Nike has, since the early 80s, been interested in more than mainstream athleticism and sneaker culture. At its best, the “sportswear” manufacturer is a zeitgeist leader, creating revolutionary design and style aesthetics for niche subcultures — but always with an ambition to make those subcultures global. Nike Hiking, for example, followed by the influential ACG division, reimagined what technical outdoors gear could be when the customer wanted to look as much at home on the streets as they did on the trails.
Five years ago, Nike found a new focus to build a project around: life in the big city. The result, Nike ISPA, is a design philosophy that’s focused on “addressing the discreet needs of the city dweller.” So far, we’ve had some cool and crazy kicks from ISPA (our fave being the Link — more on that later) – aesthetically unusual, led by progressive, planet-friendlier design rather than classic footwear tropes.
This week, an apparel capsule will be dropping to complement some of those shoes. Given what we’ve seen from the sub-brand so far, this should be good news for people who like technically-minded but sustainably-inclined products. But, as details of the collection’s material construction now appear online, there’s a question of whether these clothes are a worthy match for the progress made by the ISPA team on its footwear creations. A question of whether this is ISPA by nature, or ISPA by name only.
Split simply into tops and bottoms, the Nike ISPA Fall 2023 collection is exactly what you’d hope for when it comes to city-meets-outdoors garb. It’s functional, technical and styled in a way that harks back to some of ACG’s finer efforts. Rendered in a palette of dark blues, greens, blacks and pops of neon yellow, the items feel modular and mixable. Expect pockets, zips, and clever air-flow details.
In the tops department, there’s a waterproof GORE-TEX jacket with multiple tonal panels. To keep your body temperature regulated, don the Gilet 2.0 which unzips to reveal an airy mesh liner. Under all this, wear the long-sleeve T-shirt that looks like an amalgamation of all tees ever.
For your lower half, there’s a durable pant available in dark blue/black or khaki green. It’s reinforced with the same material used for Nike’s Ishod SB trousers, and features plenty of useful pockets.
ISPA stands for: Improvise. Scavenge. Protect. Adapt. Those actions alone conjure images of the urban hustler, doing all they can to survive and thrive. In fact, the design leads at Nike refer to it as “survivalwear”, a reaction to “climate change, air and data pollution, growing cities, and shifts in transportation.”
But, while it’s good to think about how we can react to the problems the planet is facing, relying on survival mode probably isn’t the best way to go forward when there are still ways to affect positive change. In fact, does Nike need to be looking at more preventative measures such as circularity?
The ISPA product that’s impressed us most so far has been the ISPA Link sneaker with its modular design, recycled knit upper and absence of glue: truly, a shoe designed to be recycled. It’s the kind of solution-based thinking that has earned the sub-label a small but dedicated fanbase of its own, almost separate to Nike proper.
This collection, however, while fitting the criteria of being durable, fit for purpose, and well designed, doesn’t necessarily follow suit when it comes to those innovative, forward-thinking material choices. Based on details from the SNKRS platform, products across the ISPA apparel line feature “Waterproof GORE-TEX fabric,” “durable/soft cotton,” and “airy mesh.”
While it’s clear these items are built to last and to do a certain job, there’s no mention here of any other ways – beyond extending product life through quality – that the collection is working to provide answers to the questions ISPA has previously dedicated so much of its time to answering.
And, in that sense, the “Protect” portion of the acronym seems like the most important element here: how can ISPA design products that always aim to protect our planet? Maybe with more of a focus on – or a return to more of a focus on – that principle, ISPA won’t have to create “survivalwear” anymore. Perhaps it could be called “thrivalwear.” Or, hopefully, something better but with the same intention.
Perhaps this is a case of missing information – SNKRS may not be providing the full breakdown of materials ISPA has used for this collection. But, again, if not then why? ISPA has always proudly worn its Earth-friendlier credentials on its sleeve and, in doing so, has pushed a lot of previously niche ideas into the mainstream. The line has always been a force for good, both within Nike and beyond. This collection doesn’t take away from that by any means, but – in terms of what’s missing, either materially or vocally – doesn’t necessarily live up to the high-water mark set by its own previous work.