Today in Los Angeles Nike released information on the release of the Nike MAG, featured 22 years ago in the Back to the Future II movie. I received a phone call today from Tinker Hatfield and Tiffany Beers to talk about the release of this iconic shoe and why this new initiative is so special.
See my conversation with Tinker & Tiffany below.
So the first question I have is, I want to know, why have you guys decided to release the shoe now, like, why now?
We started this project roughly five years ago, based off of our desire to, I think, develop the shoe, because we knew that there was some demand for it in the sneaker world, but also because we originally wanted to do something to help the Michael J. Fox Foundation and Parkinson’s Disease. So that started five years ago, and we are simply releasing the shoe now because it’s ready, at least ready enough. The sooner the better, so that people gain more awareness for Parkinson’s Disease and also the money that’s going to be raised will be very helpful, too.
How did you guys keep such a monstrous project under wraps for so long and release it at such a last minute, how did you guys go about that?
(Laughs) Well, for the first year and a half or so, the only two people that really knew anything about it were myself and Tiffany Beers and, just to clarify Tiffany’s role, she is the developer for this re-issue, this redesign of the movie shoe. So she’s been working with the engineers and she’s done some engineering herself, as well as just follow-through, going back and forth to Asia to make sure the samples were coming along. We were the only two that knew much about it, and then we spoke — when we had a decent sample, we then approached Mark Parker, the CEO of Nike, and told him about our idea. He greenlighted the thing for further development and for more expensive processes and ultimately that little group grew to — just really in the last few months was this project really revealed to our own promo staff. That’s really how it stayed so quiet, at least up until it got revealed to our own internal promotions group, and then they’ve done just a remarkable job of conversing with their connections and making sure that people respected the privacy until the time was right.
That’s awesome. When did you guys decide to bring Michael J. Fox on board and what was his reaction when you told him this was happening?
I went with Mark Parker and Pam McConnell. We have a good connection with Frank Marshall, who’s a producer and director for lots of Universal Studios stuff. Because of that, we were able to go have lunch with Michael J. Fox just a few weeks ago and tell him about the whole thing. He was overjoyed, and realized how this was going to benefit his foundation and was emotional and happy, and then agreed to go on the David Letterman Show. That’s how it got rolled out.
That’s amazing. So, when you guys designed the shoe about 22-23 years ago, did you ever have plans to release it or was it just for the movie?
It was just for the movie. We designed the shoe, built roughly ten pairs for use in the movie and we got a couple of pairs back, if I’m not mistaken. And then the other pairs went missing, I think, for the most part.
We have so many other projects that, we did the movie and then went on with our normal business. It really became, over time, obvious to us that there was something special about the movie. That particular scene in the movie where the shoes were introduced by Marty McFly, you know, where he put them on in the future?
And then this petition popped up a while back — just everything all lumped together sort of indicated to us that maybe if we went ahead and made the shoes and sold them that we could make it a sizeable contribution to charity, and in this case the charity is the Michael J Fox Foundation.
Do you remember the original influence for the design of the shoe back then? What were your influences?
It was a unique project because normally, sitting down and collaborating with athletes there’s usually a really strong functional purpose behind all of the design work that we do, as you well know. But, all of a sudden, being asked to design a shoe for a fantasy world, a future fantasy world, it kind of took the shackles off and was kind of fond to think about what could you do if money and time were no object, or technology for that matter. The real inspiration was really more about trying to understand the script, the movie, the character, Marty McFly’s character and then trying to design something that was just unlike any other shoe at the time. What’s been mentioned today and we’ve noticed ourselves is that all these years later, the shoe still has a futuristic look and still seems unique. I guess maybe we were a little bit lucky.
How much work did you have to revise for the new version? Did you guys have to go back and re-tool everything, or was it kind of like an easy transition, how much work was actually involved?
I’m going to just say upfront that there was nothing easy about this project, and then I’m going to let Tiffany talk to you about some of what it took to bring this shoe, essentially to the marketplace.
To my surprise, there was nothing left from the original make except for the few archived shoes that we had, so we literally had to start from scratch, completely over on the entire thing, basically explore the whole thing and figure it out again and do it in a way that it still duplicated the original as close as we could but became a little bit more durable and wearable. The first shoes were really built for a few wears and now we wanted to build it so that it could last a little bit longer.
Oh yeah, that was my follow-up question, if the actual original shoe was functional or not, so you’re saying it wasn’t really functional, it was only for a few wears, right?
Yeah, I’ll let Tinker speak to that.
We built the shoes to essentially hold up for just four, five or six wearings, or whatever how many scenes it was going to take, and then the shoes were pretty much done. We had to engineer some lighting into those shoes back in the 1980s, when there wasn’t digital lighting or special little tiny cool lightbulbs or anything. It was really what I would call a quick — it was kind of a project where I would say that we had to come up with a futuristic design using very low-tech components.
It was a difficult project and we delivered it on time to the movie and then, through the magic of movies, they made the shoe do what it did, and — they did light up, but it required a big battery pack that was in the back pocket of Marty McFly’s pants, which you weren’t supposed to see, and then there were wires down the legs of his pants, and the shoes had holes cut in the bottom, just different things that had to be done in order to complete the movie. All of that had to be miniaturized and put into some kind of form that would fit in a very low-profile, very minimalistic type of shoe. Tiffany,in particular, and a bunch of other teams really came up with some good solutions and over time we were able to achieve what we wanted. Like I said before, we are releasing this shoe now simply because it’s ready. And so, the sooner the better, again, for Parkinson’s.
Awesome. Thank you guys. One last question: were there any major design challenges for the re-issue?
I would say, of course, the electronics. Most of us think that electronics are second nature, you see them in everything, but really you don’t see a lot of sophisticated electronics in things that need to contort or bend or undergo a lot of shock and/or stress. That was not easy to engineer and I would say that was the singlemost difficult thing to do. Tiffany can give you more details on that. I just wanted to add that Mark Parker, our CEO, who was also involved in the original process of concepting the original movie shoe, we would take him samples over the course of time and he has a keen eye, he is a collector and has a collector mentality, really a sort of great sense of detail, so we kept bringing samples to him and he became our kind of go-to guy to make sure we were on the right track in getting us as close to the original as possible. Tiffany can now talk a little bit about the electronics because I think it’s actually an interesting story.
We really had to work hard to get it shrunk down and put into the shoe because it wasn’t only like a lot of other lighted shoes that there’s lights at the bottom only, but this had lights in the strap, it was in the upper, it was in the heel counter, pretty much we had to put electronics everywhere we could possibly fit them. Because the design was so minimal and so futuristic, it was really challenging. We did finally get it to work out and were still were able to — to your earlier question, we didn’t change much from the original. i mean, we had to shave things off. A couple millimeters here, a couple millimeters there, but nothing that’s super noticeable. As you see, the shoe is pretty much identical to the original shoe. We did add a few comfort features, like a little more foam here, a little more foam there, things like that, but overall, it’s an almost-identical replica.
Were there any new technologies that you used that are not found in other Nike products?
Well, Tiffany had to work with various engineering companies to basically put together connections for wires that were resitant to moisture. This whole notion that things have to bend and flex and move and take impact when you wear things on your feet. I think that they did things there that people haven’t done before.
We used some learnings from other industries, like some of our wire were from helicopters. I mean, it was super-precision electronics, some of the stuff was. I don’t know that it’s anything we’ve used in any other shoe.
Even the exterior main material is a little bit different than the original, because it has to withstand the more abraision, has to be more UV stable. A number of things we normally do in the course of shoe design here at Nike that wasn’t done in the movie, because, again, it wasn’t going to go to the marketplace. Those things are unique to this shoe, and it’s kind of like whoever — there’s going to be a limited number of people that get these shoes, and whoever gets them are getting something pretty special, very unique, with a good story.
Are there any plans to ever release them as a regular release later on in the future?
No. To preserve the value of what people will spend for these shoes and the money that will — and hopefully, again, that’ll be as much as we can get for each shoe, so the amount of money to charity is the most we can come up with — In order to preserve that, we’re not going to re-release this shoe and we’re not going to commercialize it any further. What you will see, though, probably sometime in the future is that there will be some– this shoe has already helped inspire some unique design features on some new shoes and we are committed to designing shoes in the future that do come alive and do sense your body and do certain things, so this is a precursor to the future of probably all athletic shoes we design.
Great. And will you be wearing a pair yourself?
Will I be wearing a pair?
Well, I don’t know if I’m gonna get a pair or not, to be honest.
Our policy here is to not give away shoes, to treat these shoes as true vehicles for change in the fight against Parkinson’s Disease and, therefore, we’re really limiting, or actually, eliminating the whole practice of just giving shoes away to VIP’s and whatnot. People have to bid for them, they need to pay for them or do something really, really super-special to get them. Whether or not I get a pair remains to be seen.
Yeah, we’ll see if designing the actual shoe qualifies.
That should qualify but I know it’s for a good cause and I think it’s great. I think people are gonna be really excited to kind of get their hands on them tonight.
We’re all getting these email messages and people are going crazy trying to figure out how to get a pair of shoes. You got your standard crowd who are used to getting things because they’re VIP’s and they’re not gonna get them.
I know a lot of people that are going to be upset if they don’t get them, but I mean — no, it’s for a good cause, When things are for causes it’s better off to pay the money and get it if you really want them, you know?
I’ve just simply been telling people that if you want a pair, you have to bid, and that’s just sort of the end of it. -Marcus Troy
Special thanks to Jane, Matt, Mario,Tinker & Tiffany.