The Story Of How Nike Air Max Plus Came To Be

Do you think you know everything there is to know about the Air Max Plus? Think again, there’s an untold story that is just waiting to be told.


The classic sneaker first hit the market way back in 1998, almost 20 years ago! It’s popularity continues today because of it’s performance and it doesn’t hurt that it has morphed into a part of the culture. You can think of Nike’s Air Max line is a dynasty and the Plus was a totally unique member of the family that would eventually define not only its own era but influence the eras to come as well.


There aren’t a whole lot of shoes that have been on the market for two decades and come in such a wide variety of colours, styles, and constructions. Yet, despite all that the Plus was still able to provide the line with a rebrand, whether that was intended or not. You may also have heard the shoe referred to as Tn, which is because of Tuned Air.




The Design 



We all know about the cult-like status of the Air Max line and of the Plus, but what most people don’t know is how it came to pass. We have Sean McDowell, a veteran of the industry, to thank for this beauty.


Long before McDowell started working at Nike the process of conceptualising started. The inspiration for his initial sketches took form as he spent time around Florida’s beaches. It was the landscape and scenery that ignited his imagination and fired up his inspiration for what would come later.


Sean McDowell started working with Nike in 1997 and was challenged with creating a running shoe. The initial title was Sky Air and for McDowell the word sky took him back to that Florida landscape and the ideas that flooded his mind them. So, he took to sketching the scene he had seen in those days. Multi-coloured, different versions of the sky, and geometric palm trees appeared.


The Swoosh is an entire story in and of itself. Remember, McDowell was new to the company so at no point in his career had he drawn a Swoosh. He wasn’t given a template, he had no guidance as he was in his earliest days with the brand, and despite getting the shape wrong and putting the border in the wrong place – it worked and it became one of the signatures of the line.


The Wear


It’s become such an iconic piece of fashion we often forget that it’s intended purpose is as a running shoe. McDowell didn’t forget about that aspect, though. He was keen to improve the performance of the shoe and incorporated Nike’s outsole best practice to the forefoot – flex grooves. What he achieved was a seriously lightweight shoe, it comes in at under 12 ounces, which for the time was incredibly light. You see, McDowell wasn’t just a shoe designer (or fashion genius), he grew up running so he had a unique insight into how he could maximise the shoes performance. One of the biggest issues he faced as a runner was that reflective strips almost always featured on the back of a show, despite the fact that you run toward traffic.


The Construction


This shoe line is a true work of art, and McDowell made sure that customers buying the shoes would understand that. One of the ways he did that was by using the patterns to draw the eyes to the air bag. One of the other big issues with his idea was how they could achieve his plans to create a design that told the story properly. There were three shoes to start with – one that was to depict the sunrise, one to represent the evening, and one for dusk. The biggest issue with his idea was making his idea of fading colours a reality with material. McDowell had an idea for that, too, and as it turned out – it worked a treat.


A trip to Asia confirmed that the shoe could be made, but before the retailer could sign off on it they needed to know it would sell. They decided to try a bit of market research by displaying the shoe in a Foot Locker in time for schools getting out. It didn’t take long before kids were gathered around the shoe desperate to know how they could buy them. It wasn’t long after that the shoe was launched internationally.


Here we are almost 20 years later and the shoe is still a favourite across the globe. If there is any piece of fashion that embodies the word classic, it’s the Air Max Plus.
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