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  • Mike Friton is a freelance shoemaker, weaver, paper sculptor and innovator with over 30 years of experience at Nike. His innovations are responsible for many elements of athletic footwear that people wear today. Each of his crafts informs one another and he is constantly exploring the fringes of his field. Mike's work is a great example of how non-traditional methods of exploring one's craft can lead to unique end results.

    If you have any questions or inquiries about Mike and his work, he can be reached at mikefriton@yahoo.com. or (971) 219-6552.

    DIRECTOR: Tristan Stoch
    DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY: Sean Grasso
    SOUND: David Panton

    MUSIC BY KEVIN MACLEOD

    Cineastas: The Innovator

  • Sneakers Addict

    Where has it all started?

    I think that my creative interest came from watching my family work.  My father and grandfather were stonemasons who built beautiful fireplaces.  Growing up, I worked alongside them as often as I could.  My grandmother was a quilt- and clothing-maker, and she helped me with my first sewing project when I was about nine years old.

    Early days

    My first job for Bill Bowerman was building a stone water fountain at the track in Eugene, Ore., which lead to working on shoes with him at his lab. I was there for 16 years, helping athletes and collaborating with them throughout the process of testing the shoes that I built. In addition, I helped to design appropriate footwear for people with disabilities who had been referred to us by their doctors. 

    After Bill retired, I moved to Beaverton, Ore. to work on the main Nike campus in research and development, eventually helping to start the Innovation Kitchen. The original members of this group were mostly senior designers and engineers. Our task was to bring all of our ideas to the table—even ideas that we had been holding back and ideas that others had a hard time understanding or appreciating.

    Who is an innovator?

    An innovator is someone who has a passion for exploring and trying to understand what’s possible (or maybe what’s impossible!) at the moment. This can make the conservative business mind very nervous, but an innovator has the courage to try to make it work.

    Creative Process

    I studied Anthropology in college and learned to appreciate the skills and craft of the past. For instance, the textile accomplishments of many ancient cultures exceed even what we can do today. We can gain a wealth of knowledge by studying history; the industrial revolution left many accomplished crafts behind for simpler and cheaper commodity goods. In the digital world, especially with new developments in three-dimensional printing and other technologies, we have the opportunity to revive older traditions and take them to new places.

    My explorations in paper sculpture have really opened my eyes to new possibilities in converting two-dimensional pieces into dynamic three-dimensional forms. I am continually finding new avenues to explore. Every time I think I have seen it all I find something new; the craft seems boundless.

    Is there a common point in all of your creations?

    I’ve worked in many fields both in and outside the realm of footwear, so I’d have to say that my pieces have had a variety of themes over the years; I look for solutions in a number of different places. 

    Top Ten Shoes

    The focus of my work has always been providing lead designers at Nike with new concepts and techniques for building shoes. Favorites include the following:

    • The Goat-Tech Trail Running Shoe, which was top-ranked in Runner’s World magazine
    • The Presto, which was a top-selling Nike comfort running shoe
    • Various models of the Jordan line, including the Trunner or Jordan Runner. 
    • Hand woven footwear – Inspired by trips to Mexico.

    In addition, my research in braiding and knitting has paved the way for a variety of successful styles.

    How could you describe the evolution of running shoes since you started?

    When I was an athlete, the focus was on controlling the motion of the foot, primarily with anti-pronation devices. Today, we’re seeing a shift toward minimalist footwear that allows the foot to move naturally.

    Next steps?  And what is the perfect shoe?

    I think we’ll start seeing more adaptive materials and constructions that are more holistic, meaning that the distinction between the uppers, midsoles, and outsoles will begin to blur and blend. The perfect shoe would follow the foot and allow for completely natural movement.

    Where is your company heading?

    Currently I am focused on consulting, primarily with Nike. I hope to do more teaching, and eventually I aim to put out small productions of my own concepts on the market.