Last week, Nike announced the launch of its Makers' Experience, an invite-only, limited-time event where people can design a pair of shoes and have them made in less than hour. And today we had the chance to check it out for ourselves at the company's By You Studio in New York City, a space created to take you through the process of making your own custom from start to finish. That means being able to choose from a set of four different graphic packs, including the camouflage pattern pictured above, and the colors you want on the upper of your sneakers. The midsole will be white by default.
I went with pink complemented by black tones, but you could have it be mostly white with blue, green, yellow or red. And if you're not into camo, you can also pick a design that displays different pieces of text, such as your name, a date or a greeting like "Happy Birthday!" For this particular experience, Nike is letting users tinker with the Presto, a running silhouette that has a reputation of being one of the most comfortable the company makes. There's the original Presto, which features shoe laces and a cage to hold them, and the slip-on Presto X, created exclusively by Nike's Advanced Innovation team for the Makers' Experience.
The entire process is fairly simple: You walk into the By You Studio and put on a pair of Prestos that act as a white canvas. Then you step into a contraption that projects light onto the upper and lets you see how your designs looks in real time, right there on your feet as you're trying them on. Nike says it worked on this technology with W+K Lodge, a firm that experiments with artificial intelligence, virtual reality and more emerging mediums "to design experiences that people will care about."
Right now, a Nike associate will ask you what color you want the shoe to be or which pattern you prefer, and then that information is transmitted to the light projector. In the future, we're told the idea is to make that part of the experience automated with voice technology, meaning you won't necessarily need a human to guide you through the experience. Mark Smith, VP of Innovation Special Projects at Nike, says the key for the time being is to make this customization experience as simple and fun as possible. That's one of the reasons you can only choose between a few graphics packs and dozens of colors currently, even though he says there are hundreds more options that could be offered.
Naturally, one of the most interesting parts about the Makers' Experience is that Nike can make you a custom shoe in less than an hour. In our case, it actually only took 46 minutes, which is apparently the fastest time so far. That's mind-blowing when you think about the fact that when you order a shoe through NikeiD, a customization service the company launched in 2009, it takes 6-8 weeks to receive it. Sure, it helps that here you're locked in to only designing the upper rather than the entire shoe, but that's impressive nonetheless.
When asked how Nike could manufacture a sneaker in such a timely manner, Smith says the only thing he could reveal about the "secret sauce" is that it isn't a fully automated process. That means there are humans glueing and stitching the shoe together, and we can attest to this since we met the ones who created our design. Smith added that while the Makers' Experience is an experiment, the goal is to bring a similar experience to Nike retail stores eventually. What's more, it won't just be the Presto you'll have access to, but other low- and high-top Nike models as well. The pricing is still to be determined, although Nike tends to add about a $20 premium to its NikeiD sneakers.
Unfortunately, the Makers' Experience is only open to a select few, but stay tuned to Nike's NYC website as slots to visit the space may become available there. As for what's coming next, Smith says the company's trying to find ways to bring customization to augmented, mixed and virtual reality platforms. Let's hope that happens soon.