Nike InnovationExplaining how one badass shoe line trashes all the rules of manufacturing

In 2016, Nike Innovation set an ambitious goal: to craft a shoe with the lowest carbon footprint in the company’s history. This attempt to combine sustainable practices with radical design decisions was bold, risky—even a bit bizarre. Nike Innovation invited GDP to sit in on the creation process, from raw concept to finished product, and document how these trailblazing kicks came to be.

The watchword for the project was ISRU: “in situ resource utilization,” a concept lifted from space exploration. “If you’re going to fly to the Moon or Mars and stay there and do something, you have to create things with what you find there,” says Nike Sustainability Design lead Noah Murphy-Reinhertz. “There’s no resupply mission coming to Mars. There’s no resupply mission coming to Earth either. We are working on what it means to create a fully closed loop economy.” 

The result arrived in July of 2020: Space Hippie, a line of sneakers made out of, essentially, trash. Every part is spec’d to be made from as much recycled material as is physically possible—about half of the shoe by weight. The bulk of the Flyknit upper and the foam midsole are byproducts of the company’s manufacturing processes, while the rubber is partially derived from sneaker remnants, factory seconds, and scraps. The Space Hippie project is reshaping Nike from the inside—putting sustainability on an equal footing (as it were) with performance.

The Space Hippie line is a revolution in product manufacturing, mixing cutting edge design with utilitarian simplicity that makes its unprecedented sustainable materials readily apparent. We aimed for a similar mix of elegance and rawness in our films about the shoes.

After working with GDP on well-received documentaries about a rising athletic superstar and the backstory on the creation of an iconic sneaker, Nike gave us the privilege of telling the story of Space Hippie in series of films, offering unprecedented behind-the-scenes access to their creative process. They also gave us an opportunity to document their highly secretive manufacturing process.

Clockwise from top left: Executive producer Rob Capps of GDP.  Nike innovation guru Tinker Hatfield reunited with GDP’s Scott Dadich, who directed this project and EP'd the Netflix series Abstract that profiled Hatfield. The Nike Innovation Design team brainstorming. Sun sets over the Saigon river. The camera crew setting up for that sunset shot.

GDP’s talented and experienced crew led this project, including director Scott Dadich and executive producers Rob Capps, Paula Chowles, and Dave O’Connor, all of whom had previously worked on the Emmy-nominated Netflix series Abstract: The Art of Design. They enlisted the brilliant and versatile cinematographer  Graham Willoughby of the Oscar-winning 20 Feet From Stardom. After extensive interviews and research, the crew crisscrossed the globe to tell that story. We did several shoots in research labs at Nike headquarters, captured secret design jams in the woods of Oregon, and were even granted unprecedented permission to shoot within Nike partner factories in Vietnam. 

One of the biggest storytelling challenges: While climate change and sustainability are serious, often-depressing topics, Space Hippie is a fun and dynamic product line with its own offbeat ethos. The films had to capture and reflect all of the joy and quirkiness and optimism of the Nike designers. Weaving together the personal narratives of the shoe’s designers with the deep problem-solving that went into it, we created and produce a series that is at turns funny, thought-provoking, and touching, ultimately showing Space Hippie as a beacon of optimism in our uncertain times. 

Our team had access to Nike’s greatest design minds. Clockwise from top left: Sustainability Design lead Noah Murphy-Reinhertz, “Sneakerologist” Bryan Farris, VP of Sustainable Product Liz Rodgers, Innovation Designer Haley Toelle, and Chief Design Officer John Hoke.

Our team of animators, editors, and motion graphics designers worked tirelessly to combine our footage with archival material from both Nike and NASA, and use it all to tell the story behind this revolutionary product. Combining our experience with journalism, design, and visual storytelling, we delivered not only three compelling short films, but also a range of edits at various lengths, sizes, orientations, and aspect ratios to spread the story of Space Hippie across the company’s diverse ecosystem of channels—from its native SNKRS and Nike apps to Instagram, YouTube, and Nike.com. 

 Using the same footage, graphics, and principals as the main film, the team cut five individual shorts custom-designed for Nike’s smartphone apps and social feeds. Each is a rapid-fire introduction to a specific aspect of the Space Hippie project.

We’re thrilled to have had the opportunity to share the story of Space Hippie, and we hope that it fully lives up to its world-changing potential. Our only regrets about the project are that we had so much trouble snapping up pairs from the first wave of shoes released—they went on sale on July 3rd and sold out in less than four minutes.