images and words // Zac Dubasik

In honor of today's launch of the Air Jordan XX9, we are taking a look back at 10 points on the shoe that you need to know. Read along to dig deeper into the XX9, and be sure to give us your thoughts in the comments. Are you planning on picking up a pair today?

 


Tinker's hand drawn "map" of areas of support and flexibility

1. Day one: The idea behind the Air Jordan XX9’s woven upper came from an unusual place: air bags. (The car kind, not the Nike kind.) Tinker Hatfield, the designer of the XX9, explained “Day one for me was somebody bringing me a woven air bag from an automobile – the air bags that pop out when you get in a crash. Those are woven. They’re woven for strength, and then they have this other thin layer on top that makes sure that they hold air enough.

 

 

2. Performance woven upper: For the first time, a woven upper was developed specifically for basketball, on machines that take years to learn to operate. This method offers a number of benefits. “We can make certain areas a little bit stronger – let’s just say in the forefoot – and less in other areas, to take pressure away,” explained the man behind the brand, Michael Jordan. And the possibilities are limitless. “There’re so many different kind of weaving structures,” Tiffany Beers began. “The team in Italy are absolute experts at it. We can literally say, we want structure in this square millimeter.”

 

3. The difference between a performance woven upper and Flyknit: “Knitted product is kind of a cousin to woven. If you look at the machines there are some similarities,” explained Tinker. “The woven machines actually have this ability to go down to an even tinier pixel level … it’s like high def TV."

 

4. Flight Web: Webbed straps, that also serve as eyelets, provide both midfoot lockdown and additional support. They wrap not over, not under, but through channels in the woven upper.

 

5. There was a “Plan B”: The unique construction process presented a number of problems for the team behind the Air Jordan XX9, and there were moments where it appeared that the shoe might not be done in time. “I started working on a ‘Plan B – a more traditional upper,” explained Tinker.

 

6. Sourcing material from Italy doesn’t make things easy: Because the weaving process was so new, it presented some logistic challenges. During the development of the shoe, the uppers were being woven in Italy, then air freighted to Asia, where an engineering team was tasked with figuring out how to turn that material into the final product.

 

7. The transition has improved: The midsole of the Air Jordan XX8 was split into two distinct pieces, linked together through a carbon fiber midfoot shank. A tendril has been added to the XX9, in effort to improve the already excellent standard set by its predecessor. “This is a direct reaction to smoothing out that transition,” said Tinker.

 

8. The outsole was inspired by plaid: While experimenting with different woven patterns, the team developed a plaid based on “MJ numbers,” like two, three, and six. After failing to utilize it on the upper, a different idea came about. Mark Smith explained that when you look at the shoe’s outsole, you’ll see a “warped, plaid herringbone that has been testing off the charts.”

 

9. The release date: For many years, All Star Weekend has served as the launch of the Air Jordan Game shoe. That’s now changing, and as Jordan Brand President Larry Miller explained, it’s for a good reason. “It became clear that basketball players wanted our best performance product at the start of their season. For us, that meant moving the annual release of the Air Jordan. This change was not one we made lightly, but in the end, the move serves the best of our athletes, so it was an easy decision to make. This year I’m excited to announce that the Air Jordan XX9 will go on sale in September.”

 

10. The price: In a shocking move, the price of the Air Jordan XX9 is actually cheaper than the XX8. While the Air Jordan XX8 retailed for $250, the XX9 will be a mere $225. But along with that $25 savings, the carbon fiber shank and counters have been replaced by TPU.