Q&A with James Carnes – adidas Creative Director of Performance

In time for the Olympics, we saw adidas unveil their latest performance running shoe, the adiZero Primeknit using innovative knitting technology that’s now employed at the forefront of running footwear. The shoes were launched at a dedicated pop-up store in off the famous Carnaby Street in London and in attendance was James Carnes, Head of Design for Sport Performance at adidas, who set out the adiZero Primeknit project. We caught up with James to talk about the shoe and his time at adidas. Joining us was Alexander Taylor (pictured above in the blue polo), one of the UK’s leading designers, who also worked upon the shoe. They both gave us valuable insight into the significance of knitting technology and the future of it. The adidas adiZero Primeknit is available exclusively at 10 Newburgh Street in London until August 12.

In your time at adidas, what projects have been the highlights of your career so far?

JC: There’s tons. In terms of projects I worked on, I really enjoyed working on the original ClimaCool shoe. I would have to say this [adiZero Primeknit] is one of the highlights that I’ve worked on in a long time because it represents so much more than just the product. A lot of the products that we’ve worked on are breakthroughs in terms of performance and technology. This is more – it’s something beyond that. 

Digitally knitting fused-yarn technology appears to be the future of running already. It’s a beautiful advancement. How far do you think this technology can be taken? Can it expand into other areas of sports and possibly apparel? 

JC: Of course. The thing that’s important to note about this is the knitting process itself, is something we uniquely developed for the shoe and the way that we developed it is superior to anything that’s out there. So it’s not just taking something from like apparel or furniture and applying it to footwear. It’s developed into its own process and use the machinery in a different way, so we definitely see this going into future iterations of adiZero product, future iterations of running products, basketball, football and so on. The application is definitely not ending with this shoe or this category.

It’s a very timely release for the adiZero Primeknit to launch as the Olympics are to kick off. How long has the shoe been in development?

JC: We started this project in 2008 after the Beijing Olympics and we saw two things happening. One was we were creating product with adiZero which was about reducing weight and simplifying the process of the creation of the shoe, and we wanted different views on how to create the product differently. We brought in a couple of different industrial designers to give us different points of view and to start the project with us. And in 2008, we worked with Alex on this and he started working with us on the idea of knitting. We thought if we do this, we want to be able to uphold all the standards we have for performance and do something that is going to change the way we make shoes – not just bringing in or importing a process into the way we make shoes now. So it’s been a 4 year journey.

AT: We looked at the project and sort of said, “What would the ultimate be?” Knitting was something in the air back then and has come to the front now, whereby it has been put into application. It was something around and has been around for a number of years. It’s just the fact that technology has caught up with a mindset and the two have been able to actually make it possible for the consumer market finally. And it makes sense from a production point of view because of sustainability issues, performance issues and everything else.

The key thing what we’re seeing here is the idea of a something as a single piece. It’s always been my philosophy – and the kind of idea I spoke to James early on – is to have this single piece construction – could we really fit everything into one piece? So we have no other parts. For example, there are no eyelets; there’s no heel cap and no toe cap. No extra type of construction is put in there. It’s really within the textile; and the textile comes from the knit process and that’s where it makes our product different from the competition’s product. And that in tune will lead to a nice development story and the way we can put it into other sports, and how it will evolve will be super interesting for us and hopefully the consumer.

JC: It’s the difference between mostly knitted and fully knitted. We’re able to create structure, fit and 3-dimensional shape in a way that nothing’s been done before.

The shoe is amazing, the process is amazing. It’s clearly for us that it’s superior technology for knitting. But what it represents for us is completely different from that alone. What it represents is the future of manufacturing products. Like Alex said, a typical way of making a shoe would be that you would create a lot of materials and you select pieces. This is to plan and create, so it kind of flips it on its head – you only use the yarns you need, so it’s low waste – or zero waste would be ideal – it’s produced wherever you have the machine. We made these in Germany – we brought the machines over and made them there. The future of it is really cool; it’s beyond just sustainability for the environment, but also for the economy, culture and countries being able to build the products that they consume themselves. I think that’s the thing that gets us excited is the way we run the planet.


Interview: Denis Yong

Photography: Coach Magdi Fernandes

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