Nike’s innovative Free technology stems from a succession of lightweight, close-fitting silhouettes beginning with the Nike Cortez. Designed by Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman in 1972, the Cortez was first track shoe created by Nike and the first shoe with a full-length midsole made from dual-density foam. It exemplified Bowerman’s obsession with stripped-down, high-performance running footwear.
Following the Cortez was the radical Nike Sock Racer, the first Nike shoe intended to be worn without socks. The shoe had no laces and was made of a single mono-mesh. Then in 1991, Tinker Hatfield unveiled the Nike Air Huarache. Distinguished by a neoprene upper, the Air Huarache was the brand’s first running shoe without a structural heel counter–only a rubber strap came around the Achilles. The design team then set out to create a shoe inspired by elite distance runners who ran barefoot. Thus, the Nike Air Rift was created with the understanding that the toe is a significant source of propulsion.
Finally, Tobie Hatfield designed the Nike Air Presto in response to the overprotective running shoes of the 1990s. The slim design comprised a loose elastic upper and thin plastic lattice on the shoe’s sides that held the laces. “People ask me why we never made a Presto 2,” says Tobie. “I always tell them we did – it’s called the Nike Free.”
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