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Post #2800

Things with an end

I bought some Nike Mayfly running shoes.

Nike Mayfly

They are ultra-lightweight, and quite lovely.

Nike Mayfly

They are so light because they were designed with a definite lifespan.

They are only built to last for 100km.

Nike Mayfly

On a good day, I usually run 10km.

These shoes are shoes I can use maybe ten times.

Nike Mayfly

This defined sense of the object’s limited-life reinforces it’s narrative.

The thing is a clock.

It’s beginning, middle and end will be marked.

And indeed, the object itself asks you to record the beginning…

Nike Mayfly

…and to do right by it’s end.

Nike Mayfly

This is planned obsolescence with conviction – and as a result it involves you with the object, it’s materiality and your use of it to a greater degree than most mass-produced goods.

I haven’t run in them yet.

I’m waiting for just the right moment to start the clock on their life, and take my first steps in them – towards their end.

19 Comments and Trackbacks

  • 1. Kurren said on 4 February 2011...

    Can’t frankly see anything more than a, quite stretched, try to build a narrative out of a clever marketing spin. And waste of resources, with a carbon footprint than it’s anything… but lightweight.

  • 2. olishaw said on 4 February 2011...

    Fantastic! will you be documenting the patina as they degrade?

  • 3. Steve Bowbrick said on 4 February 2011...

    I want to be there when they expire.

  • 4. Matt Webb said on 4 February 2011...

    Matt Jones, your post about shoes is causing concern on the Internet!

    The kind of concerns that are being voiced: These shoes are wasteful, maybe. They have a big carbon footprint! It’s conspicuous consumption.

    To be honest, it might be all of those things. And I honestly don’t know. When these shoes wear out, can you recycle them?

    Because recycling is the bit that matters. Our products either last forever, or have an end. Too many things last forever or near enough: batteries, the weird rare metals in electronics, lots of types of plastic.

    Everything else lasts for a finite time.

    But the “end of life” of products is often ignored. (I don’t mean “end of life” as the time something stops working, but the time of re-birth.) So how do you design for re-birth? How do you make people glad that their products have died, in order for them to more easily release the emotional attachment we get with products and hand them on to their afterlife?

    There are a lot of design projects and product prototypes that explore how new products are born out of the recycled remains of others. But I’ve rarely seen products – especially not shipping products! – that explore how things die, and how they celebrate their demise so that leave-taking is easier.

    For me, these shoes are exploring a relatively un-explored zone. Interesting!

    So, to wrap things up: maybe it is conspicuous consumption. But what if you’re consuming a product that is easily reborn, a thing that exists in generations? The alternative, maybe, is shoes that wear out anyway… but we pretend that they don’t, and their remains will sit in the ground to be retrieved by societies a thousand years hence.

  • 5. Phil Gyford said on 4 February 2011...

    I assume that anyone complaining about these trainers on ecological grounds only buys good quality shoes (never trainers) that can be re-soled and repaired and that will last for decades. Although even those will be beyond repair eventually.

    Almost every shoe we buy reaches its end of life within a few years and is never recycled. But people never think of shoes or trainers as “disposable”. So, although my knee-jerk reaction was “ooh, shoes which only last 100km, that can’t be good,” making the disposability explicit, and building the renewal of the materials into the package, seems like a step forward.

  • 6. Ben said on 4 February 2011...

    “planned obsolescence with conviction” that’s the bit that does it for me. That’s interesting.

    Great post.

  • 7. Cat said on 4 February 2011...

    100km isn’t very far, especially considering that the average pair of running trainers is good for 650ishkm. I would assume that these shoes would be made for pro pro pro sports peoples who need the performance of a shoe so finely tuned and delicately engineered it could only last this long, or a cynical gimmick aimed at the Jay-Z boxfresh attitude type. If you’re just running like a lot of us run then do you really need them? How much better can this shoe make you? Is it worth the cost, financially and sustainably? Why can’t shoes lasting 650km have a nice recycling scheme at the end of their life? Am I missing the point?

  • 8. Frankie Roberto said on 4 February 2011...

    The shoes certainly provoke a reaction. I showed them to my girlfriend, who is currently training for a marathon, and she said they wouldn’t last her a week!

    “Planned obsolescence” is interesting, but 100K does seem a bit overly short. (Interested to know whether they really do fall apart after 100 kms, or if they’re really still usable for a bit longer.)

    Also: what does the recycling really entail? Do they become new shoes, or does the rubber just get used as roadfill?

    And: the design of that recycling postcard really sucks.

  • 9. Dan Lockton said on 4 February 2011...

    This is an interesting strategy. It’s something with a deliberately, artificially short lifespan – a “cheap, short-living object” as TRIZ would have it (number 27 here – ).

    But as Frankie says, it would be good to know how exactly they fall apart or degrade in performance after 100 km. Does the sole wear in a consistent way? does it wear in an attractive way? Why not have gradations on the side? (Imagine if a capsule of red blood-like ink was concealed in the sole so at a certain point it burst, signalling the end of the shoe)

    In reality it’s very difficult to design an object that’s an assembly of parts to last an exact amount of time or use. Oliver Wendell Holmes’ “One-Hoss Shay” – – is beautifully pertinent here.

    Following one of Matt Webb’s points, there has been some work done on “optimum lifetime products” –“product lifetime optimization” – products that deliberately commit suicide (and dial up the manufacturer for a replacement, perhaps) at a point where it would be less efficient for them to continue running than to replace. Generally the idea was that things like fridges (that start to get much less efficient after a few years when the door seals deteriorate) have an optimum lifetime that is finite, whereas for many products that optimum lifetime is infinite.

    I can see that children’s shoes, for example, that need to be replaced expensively many times throughout childhood, might be a great application of whatever principles Nike have used here to achieve the limited life – so long as they were commensurately cheaper…

  • 10. Michal Migurski said on 4 February 2011...


    Phil, I don’t think it’s necessary to respond to these shoes by committing to strictly repairable leather boots and wearing them until you die. Shoes that last twice as long would probably be enough, and I am assuming with some confidence that even most cheap shoes made today are going to last a few thousand kilometers. Going longer than that through repair is a bonus.

    Also, recycling is not rebirth – that’s just wrapping a wasteful step in the lifecycle of a product with baby-shaped comfort metaphor.

    The question I’m asking with these things is: why such a low number of km? To get a rise out of people? What *happens* to the shoes at or near 100km? Do the soles wear through? Does the fast degradation offer some kind of benefit – are these like track bikes that are light and brittle because low weight confers a speed advantage? If you were a competitive runner, could you shave a few tenths of a second off your running time by using these? What if instead of a number of km, they used two colors for the sole, with a darker “replace me” color showing through after a defined amount of wear? That would make a lot more sense to me than 100km.

  • 11. Michal Migurski said on 4 February 2011...

    (or a bunch of what Dan said)

  • 12. mac morrison said on 5 February 2011...

    Now I understand your tweets about angry shoes.

    This post from August 2008 is one of the most regularly read on my blog, in fact its always in the monthly top 10. Nike’s founder wanted them to be for a single run. Which is what pro athelete’s do.

    Though popularity is mainly as it’s the second image in a google search for nike mayfly rather than some great insight :)

    How many people buy shoes and only wear them 10 times. Quite a few I suspect.

  • 13. Phil Gyford said on 6 February 2011...

    Michal, I’m not saying that everyone should always wear sturdy repairable shoes. Just that everyone going “oh, that’s awful” about the waste here aren’t then saying anything about what *is* acceptable.

    Why are shoes that last twice as long enough? Why are running shoes that last 650km (to quote Cat, above) or 800-1000km (to quote other sources I’ve seen online), without even a recycling option, the acceptable norm? It seems pretty bad to me that having to replace shoes that often (shoes which are made of more material) is already far from ideal.

    Realistically, I can see three types of people who might buy these:

    1) Hard core runners who value the lightness. I imagine that professional athletes (like most of us) already make various environmental compromises to further their careers that have a much worse impact than increasing the frequency of shoe-buying (eg, driving or flying to athletics meets).

    2) Fashion-conscious people who want something that’s different. They’re going to buy a lot of shoes anyway, and aren’t going to wear them that long, no matter how long they should last.

    3) People interested in design who’ll write about them in blog posts. Not a market that’s big enough to threaten the stability of the world with their novelty shoe buying :)

    So, I don’t think it’s a *good* thing to make shoes that last less time. But, if it’s a compromise that improves performance for a profession, then I expect it’s far from the only — or the worst — ecological misdemeanour committed for such a cause.

  • 14. nick s said on 6 February 2011...

    As objects of consumption, shoes occupy a tricky transitional space between ‘made to last a lifetime’ and ‘made to last past lunchtime’. We haven’t yet decided what kind of life they should live — or rather, we’ve decided collectively with our wallets that our shoes should be largely disposable, single-function and non-repairable, but maintain a sentimental attachment to the craft tradition and the cobbler. A product like the Mayfly tweaks at that way of thinking: like friends, there are shoes for a season, shoes for a reason, and shoes for a lifetime; also like friends, it’s often hard to make the distinction in explicit terms.

    (When I think of what my dad paid for his first pair of good shoes around 1960, through weekly instalments, in relative terms it’s iPad money. They’re still in his wardrobe. Not many people make that investment these days.)

    I’m also mindful that the discussion here is mainly between men, and that without descending into Imelda Marcos clich├ęs, women’s shoe-buying patterns — and the social forces that shape them — are generally very different. Even giving away a seldom-worn pair of shoes to charity is more fraught than donating a bag of laundered clothes.

    In this particular context, though, I’m reminded of the 3,000-mile oil change sticker nagging you in the windscreen, or the coloured indicators on toothbrushes: for both, there’s a finite lifespan and a genuine degradation in performance if exceeded, but a sales impetus to indicate the low bound for replacement. (Taking Phil’s point: most casual runners using standard-build shoes will, I assume, regard the manufacturers’ stated replacement schedule with a pinch of salt.)

  • 15. Peter said on 8 February 2011...

    I agree with Phil Gyford.

    The shoes are designed for high-end, elite-level racing of distances 10k and less. That’s it.

    100k (or 10 x 10k race) is actually a lot for high end racing. All track spikes for distance races are the same – sprint spikes are much less.

    An elite athlete doesn’t run that many races in a year. Therefore, this shoe could last an elite athlete (or a wanna-be elite) for 2-3 years.

    I understand that the shoes were purchase because they are “They are ultra-lightweight, and quite lovely.” If Matt Jones plans to run 10k races in under 30 min, awesome, he bought the right shoes. If not, well, he knew what he was doing.

    I’ve never bought the Mayfly, because I’m not that fast. If I ever did buy them, I would fit in Phil’s third category and small category of design nerd. I love running, but, much to my dismay, would be in the design dork category and not the elite-level category.

    Personally, I think the Mayfly are tremendous at what they are designed for. It’s a very specific design with a specific goal of having the worlds best runners race in a shoe that is ideally suited for them. There are loads of reasons to diss on Nike, but making athletic gear for the world’s best athletes is not one of those reasons.

  • 16. Stuart Nolan said on 2 March 2011...

    Interesting post and interesting discussion.

    I wrote something slightly whimsical about the Mayfly as an example of re-animism here…

    I used to run a lot but I’m way past the point of ever being able to justify a pair of Mayflys to my podgy middle-aged self.

  • 17. Peggy O Neill said on 3 May 2011...


    I was just wondering where you bought your mayflys. I cant find them anywhere :( I really wanted to get them for my boyfriend.

    Any advice???


  • Trackback: The Mayfly – Re-animism | hex induction 2 March 2011

    […] By the way, there’s an interesting discussion on Matt Jones’ blog about the Mayfly. […]

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