Waffle shoes – Responding to a need

Craft & Design
Waffle shoes – Responding to a need

Image from InsideNikeRunning

Did you know that your sneakers are probably the result of a vision of insight at the breakfast table? Maybe you recall wearing shoes that looked like these back in the day. Bill Bowerman, was a successful track coach when he appropriated his wife’s waffle iron one day after breakfast.

Bowerman and his wife often ate waffles for breakfast-not an unusual or special event for them. Yet one morning, while thinking about his shoe designs and eating waffles, Bowerman had a flash of inspiration. He ran into the garage with the waffle iron and poured rubber on it. With that one idea, Bill created Nike’s now famous waffle sole. As it turned out, when placed on a lightweight shoe, the waffle sole gripped running tracks better than the established ripple sole. It soon became a major success story.

But makers beware:

Unfortunately, Bowerman’s desire for perfection cost him his health – the effects of exposure to toxic chemicals in the adhesives caused irreparable damage to his nervous system.

While reviewing a textbook last week, I saw a reference to the waffle inspiration attributed to Bowerman’s Nike cofounder Phil Knight. I hadn’t heard the story at all before, and both Bowerman and Knight were unfamiliar names.

The inspiration moment is one that we should all be working towards as makers. We can nurture these flashes of insight, and do our best to capitalize on these glimmers of the future. Notebooks, blogs, Flickr collections, wikis and more are a great way to both explore and record our ideas. What are you doing to collect your greatest ideas? What can you do to develop your fantastic idea and bring it to market, or share it with the world?

You might also want to check out Adam Savage’s article on moldmaking in MAKE, Volume 08, page 160. Let us know what you mold up!

4 thoughts on “Waffle shoes – Responding to a need

  1. steve says:

    you say that Bowerman and Knight are unfamiliar names; you must never have been to Oregon. At the University of Oregon (where Bowerman was coach at the time of his invention), half the buildings are named after a member of the Knight family. The main library, the law school, the new baseball facility, the new basketball stadium that is being built at a cost of over $100 million – the success Phil Knight has had with Nike is directly responsible for major contributions to Oregon’s economic infrastructure.

    And way before Pixar or Google were cool, Phil built Nike HQ on the college-campus model, with lots of buildings around a central pond, with cafeterias, gardens, and test facilities for all the shoes and other gear that Nike makes. The campus is (or was, the last time I checked) “open,” in the sense that you can drive up there, park in the visitor lot, and just wander around gawking at stuff like the giant bronze Ronaldo statue or the Tiger Woods conference center that houses many of Tiger’s trophies. It’s worth a side-trip if you’re ever in this part of the country.

    See it here:

    1. Chris Connors says:

      Back in my middle school track days I wore some of the early versions of the waffle shoes, and recognized more than a couple of the treads in the link to “shoe bottoms of the 70’s.”

      Yes, I seemed to have missed out on the glory of Knight and Bowerman when I passed through the University of Oregon Eugene to road trip with my sister to Anchorage, but that was ’87, and I wasn’t much interested in running at that point.

      It’s great that his flash of inspiration led him out to the garage to do a test pour and reform an industry. We should listen to our inner designer more often.


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