Football is meant to be the global game that’s accessible to all, however, that’s not always the case. For many people there are barriers that must be overcome before they can enjoy the game that we all love, and it’s these challenges that drive Nike’s commitment to equality, inclusion and the common goal of making shoes easier for everyone. That’s where Nike FlyEase comes into play, and we spoke all about it with long-time Nike collaborator Sarah Reinertsen, who had a big hand in the developmen

You’re sitting in the changing room, kitted up, raring to go. Last thing you do, without even thinking, is pull on your boots and lace them up. To a lot of people it’s an action that is taken for granted, but when looking at aspects of the game that may prevent people from playing, it’s huge. What it certainly shouldn’t be is one of the reasons you don’t play. Nike FlyEase extends the brand’s long-standing commitment to “always listen to the voice of the athlete” by formulating fresh considerations about how shoes should function. The ideas continue to be inspired and driven by insights from adaptive athletes such as England Cerebal Palsy captain Matt Crossen and Paralympic triathlete Sarah Reinertsen, and they’ve helped affirm a set of criteria that results in smarter and better-designed footwear for all athletes. Ultimately it’s about liberation, freedom, and empowerment.

Reinertsen has been pivotal in the development of the FlyEase technology, and we were able to speak with her to get more of an insight into the process behind the design, as well as just what this type of innovation means for adaptive athletes and the game as a whole.

How would you describe the power that FlyEase has?

In my mind, FlyEase is really about Independence. Giving people that independence to get on their shoes and go. Whether that’s an athlete with or without a disability, we’re really trying to create a platform that helps all of us. In designing the FlyEase collection, we really leaned into the principles of Universal design. So when you design for the most extreme needs, you’re actually unlocking benefits for everybody and so our muse is the adaptive athlete but all athletes benefit from getting their shoes on quicker.

Bringing it to such a powerfully global game as football – it’s a monumental moment isn’t it?

This moment of launching the Phantom GT FlyEase is huge. We started the whole FlyEase journey with our first commercial basketball shoe in 2015 and so we did it in a basketball shoe first and then followed on with the Pegasus in a running shoe and this year we also launched it in the Air Jordan 1. Getting hi-tops on is a challenge for everybody so opening up a lifestyle shoe is huge but then taking this to football, such a global sport. Being able to bring that innovation to this sport is a massive moment. The drive has been there for a long time – knowing this one of the most popular sports on the planet, we knew that if we could create this technology for this sport and make football boots easier to get on for all the players out there, we knew the effect would be enormous.

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Knowing this is one of the most popular sports on the planet, we knew that if we could create this technology and make football boots easier to get on for all the players out there, the effect would be enormous”

It’s been described as liberating, pure freedom – how would you describe it?

In creating these innovations, we create them to level the playing field. We also want to empower people. We want to help people be able to get out and play, and ultimately do more sport. We want to take away the barriers to entry. That’s where we know that putting on a pair of shoes can be a hassle for any of us. When you have a disability, those challenges can sometimes be greater. 

We knew from some of our feedback that our testers gave us, them having to get their coaches to take a time-out so that someone could tie up their shoes. Whether that's on the basketball court or the football pitch, we knew that was a pain point for some of our athletes. We wanted to solve that and we did. I believe that by opening up our shoes, we are opening up the field of play. Using the adaptive athlete as our muse, we believe this innovation is for everybody. It isn’t for one route. We’re not trying to “other” people, we’re trying to open up our arms even wider. We know that athletes come in all shapes and sizes too. We want athletes to have everything they need in order to perform better. 

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An innovation like this has an effect way before players even get near a pitch. Knowing there is no more fear around players needing assistance to tie up their laces, that is so immensely positive… Do you think products like this can make a change to society as much as they can to an athlete’s performance?

We know that sport is an incredible platform to change the way we think in society. Look at what the Paralympics did in London in 2012 to change people’s perception of what sport actually means. That happened through the vehicle of sport. That happened in London but it had a global effect. The tone that was set and the way the games were covered, we saw sport at its finest. It didn’t matter that they were racing in a wheelchair or had a prosthetic leg or as someone with a visual impairment. They were still showing us, and allowing the world to see, that sport happens at every level regardless of body type. When we look at sport being a vehicle for social change, we also realise that sometimes we have to change the tools that the athletes have, to pursue sport. That’s really what we discovered as we developed the FlyEase technology. We were looking at how we empowered athletes but also leaning into the performance element too. 

When talking about the Phantom GT FlyEase, we discovered so many benefits through the design process that we then took elements we learnt while making this boot, into many more different footwear pieces and many different sports. The ripple effect is huge. We also needed to get FlyEase out there on many different platforms to start to make a change. We know that sport isn’t just one type of sport, it’s many different sports, so introducing products like this into the market relatively close together shows how this technology is there for every athlete. 

As a woman with a disability, my background is in triathlons, as part of that sport, I’m always looking at ways to get my shoes on quicker – I’m in a sport where how fast I can put on my shoes is being timed. I can make pretty good gains if I can get my shoes on quicker. So this all matters in the sport I do but it also matters in my daily life. Now I don’t have those fears or that ripple of anxiety anymore thanks to FlyEase. So from the performance through to the everyday athlete, we are trying to solve and improve for all athletes. 

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It’s such a highly intuitive product – What was the process like in bringing this product to the table given it’s specifically designed for football?

We’ve had the FlyEase technology in a lot of different types of footwear. From basketball to running and when we wanted to add it to football and for the football pitch specifically, it presented a wealth of challenges. Unlike a basketball court that is super clean and dry, that is not the case on the soccer pitch. So it was all about understanding how it was going to work in those specific elements. We worked with athletes who did and didn’t have disabilities in the process of making this. We listened to the voice of the athlete, as we always have done in our innovation process. 

One thing we heard about this shoe that was interesting, was that when you wrap the tape around the shoe, they liked that you could tighten up the heel. It actually added a benefit that you couldn’t do with regular laces. So some athletes were like “wow this changes the fit for us, I can get a snugger fit on a part of a boot that I’ve never been able to”. So that was interesting. What’s really cool about this is that it is not just athletes with disabilities who are loving the shoe. It’s all athletes. That’s what I’ve been really proud of. We’ve got players of all kinds just telling us that this is just a better product all round. 

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Using the adaptive athlete as our muse, we believe this innovation is for everybody. It isn’t for one route. We’re not trying to “other” people, we’re trying to open up our arms even wider”

With that in mind, what does this do for the future of design as a whole? Has it changed the way Nike as a brand thinks? Has it changed the way football boots will be designed in the future?

Through the FlyEase exploration, it shows that Nike leans into the principles of Universal Design. Those principles have shifted our mindset. I think a lot of our designers and the innovation team, they’ve all been through that process that shows that once you wake up and you see the possibilities, it’s hard to go back. 

When you see that the future is Universal, you realise that you want to continue to design in that space. We see this type of design in so many aspects of our lives that improve our lives, that we don’t even realise. Things like going to a supermarket and they have the automatic doors – that might be helpful for people who have a disability and people in a wheelchair but it’s helpful for anyone who is carrying a load of groceries who can’t open the door. That’s an example of universal design that helps everybody. That’s how we approach things. The power of universal design is not just real but it’s accelerating and it’s impacting the way we design at Nike. That’s the mindset of the future.

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What does this project mean to you on a personal level – what emotions does it unlock?

I am so incredibly proud of the work we have done at Nike, not just as someone who works there but as a human being. I see the power of what we do, everyday. Whether it comes through in an email or in a social post. One of my favourite new past times is to follow the hashtag #FlyEase because I see the messages from parents, kids, athletes – everybody can be impacted by getting their shoes on in a better way. 

When you hear a parent saying “I hear about your FlyEase boots, but now my kid can also have trainers!”, they went out and got FlyEase trainers because that would make going school a hassle. It means that a kid can now put their shoes on independently. That pride that, that kid feels and that mum feels … to know he can put his shoes on, to know that he can look after himself, the dignity of that is huge. That matters. 

I find that it is profound. I feel so lucky – it might sound like a small thing but it really is a powerful thing and on a personal level it fuels me every single day. Also, I know what we have now but I’m even more excited about the product we have coming in the future. We’re going to continue to innovate and continue to support athletes of all abilities.

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Pick up the Nike Phantom GT Academy Flyease at