Nike React: Is the Technology Nike's Legitimate Answer to Boost?
Updated: Apr 10, 2019
Written by Evan Marrow
Illustration by Sydney Reaper
Throughout the 1990’s and early 2000’s, Nike’s Air technology dominated the sneaker scene. The tech’s visible air bubble, first implemented in the Air Max 1 in 1987, provided a level of cushioning that other companies could not match. However, in 2013 Adidas had their long-awaited answer: Boost. The cushioning technology utilized a material called thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) that offered a groundbreaking combination of comfort and responsiveness. Initially renowned for its role in running shoes, Boost’s true rise to supremacy came through Adidas’ lifestyle branch. Popular silhouettes including the NMD, Pharrell’s NMD HU and Kanye West’s Yeezy Boost line all helped propel Boost to the forefront of sneaker culture. Nike was in a position that they had rarely found themselves in, lagging behind the innovation of Adidas. Its parallels to past monumental innovations, which appear in the Epic React and Element React, prove that React is Nike’s legitimate response. The technology’s ability to feature in performance and lifestyle models, its emphasis on cushioning and responsiveness and its potential for high fashion collaborations all follow past sneaker technologies models for success.
Like Boost, React’s design goal is to provide a high level of comfort, energy return, and durability to runners. Their vision regarding the foam is most accurately depicted in Nike’s ad campaign, in which a sneaker lands on a memory foam mattress topper with a pillow and springs underneath. Another main component is the role of athletes in the development of the shoe. The feedback Nike received helped them formulate a new perfected foam chemistry after 400 trial recipes. Adidas’ Boost went through a similar process, as the German brand collaborated with BASF, a world leader in chemical based innovation, to create Boost’s TPU formula. Clearly, the ads were intended to elicit comparisons between React and Boost. Nike may have matched Boost’s performance capabilities with React, but to truly achieve Adidas’ tech’s stature, React will have to gain traction in lifestyle shoes as well. Their recently released React Element 87 exhibits that the technology has the potential to rejuvenate Nike’s sportswear branch as well.
If a general release sneaker garners enough hype to sell out its first few releases, it usually becomes a mainstay of the sneaker community. If Adidas’ initial NMD and UltraBoost models were not purchased shortly after their release, the only place they could be found was through resellers. Since its first two colorways were released in the Summer of 2018, every Nike React Element 87 has sold out within the day it has become available. The silhouette’s ingenious amalgamation of a chunky midsole and a translucent tech upper encompasses two of the hottest trends in fashion today. Through constructing a popular lifestyle sneaker with React, Nike has cultivated the technology’s aesthetic capabilities from its origins of performance. The way Nike translated React to a lifestyle setting through the Element shares many attributes with the way that Adidas achieved the transition with their NMD model. Each company had a similar approach to the midsole of the shoe, where each respective technology lies. Adidas added grooved rubber bumpers to the side of the NMD’s midsole to differentiate it from the traditional bare boost featured in the company’s running shoes. Nike aestheticized React in the Element 87 through geometric accents that contrast in color from the rest of the midsole. In both cases, both Nike and Adidas deviated from their performance lines in appearance while preserving the featured technologies core. Maintaining tech between multiple silhouettes enabled Adidas to build Boost’s brand through establishing familiarity with the product. Then, new features such as NMD’s bumpers prevent the technology from becoming aesthetically stale while preserving its values of comfort and durability. It will be interesting to see what Nike will produce to follow the Element 87 to continue elevating React’s brand to the stature of Boost, but their strategy has been successful so far.
A promising aspect of the Nike React Element 87’s role in popularizing the technology is its potential for high profile collaborations. A key factor that contributes to Boost’s longevity is Kanye West’s integration of the tech into his Yeezy line. When Nike lost Kanye in 2013, they struggled to maintain a consistent celebrity presence within their brand outside of athletes, to cultivate their lifestyle branch. However, in late 2017 Nike had secured a partnership that filled the void within their sportswear branch in the form of Virgil Abloh, head of the fashion label OFFWHITE and men’s artistic director at Louis Vuitton. Abloh’s collaborations with Nike, featuring his signature text and patchwork designs, have become icons in sneaker culture. Based upon his frequent work with modern silhouettes, including the Zoom Fly and Vapormax, it is likely that an Abloh-influenced React Element 87 will release soon, a release that would provide further exposure for React. In addition to a potential OFFWHITE React Element 87, the sneaker was already involved in a collaboration with Jun Takahashi’s prominent streetwear label Undercover. The partnership with Undercover is especially influential, as the sneaker’s technical features resonate with Japanese fashion culture. The connection of a sneaker to a brand’s larger framework through a partnership enables the shoe to grow within different demographics that it would otherwise not reach as effectively.
Although Nike’s React is still in its early stages, the technology has already established a strong reputation for itself. Nike’s two renditions of the foam have exceeded the expectations of both athletes and street goers alike. In particular, the Nike React Element 87 has gained avid support from popular sneaker Youtubers and streetwear moguls and is even consistently featured in Lebron James’ pre-game outfits and Instagram posts. Historically, it has only taken one or two silhouettes to elevate a certain technology to prominence. In 1987, the Nike Air Max 1 with its visible air bubble promoted a technology first introduced in 1978. In 2015, Adidas’ Ultra Boost and NMD popularized Boost within sneaker culture when the company’s initial models with the tech did not. Now it is React’s turn, through the Element 87, to rise to the upper echelons of sneaker culture itself.