The Nike Air Jordan 3 RTNA. Image courtesy of Nike

Nike harnesses the butterfly effect

How the insect world brought colour to the Air Jordan 3 RTNA - currently on display at Kew Gardens, London

Nike: Better is Temporary showcases world-famous products, such as the Air Force 1, the Pegasus, the Air Max and the Cortez, alongside less familiar ones. The way in which sporting achievement is transferred into innovative design is a key focus, of course, yet the book also details Nike’s all-embracing approach, with passages detailing its dedication to recycling and ecology, as well as its commitment to creating products for athletes of all abilities, cultures and creeds.

Now, in a new pair of Air Jordan 3’s, Nike has drawn inspiration from the natural world. Nike has worked with the British firm Lifescaped to enhance the shoe with a special new pigmenting technique called Pure Structural Colour.

Lifescaped was founded by the zoologist Andrew Parker, and focuses on synthesising structures and techniques found in the natural world. In particular, the firm has looked at the way in which animals, such as butterflies, appear so vibrant in their colours. These pigments don’t rely on an underlying colour, but instead on incredibly small structures that interfere with the way in which light bounces off surfaces.

“It’s the minute structures at a microscopic level which interact with light rays to produce an incredibly bright colour,” Andrew Parker told Wired in an article about its new Air Jordan 3 shoes.

Lifescaped copied one of these natural surfaces  – actually modelling it on a style of pigmentation found in hummingbirds and marine animals – to produce the material that Nike has used in its new RTNA coating, which covers parts of the Air Jordan 3s.

The resultant shoe, entitled the Nike Air Jordan 3 RTNA, is currently in concept stage although sneaker heads can take a look at a pair in Kew Gardens in London, where they are on display in the botanical gardens’ Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art, beside a wide array of works celebrating the natural world.


Nike: Better is Temporary
Nike: Better is Temporary

To find out more about the ways in which this inimitable company innovates, order a copy of Nike: Better is Temporary here. Meanwhile, for more on the beauty of the natural world, get Animal.