Interview with Mike Friton, a multidisciplinary Senior 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”, that’s Mike friton, a multidisciplinary Creator/Senior Innovator who worked for 30 years+ for Nike, including the prestigious ‘Innovatiion Kitchen’, the ‘Man’ has patented over 20 Nike designs during his carreer, he was involved in the creation of so many concepts.
I had the chance to interview the busy creator, a pleasure for us at ‘Sneakers Addict’ and we thanks him again to give us some of his precious time. To let you figure out who is the man, here is first an interesting video directed by Tristan Stoch where we get a look inside his workspace and we can appreciate the way he combinates all his amazing skills while doing his work:
In the very late 70s early 80s, Mike Friton was student at the Unirversity of Oregon, he earned an Anthropology degree, beside that he was such a competitive runner in the University of Oregon Track and Field team while having a student job moonlighting in Bill Bowerman’s shoe lab (wich became the Nike Inc).
-Mike you are a multidisciplinary Creator (Innovator, Shoemaker, Paper Sculptor, Weaver, Designer), could you tell us 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.
-You were part of the Innovation Kitchen’s creators with Bill Bowerman, Tinker Hatflied among others, could you speak about the early days of the ‘Creative Machine’, how was the the ‘Art of cooking’ in the 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, Oregon 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 do you think an ‘Innovater’ really is?
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.
-It is real interesting to see your approach as an Anthropologist as for the use of Paper Sculpture techniques and combination of materials during the process of your creations, what are you focussed on when you are working on a new concept? Have you changed the way you are doing it thorough the years?
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 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.
-Could you do a ‘Top5’ of the shoes you have been evolving in the conception or patented until today? What is the more innovative one and how do you feel it has influenced on the Running shoe’s Industry?
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.
-What do you think is ‘the next step’ in term of shoe’s innovation in a nearer futur? What would be the best combination for a 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.
-You have launched in 2012 your own footwear prototype enterprise called ‘Friton Design LLC’, congrats for that, where is it tend to go sir?
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.
Interview et traduction: Eddie Little/ Sneakersaddict.com