The Nike ISPA Link turns the fast fashion spiral into a loop with its ‘unpacking’ sneakers

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In the run from start to finish, a pair of sneakers emits nearly 13.6 kg of carbon dioxide, about 70 percent of which is released during the manufacturing phase. In an era where these facts are more than relevant, swoosh fanclubs can rejoice that American multinational sports giant Nike has introduced their new sneakers from the ISPA series (Improvise, Scavenge, Protect, Adapt). ARI Link and ARI Link Axis have been designed based on the brand’s ‘dismantle’ circular design principle, featuring a similar technique to modular construction. As the brand claims, the completely glue-free shoe takes just eight minutes to assemble, taking Nike’s game beyond the visuals and towards a more sustainable approach to the creation and use of its iconic sneakers.



  • The sneakers consist of three modules that can be assembled and disassembled to help with faster recycling |  Nike ISPA Link Series |  Nike |  STIRworld
    The sneakers consist of three modules that can be assembled and disassembled to help with faster recycling Image: Courtesy of Nike






  • Organic pegs from the sole link to the knitted leather upper, so that it appears to be a complementary unit with separate modules |  Nike ISPA Link Series |  Nike |  STIRworld
    Organic pegs from the sole link to the knitted leather upper, so that they appear to be a complementary whole with separate modules Image: Courtesy of Nike



With more than 30 years of expertise in sportswear and sneakers design, Nike presented the Circular Design Guide in 2019, emphasizing 10 principles that underpin a universal call to action for the industry to have a positive impact on the planet. In line with this, the ISPA team outlined circularity through disassembly for their new series, where in addition to the agility, performance and agility associated with the brand, products can also be disassembled and recycled. The ARI link series features three interlocking modules with an ultralight midsole of uneven pegs that fit snugly against the skin of the knitted fabric upper and interlock to form a single unit.



The Nike ISPA Link Axis builds on Link's ongoing progress and will launch in 2023 |  Nike ISPA Link Series |  Nike |  STIRworld
The Nike ISPA Link Axis builds on Link’s ongoing progress and will arrive in 2023 Image: Courtesy of Nike


Contrary to the conventional (and somewhat complicated) anatomy of a sneakers, the ARI Link and Link Axis simplify the complexities of product design for consumers, thus starting the step towards sustainable fashion through a closed loop system that generates zero waste. For all the buzz in architecture, any initiative towards sustainable design is outstanding in a field as famous as the fashion for producing waste and products with much smaller ephemeral lifespans. In addition, the team put together a rather organic design that seems to stimulate trade-offs between future innovations and current actions. Beyond consumerism and ownership, shoes can be considered a counter-cultural symbol for human-centred urban streets, while actively caring for the planet. While the design takes inspiration from earlier sneakers from the iSPA line, the Link series seems to spark a conversation about casual comfort along with radical expression.



  • Link Axis features a 100 percent recycled polyester Flyknit upper designed to fit snugly on the outsole |  Nike ISPA Link Series |  Nike |  STIRworld
    The Axis Link features a 100 percent recycled polyester Flyknit upper engineered to fit snugly on the outsole Image: Courtesy of Nike






  • With a need for durability and action, this shoe features a 20 percent recycled TPU cage |  Nike ISPA Link Series |  Nike |  STIRworld
    With a need for durability and action, this shoe features a 20 percent recycled TPU enclosure Image: Courtesy of Nike



Nike’s sub-label, ISPA, is a great choice for Improv, Scavenge, Protect and Adapt, actively experimenting with different possibilities on how to get the most out of the product life cycle. This long-term brainstorming is reflected in the Link series through the use of waste materials to create new products. While the ISPA Link uses traditional cutting and sewing methods, the Axis Link will be engineered to fit the outsole precisely using a 100 percent recycled polyester Flyknit upper. This TPU tooling is achieved by recycling used airbag materials. In addition to the use of recycled materials, the distinct coarse materiality is further manifested in the assembly of the shoe without glue, thereby eliminating the environmental implications of the heating and cooling process, apart from the energy costs of tearing up the sneakers – the conventional method of recycling them.



  • The 2003 Presto clip was one of Nike's first attempts at creating a shoe that locks and disassembles |  Nike ISPA Link Series |  Nike |  STIRworld
    The 2003 Presto clip was one of Nike’s first attempts at creating a shoe that locks and disassembles Image: Courtesy of Nike






  • The Zvezdoshka by Nike in 2005 was created in collaboration with industrial designer Marc Newson, exploring disassembly and interlocking possibilities |  Nike ISPA Link Series |  Nike |  STIRworld
    The Zvezdoshka by Nike in 2005 was created in collaboration with industrial designer Marc Newson, exploring the possibilities of disassembling and locking. Image: Courtesy of Nike



Nearly a decade after the debut of the 2003 Presto Clip, the very first sneaker in which Nike began the disassembly and locking process, and the 2005 Zvezdoshka, the brand launch of the Link series in Spring 2022 seemed like the next natural step and required innovation. In the process of achieving a zero-carbon, zero-waste future for Nike, the ISPA Link series is one step closer to exploring the potential of this vast industry in mitigating the effects of the climate crisis and global warming together. Although the brand’s circular vision strengthens their design process, the attention to creating a sensory experience with products that aids user comfort does not seem to be compromised. “Designed in partnership with engineering, digital product creation and development, this shoe is fully informed by manufacturing method – it’s truly a case of function follows form,” said Darryl Matthews, VP, Catalyst Footwear Product Design in an official release.

(Text by Sunena V Maju, internship at STIRworld)

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