Mike Friton

Mike Friton - Footwear Design Innovator

Mike Friton has been an innovator in the footwear industry for over 30 years. His career began at Bowerman Lab—an athletic footwear “think tank” created by Bill Bowerman, Co-Founder of Nike. He began working at the lab part-time while running track for University of Oregon in Eugene, where he was a Junior National Champion in Steeple Chase and a 1980 Olympic Trials competitor.

In 1998 Friton left Bowerman Lab and moved to Nike’s headquarters in Portland where he worked in several departments—Advanced Technology Engineering, All Conditions Gear (ACG) and Advanced Product Engineering—before joining the company’s esteemed Innovative Kitchen as a Senior Innovator. Notably, Friton has patented 14 prototypes for Nike. These include Goatek—a running shoe designed after a Mountain goat hoof—which earned Runners’ World Shoe of the Year title, and the Trunner—a running and basketball shoe hybrid with an adjustable heel clip—which won an award from a leading science magazine. One of the more recent innovations he worked on was their Back to the Future shoe, featuring self-tying laces. 

In 2011, Friton left Nike to launch his own footwear prototype enterprise, giving him the flexibility to contract with leading and niche-market footwear companies, and to develop prototypes of his own. When not working in his studio, Friton teaches workshops and footwear engineering classes at the Art Institute of Portland where he has been an adjunct faculty member for three years. 

Friton’s passion for finding new ways to translate flat materials into three-dimensional shapes extends beyond footwear. Over the last decade, he has been creating experimental 3D textile and paper sculptures by exploring new weaving and cutout techniques. During the same period, he began collaborating with renowned artist Michael Curry—best known for his pioneering puppetry and mask designs for Broadway’s Lion King musical—at Michael Curry Design. Highlights during his eight years there included creating an entire pop-up village, and designing wings Britney Spears wore on tour. 

Friton lives in Portland, is a father of two, and rows for Oregon Rowing Unlimited Master’s crew, whose learn-to-row program he helped launch five years ago.