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Many of our daily step counts took a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, but people still bought sneakers in droves. In 2021, the global sneaker market is valued at $84 million and projected to grow to over $128 million by 2027.
One reason: Sneaker technology once afforded only to elite athletes like sub-two-hour marathoner Eluid Kipchoge became available to every runner this year, which we pointed out in our 2021 Trends report. There’s been innovation, beyond what we called, in three key spheres. Here, we explore those and dive into how technology is pushing sneakers further into the future as we wrap this year and look ahead to the next.
While carbon plating technology debuted in the 1990s by Reebok as a way for runners to be able to drive their strides by harnessing their own energy from heel-strike to toe-off, Nike’s innovative cushioning and carbon-plated sole systems were reintroduced to the ZoomX NEXT% ($250) after Kipchoge ran a 1:59:40 marathon in Vienna in October 2019 in an unreleased prototype from the brand. Following this, carbon plating became widely used throughout the brand’s racing portfolio, including in the Vaporfly NEXT % ($265), Tempo NEXT% ($200), and Alphafly NEXT% ($275).
Nike isn’t alone in utilizing this propulsive technology, however. Hoka followed up their Carbon X ($145) and Carbon X2 ($180) models—two super-cushioned and speedy racing shoes for short and long distances—with their latest release, the Bondi X ($200), combining a rocker (or ergonomically curved) shoe with carbon plating. Gretchen Weimer, Hoka global vice president of product, says that’s because the technology is no longer just for elite runners. “We’re even looking to take some of these concepts from the Bondi X and infuse them onto a trail [line of shoes],” she says. “We see opportunities for our tech in the mountains, on the roads, tracks, and trails.”
Similarly, both Adidas and Saucony have tapped carbon plating in recent drops as well, with the energy-spurring Adidas Adios Pro 2 ($220) and the Saucony Endorphin Speed ($120). Needless to say, this technology isn’t going anywhere and each brand promises a more propulsive, efficient, and safer ride with each of their shoes.
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