A Look Back: A Brief History of Zoom Air
Drew Hammell takes us back in time to see how Zoom Air has evolved over the years.
Whenever I get the chance to interview someone who has designed a sneaker I actually own, I get pretty excited. A few weeks ago, I posted an old Nike ad featuring a boot Peter Fogg designed: the Terra Sertig. I knew Peter was active on Instagram but didn’t figure he was watching my account that closely. When he commented about going through many sketches for that shoe, I decided to take a chance and message him to see if he’d do an interview. He agreed, and my mind started spinning over all the different sneakers I could ask him about.
One of the reasons Fogg’s designs are so influential to me personally is because I had a pair of the Air Humaras he designed while working at a local Foot Locker in 1999. I loved the special design of the Air bubble, and the Goatek traction underneath. In general, I had such an appreciation for sneakers growing up, that I saved almost every Eastbay catalog from ’96 through ’03. Obviously, the sneakers Fogg designed were in many of the catalogs, so I asked Fogg about some of his favorites and the stories behind them. With that, here is my interview with the legendary Peter Fogg:
Drew: Where did you grow up?
Peter: I grew up in the town of El Cerrito, California. Also called the Bay Area or East Bay. I went to Kennedy High School in Richmond and later ended up at San Josè State.
Drew: Were you a runner/hiker?
Peter: Back in the ’60s and ’70s I don’t really remember using those terms unless you ran track or cross country in high school. At my school, cross country was just a way to get in shape for football, basketball, or baseball. I think the choices at the shoe store were Converse Chuck Taylors and an early adidas shoe. My cross country days ended very quickly after a foot injury. I was on the wrestling team in high school, and on the weekends or after school, it was about playing basketball or football with friends and my brothers. Our other favorite activity growing up was riding dirt bikes with friends.
Drew: What brought you to Nike?
Peter: I always find it remarkable to think I made it to Nike and worked there for 18 years. Before Nike, I had already been working for 14 years as a designer at 5 different companies. I was 39 years old and thinking what was next for me. While still recovering from fighting Hodgkins disease (six months of chemo and a month of radiation), I talked to an old classmate from San Josè State who worked at Nike and I discovered he was the design director there. I said I was looking for a change; aircraft interior design was not where I wanted to spend the rest of my design career. I brought sketches of shoes and roller blades I had worked on to the interview. I guess they saw some potential and hired me.
Drew: When was your first design actually produced for retail?
Peter: My first shoe was the Air Humara, designed in 1995, and I guess it made it to retail in late 1996 or early 1997. Designers usually remember when a shoe was designed but retail and production dates not so much.
Drew: Can you share the story behind the Humara line? What does “Humara” mean? Why do you think that line was so successful?
Peter: The story is interesting because in 1995, the running category decided they wanted to take control of the trail running product and let a designer with no footwear experience do the designs. Before 1995, trail running product was a little hit or miss. The running team really wanted to focus on making great running shoes that could be used on trails, so a high priority was placed on making a performance running shoe first. The name Humara comes from the Tarahumara people living in Mexico. The Tarahumara use the word Raràmuri to describe themselves, which means “runners on foot” or “those who run fast” according to Wikipedia. They are very good long-distance runners. I think the Humara line was successful because the designs were fun but also performance-driven. The colorways were bold but also wearable, so they became a shoe to wear all day, not just for running.
Drew: What is the backstory behind the Sertig and the Nike phone ad featuring Anita Weyermann?
Peter: The insight and marketing brief came from Europe; they wanted four shoes designed: a mid and low-cut serious trail runner plus a fell running and orienteering shoe. I was to go to Switzerland and Germany for research and inspiration, but I did not have a passport and we could not get one in time. A fellow designer took my place and ended up designing the fell and orienteering shoes. This was good for me because it let me focus on just the Sertig and Albis. I was happy with the design directions, but when the first samples came from the factory, my European marking person was not sure. He was thinking I should redesign it, but my marketing person at Nike talked to him, and they decided to go forward with the existing design. This is the same marketing person that helped save the Humara design. The person on the Sertig phone call must have been a serious mountain runner. I did not meet her. Some of the trail running over there is a cross between hiking and running, and the Sertig mid-cut offered some additional protection from rocks and sticks.
Drew: Can you rank your top 10 favorite designs?
Peter: It’s not easy to rank designs, but here are some of my favorites. There are a lot of firsts in this list:
1. Air Humara – My first complete shoe design. Development was not a fan of the design, but marketing believed and supported it.
2. Zoom Tallac – My first boot design after leaving running and joining ACG. This boot helped redefine what a lightweight boot could be.
3. Air Terra Humara – First Vis-Air trail shoe. This shoe became a big sales success because it crossed over into style and fashion. Vogue magazine wrote an article about it in 1997.
4. Air Minot – First running shoe with Gore-Tex. Some inspiration came from warning signs, military logos, and slow-moving vehicles.
5. Zoom Air Terra Sertig – First mid-cut trail running shoe. It was designed for the European market, and the inspiration came from low-profile Formula 1 race cars.
6. Nike Air Terra Albis 2 – First shoe modeled in 3D for the factory. From a performance and design point of view, this shoe turned out very good.
7. Water Cat – This shoe makes the list because it is very unique. It was almost dropped because it was so strange – a fully considered design reducing waste and adhesives.
8. Nike Zoom Ashiko – First Flywire boot designed to be lightweight and protective with a classic look from early ACG boots. The bright orange colorway was awesome.
9. Nike Hyperdunk 13 – From my basketball days. I enjoyed working on the Hyperdunk and trying to make it the best performance basketball shoe I could.
10. Nike Air Bakin’ Boot – This boot was designed while I was working in NSW (Nike Sports Wear). Using the old Bakin basketball shoe inspiration and combining it with Foamposite and Vis-Air to make a boot was fun. I like the way it turned out.
Drew: What was your favorite technology to utilize in footwear? Zoom Air? Goatek? Anything else?
Peter: Zoom Air was always a favorite and proven technology to use in my footwear designs. For trail shoes, it just made sense because of the cushioning and low-profile designs. I think Goatek was very cool also, but it didn’t really catch on with the trail runners. Maybe Nike should bring it back. Foamposite and Flywire were also fun technologies to work with.
Drew: What are you up to these days?
Peter: I’m keeping busy. I help my wife design and produce a line of animal quilt patterns she sells online and at trade shows. We travel together more and are going on a boat cruise vacation in the Mediterranean this summer. In my spare time, I do some freelance work and digital painting. I always have a project to do around the house and yard because, when the sun is out, I’m usually out riding my motorcycle. Our three lovely kids still live in the Northwest and visiting them and seeing the grandkids is a special treat!
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