the refugee crisis, and subsequent migration, in Europe. Aden and the ISPA team pondered how design might encourage collectiveness. “It’s about collective commune,” she says, of the new products. “We were inspired by how they were able to come together in times of hardship and support each other and be close with each other, even though they were strangers. And that was a source of inspiration for us, like instead of running away, let’s fight for existence, fight for the collective, fight for humanity.”

The narratives inspiring each collection, season after season, are important, despite seeming far away—especially for ISPA’s target audience. An added challenge arises when the ISPA team needs to find a balance between their message and precise design direction.

Surveying the individual releases closely, there’s no doubting that ISPA’s manifesto informed their production. They’re distinctly different from the run-of-the-mill Roshe Run or the iconic Air Force 1. Structural elements from previous releases connect to brand new innovations, tapping into both the work of designers bygone and those new to Nike—many of which work under the ISPA umbrella. “We look at this manifesto to guide us in creating new and distinct design solutions for the city athlete,” Aden says. “We improvise to see if we can improve on the design, scavenge within Nike innovations and across category, and adapt these innovations to protect us from our built-in environments.”

“Nike offers a lot to its consumers—very diverse collections with very diverse products. But we struggle with that because some of the innovations that we create have to be in small units, in small quantities. We can’t offer it to the masses, unfortunately, due to these innovations, but I think more importantly is not just the product itself, it’s to create a bigger dialogue with consumers and people in general,” Aden says.

Available 6 July, ISPA Live aims to be the online extension of the conversations started here, within the product design. There, designers Shamees Aden, Darryl Matthews, and Nur Abbas explain the ISPA philosophy and its inspirations.

Images courtesy of Nike