Nike Sportswear: The Story of the Nike Challenger
Associated with the infamous ‘Waffle Family’ of footwear designs released by Nike during the late 1970’s, the Nike Challenger has returned for the first time since its ‘79 debut with modern updates that draw attention to its groundbreaking design which is famous for redefining comfort, breathability and fit for long distance runners. Similar in look to the Nike Air Tailwind which was introduced during the Honolulu Marathon of 1978, the Challenger was unveiled a year later as a solution to common issues of weight and fit that frequently led to disappointment with running silhouettes of the time. Encouraging a high level of ventilation with a noticeably lightweight finish, materials such as mesh, nylon, and suede were, and remain to be, utilised to achieve an impressive, performance focused finish that led the model to become a firm favourite within the international running scene. As an accurate portrayal of the original design, the 2020 release has arrived for summer, packing a punch in a selection of colourways that show each finely tuned detail at its very best.
Following on from the successful reintroduction of the Tailwind, Waffle Racer and Daybreak in recent years, the Challenger OG allows for greater customisation in fresh colour tones thanks to differing splits and panels seen across the low-cut athletic silhouette. Minimized mesh across the forefoot and slim tongue delivers lighter, more flexible ride whilst the laces - which can often be an overlooked feature of footwear - changed the game entirely during the shoes original release through zig zag eyestays which allowed wearers to tighten or loosen the shoes as desired; a detail that was unlike others seen at the time. Cut from smooth suede, panelling around the front of the toe vamp and back of the heel helps to protect key areas whilst leather Swoosh tick emblems sit on top of durable nylon side panels with tips that continue into the outer ankle border where printed ‘Nike’ lettering adds further branding to the style. Additionally, the famous Nike sportswear logo can also be seen across a woven label wrapping around the top of the tongue.
Working in harmony with one another, throughout the inside of the shoe a cushioned fabric lining flows alongside a Nike Zoom Air unit within the heel to support the foot when active and worn across different terrains. A key feature of the model as seen on others released during a similar time, the rubber outsole is accentuated and widened at the heel for considerable support and comfort, followed by a distinctive waffle tread design that references a pinnacle time in Nike’s history. As co-founder Bill Bowerman’s waffle iron-inspired invention that helped runners improve their speed, emphasized gridded shapes flow underneath the foot and continue up to the toe and back of the heel for significant traction.
Whilst the Nike Challenger is sure to appeal to any fans of retro re-releases that have come to light over the last couple of years, the all-important features of this particular model may be subtle in their execution, but help to set the shoe apart from the rest whilst telling the story of the impactful design. Perhaps now sitting best within the leisurewear category as opposed to high performance, the Challenger carries a high level of influence through its retro aesthetic and confidently nods to Nike’s ability to design way ahead of time, creating footwear that can be reintroduced decades later with features that are still able to perfectly accommodate to current day.
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