Tobie Hatfield & Matthew Walzer
In 2012, Matthew Walzer, a teen with cerebral palsy, wrote to Nike because he saw the need for athletic shoes for people with disabilities. The letter led to a reaction Matthew didn’t expect—he collaborated with Nike to weigh in on the adaptive Nike FlyEase shoe.
Photos courtesy of Nike
My dream is to go to the college of my choice without having to worry about someone coming to tie my shoes every day. I’ve worn Nike basketball shoes all my life. I can only wear this type of shoe because I need ankle support to walk. At 16 years old, I am able to completely dress myself, but my parents still have to tie my shoes. As a teenager who is striving to become totally self-sufficient, I find this extremely frustrating and, at times, embarrassing.
Air Max 90 FlyEase with Tobie & Tinker Hatfield
The Air Max 90 FlyEase is a collaboration between brothers Tinker and Tobie Hatfield and their teams. It unites Tinker’s original Air Max 90 design with Tobie’s easy FlyEase technology for a more hands-free entry, resulting in a sporty shoe that can be worn by people of all abilities.
In the summer of 2012, Matthew Walzer, a teen with cerebral palsy, wrote a letter to the CEO of Nike, highlighting a need for athletic footwear made for people with disabilities. His letter emphasized his desire for self-sufficiency and independence in putting on his shoes and for the shoes to have the same athletic performance as other sports footwear. The response, likely larger than Walzer could have imagined, was a design collaboration with Nike’s Tobie Hatfield to create the adaptive Nike FlyEase shoe.
Matthew Walzer (left) trying on a pair of Nike FlyEase
Hatfield set out to design the perfect shoe with Walzer, looking to other Nike silhouettes like the Nike Hyperdunk and the Zoom Soldier which also aligned with LeBron James, Walzer’s favorite player. Thinking about the need for a no-lace solution, Hatfield also considered velcro, zippers, and cable dials before landing on the innovative zipper-strap system of the FlyEase. Designed with a wrap-around zipper that begins mid-foot and opens at the heel of the shoe, the FlyEase makes it easy to move the foot in and out of the shoe. Once zipped, the strap system allows the shoes to be closed easily by someone with limited hand movement. The wraparound zipper is designed for a secure, locked-in fit, ideal for movement and athletic performance.
While Hatfield designed the shoe specifically for the needs of Walzer, Nike then decided to produce the FlyEase on a larger scale to be made available to a wider audience. After multiple years on the market and an overwhelming amount of support and feedback for the product, Nike has continued to develop and expand the FlyEase product line to be even more adaptive as well as including more sizes and styles. Walzer’s initial letter referenced Nike’s mission that “if you have a body you are an athlete.” Hatfield has kept this notion at the forefront of his work, aiming to design for a broader audience that is more inclusive and accessible. Reflecting on the process, Hatfield has said the number of people benefitting has been immense. Walzer’s letter and Hatfield’s willingness to make this project a reality was a true innovation in design and collaboration for all abilities.