A Brief History of Nike HTM
A Brief History of Nike HTM
- Words Rocky Li
- Date August 10, 2017
When it comes to sneakers and sportswear Nike is a 24 billion dollar behemoth. As the industry leader, Nike cranks out thousands of releases a year including countless collabs, special projects and limited releases. One of the ways that Nike is able to remain such an innovative and agile company is through small specialized teams. Premier among them is Nike HTM, a de-facto research and development group that is responsible for some of Nike’s most avant-garde products. The elusive line operates without traditional deadline or budget constraints and is solely led by the interests of its three members.
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The Origins of HTM
Nike CEO and President Mark Parker and legendary sneaker designer Tinker Hatfield have spent years working together. The fruits of their labor include products such as the Nike Air Max 1, Air Trainer 1, ACG and various Jordans. The two have spent plenty of time in Japan and often met with creative consultant Hiroshi Fujiwara to discuss products and design. Fujiwara is a legend in his own right, a godfather of sorts to the burgeoning Tokyo streetwear scene of the 1990s. The braintrust decided to translate their conversations to action with the creation of HTM—Hiroshi, Tinker and Mark—in 2002.
The mission statement behind HTM is to amplify new innovations, reinterpret existing designs and explore concepts that take the Nike brand to new places. In practice, the collaboration acts as a test lab to refine classic products and explore Nike’s newest technologies. The release of HTM collabs always happen in an exclusive fashion with release quantities as low as sixty units.
The strength of HTM comes from the unique skills each team member possesses. Parker has likened the trio’s approach to a jazz jam session, an improvisational method where each musician riffs and builds on the other’s ideas. Hiroshi plays the role of a stylist-meets-designer. He has the vision to edit the designs of athletic products so they fit into people’s everyday lifestyles. Tinker, on the other hand, brings such a high level of creativity and personality to his designs. He has ample experience working directly with athletes and translating the newest technology into sneakers that boost comfort and performance. Mark Parker, as the CEO of Nike itself, operates (though not exclusively) as the business mind behind the endeavor. HTM exists to release avant-garde products that appeal to a style-conscious enthusiast market. Nike is aware that the vast majority of its shoes are not used in any official athletic capacity and HTM’s success relies on its ability to release products that are relevant to the most fervent and loyal consumers.
A History of Innovation
To date, HTM has released 32 products, but it began from a logical starting point. One of Nike’s most iconic and culturally impactful sneakers is the Air Force One. 2002 marked the 20th anniversary of the shoe and HTM celebrated the occasion. While using luxe materials on sneakers is commonplace now, the idea of crafting a premium Air Force One from exotic materials was ahead of it’s time.
The HTM Air Force One utilized premium soft black or brown premium leather and contrast stitching. Released with a custom slide out box and only available at a handful of boutiques around the world, the sneakers were an instant hit. The HTM Air Forces quickly became a coveted item for serious Nike collectors and fetched resell prices that hit hundreds of dollars over retail. The early phase of HTM was focused on using unexpected colors and materials to elevate classic designs. With the Air Force One, they achieved that goal by translating the OG basketball design into a true minimalist luxury item.
From those early beginnings the concept behind HTM shifted towards embracing new designs instead of re-issues. The team studied Nike’s substantial archives, but instead of simply retro’ing classic models, HTM looked to incorporate new treatments. This was displayed in spectacular fashion with the Nike HTM Air Moc Mid. The sneaker modified the 1994 Air Moc; a moccasin style shoe with a simple ankle pull cord. The 2002 HTM version replaced the textile of the upper with high quality suede and the pull cord with elastic siding inspired by classic chelsea boots. With the addition of a new sole, the sneaker radically transformed the aesthetic of the original Air Moc. A similar approach was then used on the the 2003 Air Presto Roam. The shoe extended the original Air Presto to a mid top and added a protective rubber toe and frontal pull tab.
2004 saw the release of the Nike Sock Dart. Now an important part of Nike’s contemporary roster of footwear, the Sock Dart was one of HTM’s more ambitious projects. Part revival and part revolution, the Sock Dart that we see today was an expansion upon Nike’s Sock Racer from the mid-1980s. After Fujiwara saw the OG Sock Racer circulating around shops in his native Japan, he decided to bring it to his partners and rework the design under the HTM banner. The shoe would operate as a predecessor to Nike’s inevitable fascination with sock-like fabrication and construction. Simply put, the HTM Sock Dart from 2004—according to Parker—would be “important step toward what eventually became flat-knit construction with Flyknit.”
The experiments did not end there, with Nike HTM following its early successes by firing off a string of unconventional releases. The HTM Zoom Macropus was a new boot design that took inspiration from the classic Clarks Wallabee. The upper was matched with an athletic sole unit and outfitted in black leather, horse hair or suede. HTM continued to hit their stride with a series of avant-garde designs that pulled from little known 1980s experiments. A good example is the HTM Air Footscape Woven, which combined the asymmetrical fastening of the Air Woven with the thick sturdy sole of the Footscape.
The Air Woven Rainbow—with it’s multicolored one-piece upper—was another landmark product that stands as one of the strangest Nike releases to date. These experimental releases proved that HTM was not about appealing to the average customer, but catering to Nike’s early adopters and experimental buyers.
Perhaps the best example of how Nike HTM foreshadows greater footwear trends is its treatment of the Nike Flyknit Racer. After four years of development, HTM launched the Flyknit Racer and Flyknit Trainer in 2012. Flyknit technology used a new computer-controlled knitting process that allowed Nike to create a supportive, lightweight one-piece shoe. While the HTM exclusive colorways were extremely limited, the huge demand for the new technology showed the trainers had a shot at mass appeal. The general release version of the sneakers were featured prominently on American track and field athletes during the 2012 London Olympics and became a huge hit. In this way, HTM helped test the market, build hype and pave the way for Flyknit trainers to enter the mainstream.
HTM branched out from the running shoe world and delved into basketball sneakers with the Kobe 9 Elite Low HTM. The sneaker was the first time that the HTM name had been put on a basketball shoe. The sneaker itself was a landmark design—the first low-cut Nike flyknit basketball shoe. The details were something to behold as the shoe featured flecked laces, anodized HTM aglets, carbon fiber and reflective snake scales. The striking sneaker stood at the intersection of pure on-court functionality and off-court styling and remains highly coveted as one of the best looking modern basketball sneaker designs.
Continuing the past tradition of mashing up design elements, HTM even played around in the soccer sphere with the Nike Free Mercurial Superfly. The original black and volt colorways of the sneaker re-made the Mercurial soccer cleat into something entirely new. The original upper was swapped out for a flyknit version and placed on a 5.0 free sole. These drastic changes to the original design transformed the on-field cleat into something street ready. The Mercurial Superfly has since been released in plenty more colorways without the HTM branding. Once again HTM had proven its influence, this time pre-empting the sock sneaker trend.
The HTM Legacy
The team at HTM has an impeccable track record when it comes to releasing captivating product. The agile design group has pushed the envelope on sneaker design and exerted an outsize influence on the footwear industry as a whole. With a multinational corporation as large as Nike, the biggest challenge is to continue to take risks and innovate. After more than a decade in the game, the trio of Matt Parker, Tinker Hatfield, and Hiroshi Fujiwara have shown that still have what it takes to break all the rules.