The Futurecraft MFG is the beginning of Adidas's next big step, even if it's a small one.
Classic sneakers like Air Jordans, Stan Smiths, Puma Clydes and Vans Old Skools are classic that comes tied to their unchanging look and link to the past. But in 2016, the success of sneakers—as a relevant fashion choice and a brand's bottom line—is all about looking ahead.
Nike is doubling down on its self-lacing styles, a Primeknit upper running shoe with a Boost sole, Futurecraft has become a reality. (Albeit a small one, with only 500 pairs made.) And all of that is thanks to Adidas's game-changing manufacturing process called Speedfactory.
Speedfactory is, as its name implies, a factory that dramatically cuts the lead time for a pair of Adidas sneakers to go from design to stock room. Right now, because of logistics and testing, sneakers can take up to 18 months, which can be important to get the kinks out with a design, can also mean falling behind in today's rapid-fire pace of fashion. (Something that was trendy a year and a half ago might not be as desirable today.) But Speedfactory is looking to reduce that time to weeks, and eventually days and hours. In order to cut out all of the R&D that can take months, the factory also utilizes a state-of-the-art optical analysis tool called Aramis, which according to trillion.com "uses the evaluation of sequential digital images for measurements of deformation, strain, and displacement." In less science-y terms, basically that means it can 3D map people's bodies and feet for insanely detailed information about how our bodies work when we run. So, rather than making shoes for everyone, Aramis can help Adidas make shoes for each individual customer in record time.
The end goal of Speedfactory, as Herath explains, "Is definitely to have a customer come into a store and have a custom pair of shoes made for them within just a few hours." The technology also allows the brand to create new ways of delivering support to the upper of the shoe, which in the Futurecraft MFG is reflected in the lightweight but sturdy gray strips of synthetic material seen towards the heel. Though they look like decoration, they're actually designed "to give support where a runner needs it, while still allowing the front of the shoe to be extremely flexible," says Herath. That support is also particularly important when, unlike the original Ultraboost, the MFG doesn't feature a plastic cage around the midfoot.
The Futurecraft MFG was crafted in Germany, but next steps for Speedfactory are already in motion. In 2017, Adidas will open a Speedfactory in Atlanta, Georgia, allowing for production in the U.S. to decrease lead times and ultimately, get products to customers faster. (The factory is set to churn out about 500,000 pairs of shoes in 2017 alone.) Hearth predicts there will soon be Speedfactories all over the world, making customers closer to their kicks than ever.
Ultimately, though, Futurecraft is more of an ambitious and exciting dream than a reality right now. Like those Ultraboosts with the new, 3D printed sole unit that everyone lost their minds over still have no official plans to hit the market any time soon. And Nike's self-lacing sneakers, which despite tying themselves still require a user to adjust the fit using their fingers, it's clear both of these brands are still in the early stages of radically changing the footwear industry with their latest innovations. It may be some time before every Adidas store is fitted with its own 3D images, printers, and custom sneaker factories (when asked when exactly that would happen, Hareth simply laughs and says "very soon"), but for now it's just cool to get a glimpse at what the future could look like.