Nike’s New Material Could ‘Change the Apparel Industry,’ CEO Says


Retail Dive | September 7, 2022


The new Nike Forward material and production process took over five years of research and development to create, with the company calling it its most significant clothing innovation since Dri-Fit.


“Nike Forward feels different because it is different,” said Carmen Zolman, vice president of innovation apparel design at Nike. “It is not a traditional knit or woven, but a completely new material that drastically reduces its carbon footprint.”


The athletics retailer created the material and process based on growing concerns from athletes that climate change is becoming a barrier to sports. Along with the benefit of a more energy-efficient production process, Forward also has a lighter density compared to regular knit fleece. The grey hoodie and crew neck also feature raw cut pockets, no zippers, and zero water usage or dyes in an effort to make them more suitable for recycling.


Nike’s latest innovation demonstrates a fundamental issue the fashion world is dealing with: the industry is inherently bad for the environment. The pursuit of circular fashion models has come to the forefront as retailers look to scale back their impact. In Nike’s latest earnings call, in which CEO John Donahoe teased the release of Forward, he also touted the beginnings of “a fully circular infrastructure at Nike” and said the Forward material in particular “has the potential to change the apparel industry.”


“We believe this platform could do for apparel what Flyknit did for footwear,” Donahoe said.


Brands are increasingly under pressure to change their impact, with some beginning to utilize recycling more. Fruit of the Loom recently launched a limited edition T-shirt collection made of a recycled cotton blend from Recover. In July, Anthropologie launched a denim recycling program that rewarded customers with a jeans discount, and Parade launched a similar program for underwear in January. Nike Forward, however, takes things a step further compared to some other retailers by creating an entirely new production process in addition to using recycled content.


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