Mike Friton’s career as a Footwear Innovator started over 30 years ago at Bowerman Lab, an athletic footwear “think tank” created by Bill Bowerman, Co-Founder of Nike. During his career he worked in Nike’s esteemed Innovative Kitchen as a Senior Innovator, where he patented 14 prototypes. In 2011, Friton left Nike to launch his own footwear prototype enterprise – Friton Design.
1. What inspired you to design footwear?
I loved to run and competed for many years. During my College years I started working for Bill Bowerman and building my own shoes to race in. We also worked with many athletes and patients that doctors would send to us. Our approach was based on health before performance. Most companies today focus on performance and often over look health resulting in footwear that causes injury.
2. Which of your innovations are you most proud of and why?
I think the last project I did for Nike will have the greatest impact on people with disabilities. Tobie Hatfeild and I developed a shoe to accommodate a patient with cerebral palsy. We added a heel zipper with a cord that tightened the forefoot. There are now thousands of pairs on the market with the system called the flyease.
3. Can you tell us about your most recent innovation?
I am currently developing shoes that have a dynamic fit system so that they will fit many sizes and shapes of feet. The idea is to make shoes that fit like socks. This will allow the foot to move more naturally and improve the health. The goal is to make shoes that follow the feet rather than shoes that the feet have to follow.
4. Your company offers workshops and classes on footwear design. What is the most important piece of advice you can you give to someone wishing to become an innovator?
Don’t be afraid to play. As adults it’s often considered irresponsible to freely explore as we did as children. Many schools have eliminated art and craft classes that allowed tactile and creative thinking. Reconnect with this any way you can.
5. Your work has also extended beyond footwear design into experimental 3D textile and paper sculptures. What was it like collaborating with renowned artist Michael Curry?
At times Michael Curry and I could collaborate as if we were both one mind, we seem to know what the other was thinking without words. I have only experienced this with a few people in my life and it usually leads to amazing creativity.
And just for fun…
6. If you could walk in anyone else shoes for a day (dead or alive) who would it be and why?
Leonardo Da Vinci, The most amazing inventor of all time in my book. I would like to read all of the volumes he wrote. It’s too bad the most were lost or destroyed.
7. Tell us something about yourself that might surprise us?
I play the guitar very badly but I still enjoy trying to make music. I have even taken voice lessons and have found that to be fun but also not what you would probably want to listen to. I’m a believer that playing music keeps the mind young.
8. You have the chance to time travel to any moment in history – which one would you choose and why?
I would like to visit the ancient Greek culture and explore their cities. I am sure they were much more than we can imagine. So much has been lost or erased from history. Ancient Egypt or Mesoamerica would also be great.
9. What footwear are you currently wearing?
I currently wear shoes the have a wider toe area to allow my toes to spread more. The 2 companies I like the best are Keen and Clarks. I can no longer wear most athletic shoes with out feeling pain in my feet and knees. I have become sensitive to the damage these shoes have caused from many years of wearing them.
10. What is your favourite quote?
“Do good stuff” Bill Bowerman, I take that as meaning health before performance when I’m working on shoes.
Mike Friton discusses ‘The Last’ (the form that the shoe is built around) and the health of the athlete
Find out more about Mike and Friton Design on the website fritondesign.com