In the mid-’90s, while Nike basketball and its roster of All-Stars were dominating on the court and in sneaker sales, the Swoosh wasn’t content with simply resting on its laurels. The company that created the revolutionary Air unit and continuously pushed the limits of sneaker innovation for one Michael Jordan, was ready to raise the bar once again. Nike’s Advanced Product Engineering group, led by Eric Avar, sought out to create the next breakthrough in sneaker technology. Avar knew exactly what he was looking for–a sneaker that molded perfectly to your foot. “There was this notion of what if you literally just dipped your foot in this liquid bath of material and it just sucked around your foot?” He wondered. “And what if you could go play basketball in that?” After years of research and development, Nike was ready to answer all of Avar’s questions and introduced its breakthrough technology to the world in 1997. The new technology was dubbed “Foamposite”–a polyurethane liquid that is heated and molded to create a glove-like fit on a shoe–and it was unlike anything the sneaker world had ever seen.

The entire process from conception to release took about four years and there was no shortage of roadblocks. Once Avar and the A.P.E. team knew what they were looking for, there was a real fear that what they wanted couldn’t be created. At the time, most sneakers were constructed through some combination of suede, nubuck, leather and rubber compounds. No one had ever molded an entire upper, in one piece, through this process before. The A.P.E. team faced a lot of pushback–everyone from fellow designers at Nike to manufacturers in China thought this goal was nothing more than a pipe dream. They sought out companies from all around the world who might help with this fool’s errand, and found an unlikely ally in Korean car manufacturer Daewoo.

Daewoo Group opened its doors in 1967 and was based in South Korea. The company operated several major corporations under its umbrella, producing cars, electronics, buses and shipping containers, as well as operating telecommunications and building highways. At one point in time it was the second-largest conglomerate in South Korea behind the Hyundai Group, before closing its doors for good in 1999. Believe it or not, they were the ones who solved the puzzle and were able to create the Foamposite mold.

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