Getting to know GLITCH, we speak to adidas’ Vice President of Design, Sam Handy about challenging conventions and creating a revolution from the bottom up.

This is another big moment in what's been a huge year for the brand. Can you introduce GLITCH and explain the thinking behind it?

“GLITCH is a groundbreaking boot for us in the way we’ve brought together the best of our functional innovation and our creative execution. Six months ago we brought the first functional laceless football boot to the market and now we’ve taken that technical learning and mixed it with the world of creativity and new ways that people want to express themselves and be creative in sport.”

What makes GLITCH so unique in the way adidas have developed the boot?

“Creative freedom reflects the world we live in now. I think that’s what's so magical about GLITCH ― it’s laceless football that allows your to be super creative. That’s the interesting part of how the product works and the way we are bringing it to market with an entrepreneurial start-up mentality. It’s all a work in progress right now; we’re going to work with a small group of kids in London who have been testing the boot and we’re going to create the next iterations with them based on live input. We’re going to build it for them and ask the questions: ‘What do you want’? How do you want to interact with it? How do we reflect your world?’ That’s a very different way of doing things ― it’s a super human way of creating product.”

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“GLITCH is a space for us to be creative and to do things differently. Everything from the way we sell it and the way we communicate it, to the way we take learnings from the people who play in it; it’s all very different. We will be developing it with live feedback and that’s something that’s very different to ACE and X where everything is very planned: we build and amazing product, know how we’re going to bring it to market and build a range around it. But as we move forward, what we learn from GLITCH we will also apply to our regular franchises, so ACE and X will be affected from the work we do with the GLITCH community.”

“The most interesting part of GLITCH moving forward will be how we interact with the people who play in it and how we take their feedback and adjust the boot. No other brand is doing that and I think that’s the real revolution.”

“The way we have set this project up has also been unique. It started from the inline development team but was taken over and managed by a dedicated project group. They were given a hell of a lot of freedom to make the project work and build a self enclosed ecosystem that really engages with the consumer. There were two stages to the whole thing: make it work and make it creative.

The way you’re bringing GLITCH to market is something that's completely new for adidas Football as well.

“Yes, we’re bringing GLITCH to market in a very different way. The first roll-out will be in London within small communities, but we’ll be bringing it to more cities around the world. It’s invite only and you’ll only be able to order it through the GLITCH app and there will be a four hour delivery within the M25. So you have to know someone who knows someone, and then you can get it! That’s revolutionary in how a football boot is brought to market.”

There must have been a few working titles, but why did you settle on the name ‘GLITCH’?

“I think that’s what it is, right? It’s a disruptor in our way of doing things. The point is that it’s creativity, it’s disruption, it’s different. It’s unpredictable and I think that’s what ‘GLITCH’ means. You’ll notice it in the way people talk about it. ‘Is it a shoe?’ Is it a way of going to market? Is it an app? Is it a community?’ Its all of those things brought together and it’s really different to everything we usually do.”

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What did you learn throughout the development phase and the feedback sessions?

“I came into this project a year and a half ago and I think it had been running for a year before then. It’s a really long development process to build something like this because there’s a lot that could not work when you’re trying to build an interchangeable skin. The fact that it’s laceless and even works at all is down to the development work that went into the ACE 16+ Purecontrol. A lot of our creation cycles overlap each other; for example the way we built X 16 influenced Glitch and the way we built ACE Purecontrol influenced GLITCH ― so there’s lots of worlds creatively colliding on this product.

“It’s very different to how it looked 12 months ago. Before, it was a pure innovation boot with a slip-on skin ― it had laces before and was very different to this. Previously it was a lot about functional performance personalisation; so the idea that you could have a light skin, a control skin or a leather skin ― that was really the core of it. But what we found more and more is that it had the potential to bring together the worlds of sneaker culture, youth culture and performance. We’ve really readjusted how GLITCH works to be as much about the functional benefits as it is about its cultural connection and its variety of executions, colours and graphics. The product became a lot more fun throughout the development and I think that was the biggest change. A year ago it was very serious and now it’s a lot of fun and really creative.”

“Something we learned from the ACE 16+ Purecontrol is that people want new, different and progressive ideas ― people want to be surprised.”

I’ve been in a few of the feedback sessions where we showed people the boot of the first time. When you asked them what they thought of the boot a lot would say, ‘It reminds me of the X 16’, but then you take off the skin and their eyes open to the possibilities of what you can do with the product.”

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What pro player involvement has there been throughout the process?

“There’s been pro player and semi-pro player testing all of the way through and it definitley performs at the level of our highest product. Ruben Loftus-Cheek will wear it on field when it goes to market as well as some of our younger players like Dan Crowley. It’s more incidental that these players have latched onto the boot and want to wear it. It’s not a boot we want to push with big player endorsements. We want the story to come from local communities as opposed to pro player endorsement.”

Technically, what were some of the biggest challenges?

“Technically making GLITCH work was great engineering challenge that we overcame. At adidas there's a very big engine of people working to resolve performance challenges. For GLITCH we had the Innovation Team, the Futures Team and the Inline Development Team working solidly for two years to eliminate the chance of anything not working. The boot has undergone hundreds of revisions to make it technically possible. It’s been a very evolutionary process, but the biggest challenge was not to give up on it. There were a number of times when the team could have said, ‘You know what, this is never going to work’, but they didn’t ― they kept going and always believed in it.”

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Can you give us an overview of the product itself and what consumers can expect?

“GLITCH comes with what we’re calling a ‘Techfit Laceless Inner Shoe’ and interchangeable ‘External Skins’ ― neither part works without the other, obviously. The studs on the inner shoe lock into the cleat and hold it together. It doesn’t move and plays like a true high performance adidas football boot. There are two collar heights: a high and low, and maybe more to come. In total there’s three ‘socks’ and four ‘skins’ at launch. You buy a starter pack and you get one inner shoe and two skins, and you can chose which skins you get.”

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“It would be wrong to talk about GLITCH just as a product innovation though, I think that’s missing the point. The product revolution of building a laceless football boot, we did that. It’s in the market now and we have some of the best players int he world playing in it. That’s a product revolution, whereas with GLITCH it’s bigger than just the shoe ― we’re looking at something that’s more revolutionary than just its technical innovation. For example, the way the app works and the way it’s local and very specific to some of the coolest cities in the world, that’s the revolution.”

This feels different to previous disruptive releases from adidas, is that right to assume?

“The way we translate innovation at adidas now is very different. We could have done this in a very dry and functional way but what we’ve learned a lot recently is to act in a more culturally connected way. I don’t think of sports product as being like a kettle or a fighter jet or a car ― it’s piece of footwear that you interact with. We’ve treated this much more like a cultural shoe rather than an engineering project. It’s a big journey that we’re on, to be functionally the best sports performance brand in the world but to build product that integrates in the way you live.”

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Do you have an idea of what GLITCH will look like a year or more down the line?

“The product is going to evolve naturally. It may not look like this next season or the season afterwards, but it’s going to be very fluid in the way it evolves as we’re getting less hung up on how we traditionally launch and road map our football boots. We’re really trying to build product that has flexibility to change with peoples lives.

“We’re being creative in the way we launch it and we’re going to be reactive in the way it evolves. Open source creation is going to be at the heart of everything we do with GLITCH.”

What will determine the success of GLITCH?

What will determine the success of GLITCH is the quality of the relationships we build with the people who interact with the boot. It’s not set up as being a huge commercial proposition from day one. Normally we bring a new boot to market with millions of pairs, but I think give or take what happens with this, the experience of building a relationship with these communities and working on product with them, there’s huge value in that. We’re already seeing the impact of that in our current ranges for Spring/Summer ’17.”

GLITCH will be available from November exclusively through the GLITCH app.