Happy Air Max Month! Five years ago, Nike officially declared March 26 Air Max Day, and the entire month of March became known as Air Max Month. Since then, Nike has taken the opportunity to debut new Air Max technologies and showcase new takes on old favorites. Across the globe, Nike celebrates by hosting special interactive events for Air Max fans everywhere, with the highlight being March 26, the day the Air Max 1 first launched in 1987.
This year, I thought it would be fun to look back at Air Max technology from the early 2000s. Usually sneakers come back around and become popular again after about 20 years, but that hasn’t been the case for a lot of the early 2000 Nike running models. For whatever reason, the sneaker community is nowhere near as enamored with these models compared to those from the ’90s, which shows how truly special that decade was for sneaker technology. That’s not to say the early 2000s shouldn’t be revisited – in fact, in such a saturated sneaker market, it’s worth taking a look back at the beginning of the twenty-first century to see if there were any hidden gems that are worth a retro.
The turn of the decade represented a turning point for Nike Air Max running sneakers. There were still some familiar lines, like the Triax series, the Tailwind, Air Max, and the Air Max Plus. Each continued to live on into the 21st century after a strong run in the ’90s. For easy shopping reference, Eastbay catalogs featured technical descriptions underneath every sneaker. For the runner’s information, the sneakers were broken up into different categories: Cushioned, Cushioned Support, Support, or Lightweight. There was also a tiny diagram that showed where the Air bubbles were located – either in the heel, forefoot, or both. For reference, when going through the old pages, Eastbay labeled the month and year in the top or bottom corner underneath the page number. For instance, “0400” stood for April 2000.
In 2000, Air Max Plus technology took center stage with the massive hit Air Max Plus. Nike also released the Air Tuned Sovereign and Air Tuned Precision for women, and the Air Tuned Sirocco and Air Tuned Max for men. The Air Tuned Max and Air Tuned Precision were special because they were the first sneakers to feature full-length visible Tuned Air units. The goal of Tuned Air was to give the runner a more stable ride compared to other Air Max models without compromising cushioning.
The Air Max Tailwind line continued in 2000 with the Tailwind 5, which featured Tuned Air instead of an Air Max heel unit. There was also a visible Air-Sole unit in the forefoot, for the runner seeking great cushioning, durability, and support.
The Air Max 2000 running shoe continued to evolve with both better cushioning and support, and also featured a visible full-length Tuned Air unit. It was part of the Alpha Project – Nike’s multi-year strategy to advance technology and design in thoughtful and creative ways. The Air Max Tailwind 6 again featured Tuned Air in the heel and some pretty flashy colorways, like the glacier/navy/coast for women and the grey/maize/white/navy for men.
The Air Max in 2001 started to look much different, with straight lines instead of the zigzag pattern seen on the AM 2000. Heading into its fourth year, the Air Max Plus continued to be a hit and Nike continued to release new colorways. That year, the Air Max Plus 3 made its debut, featuring Tuned Air in the heel. It was nowhere near as popular as the original, though.
In 2002, we were introduced to the Air Max Glare for women, the Air Max Tailwind 7, the Air Max Plus 4, and the Air Max Plus Slip-On inspired by the OG.
Out of all the models, the Air Max featured in the 2003 catalogs deserves the most attention and is most deserving of retro consideration. The introduction of visible Tubular Air gave the sole a dramatically different look, and while the Tubular Air didn’t catch on it transformed into the fresh and modern sole we know today.
Also of note in 2003 was the Air Max Bambino for women, with a price tag of just $89.99. The Tailwind also returned to Air Max cushioning in the heel as opposed to Tuned Air in ’03, and Nike released a fifth version of the Air Max Plus featuring a double-lasted stretch synthetic upper.
Throughout these catalog pages, it’s worth noting that Nike was not retroing any models yet. It was pedal to the metal, full steam ahead, with all new models every year (except for a few new Air Max 95 colors and the continuation of the successful Air Max Plus). We are definitely in an interesting time period right now, where sneakerheads crave the latest models, but also want sneakers from the past. Only time will tell if consumers will continue to want the old and the new – I’m hoping it’s both.
January is one of the coldest, darkest times of the year in most parts of the U.S. The wind is biting, the snow is deep, and it feels like summer will never return again. In the mid-90s, Nike had a remedy for the bone-chilling temps and less-than-favorable traction: All Conditions Gear. Eastbay catalogs were chock full of hiking boots, trail shoes, Dri-FIT shirts, Therma-FIT pants, and Clima-FIT jackets that kept the body dry and comfortable no matter how hard the snow and sleet came down. One of the people responsible for a lot of what we saw and wore in the ’90s was designer Michael Hernandez. I had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about what it was like to be part of a team that was setting the standard for outdoor apparel and functional innovative technologies.
Drew: What was your role with Nike back in the ’90s?
Michael: I was hired by Nike in 1991. During the ’90s, I held several different positions ranging from Product Graphic Designer, Art Director, Design Director and Senior Designer. I contributed on many of Nike’s sport categories during this time including Sports Graphics, Sports Marketing, Jordan, Retail (Niketown), Running, and many Special Projects. I’m a huge fan of product and brand working together to conceive and create compelling products and stories that resonate with the consumer. Product designers often find that their stories and inspiration never make it to the consumer. I was very motivated to work in collaboration with other designers and marketers with the end in mind, delivering our product with stories that inspired athletes, retailers, and consumers.
Drew: Can you tell me about the ACG logo we see on all the gear?
Michael: One of the Nike categories I worked extensively on was All Conditions Gear (ACG). ACG had been around for years and was known mostly for the innovative outdoor footwear. The outdoor marketplace was catering to more of a traditional outdoor consumer who wore a lot of brown shoes. ACG really started to push into new territories with product by innovating. Footwear started to become much more youthful and performance-driven, and the aesthetics started to be informed by trends happening in the marketplace. Consumers were migrating to products that embraced color and new materials. Snowboarding was really pushing outerwear in fun and interesting directions and ACG’s consumer was shifting.
Another brand designer and I were asked to rebrand the ACG logo. We designed for months and presented our own ideas. They choose my design and adopted a new brand direction that was more youthful, performance-driven, and modern. The new branding supported other product categories ACG was building market share in, which included mountain biking, snowboarding, and water sports. The new logo signaled that the brand was less of a granola-eating, tree-hugging product line. ACG was heading down new paths and needed to evolve to a younger mindset.
Drew: What was your favorite design/shoe/apparel?
Michael: That would be the Trek Mountain Bike Team uniform. ACG sponsored the Trek Mountain Bike Team and I designed a wide range of garments with sublimated graphics that the team used to train and compete in. The jersey was in tune with the new ACG logo with its streamlined, bold, and simple aesthetic. Nike had been in the cycling business prior to ACG but began investing more into competitive biking, which eventually led to Nike sponsoring the U.S. Postal Service Cycling team.
Drew: A lot of the footwear had interesting names – was there any particular model that had a great story behind it?
Michael: You’re so right – ACG was known for its creative footwear names like Nike Air Rivaderchi, Pocket Knife, and Air Moc (Potato Shoe) to name just a few. I would have to say that the Air Mowabb was the shoe design that leaves the most influence over time for so many reasons. My 23 years at Nike were filled with some amazing experiences. But, most of all, I worked with so many talented people that made the most impact on my design career. I reported to Tinker Hatfield for years, working on his team and learning footwear design. I remember Tinker’s inspiration boards for the Air Mowabb. He drew everything by hand, including the logo that had a lot of personality. His ability to tell a story through his outdoor experiences (Mowabb, Utah) and design skills was impressive to say the least. The original Air Mowabb colors and material story were very fresh then and hold up to this day. This design was deemed more of an outdoor “sneaker.” ACG was leading the outdoor industry by walking away from traditional hiking designs, and running in new directions.
Drew: There were many innovative technologies being introduced rather quickly, such as Dri-FIT, Therma-FIT, and Clima-FIT. Did you play a role in developing any of these fabrics, and if so, which was your favorite?
Michael: Yes, the Nike-FIT system of fabric technologies were being used across the Nike categories. Dri-FIT was being used in Team Sports as a first layer that far exceeded the benefits of cotton undergarments. Nike-FIT got a real boost when it was promoted through advertising and launched a new branding scheme that I was responsible for designing. I redesigned the Nike-FIT branding marks and created a menu of product trim application to marry up with the fabrics. The trim applications menu included molded patches, woven labels, reflective labels, heat transfers, and screenprints.
The benefits of Nike-FIT were also communicated with informative technical illustrations that we applied to a new Nike-FIT hangtag system and sublimated interior label packages. The new system was not confined to just apparel – footwear leveraged the fabric technologies as well. The ACG and Running categories implemented this system the deepest. The benefits of appropriate apparel layering came to a head when we educated consumers on why layering correctly improved personal performance and comfort.
Drew: What are you working on currently, and can you share a little bit about The Bruin Co.?
Michael: I started up my design and marketing consultancy, The Bruin Co. five years ago. I’ve designed footwear and other products, though the lion’s share of projects are focused on branding. I have branded and rebranded many clients’ businesses with a focus on elevating their brand and getting more strategic about how they tell their stories and focus on their consumers with more purpose.
My last role at Nike was Global Brand Creative Director. I spent a decade at Nike focused on brand design, gaining valuable experience creating and implementing seasonal global directives that included applications for Product, Retail and Digital. I also worked on content creation that included TV broadcast and web/viral content. Thanks for the opportunity to share some of my design experiences. Design is more than a slogan. You can just do it or go big or go home. Either way it’s all about the small details. The Bruin Co. is located in Salem, Oregon. Find us at www.TheBruinCo.com and on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/bruinstudio/?hl=en
By Drew Hammell
Summer 2003: Beyoncé, Lil Jon, Lumidee, and 50 Cent were heating up the music charts, while The Matrix Reloaded, Bruce Almighty, and Finding Nemo were hits at the Box Office. The era of baggy/bootcut jeans was coming to an end, with the skinny jeans trend on the horizon. Meanwhile, on the sneaker scene, Nike and Jordan Brand were sizzling with a ton of hot summer releases. There were plenty of brand new models, along with some classic retros. Here’s a look back at some of the highlights from fifteen years ago.
Back in April of ’03, Michael Jordan wrapped up his final season in the NBA by playing in all 82 games as a 40-year-old. He would wear several different Jordan models that season, including the Air Jordan 18 Mid. Featuring double-stacked Zoom Air units and a magnetic shroud, this model is not one of his most famous. In the past year, however, Jordan Brand has been bringing back the 18 in both OG and new colorways, and the reception has been strong.