Interest in Tom Sachs’ NikeCraft Mars Yard shoe has gone into high orbit these days (see what I did there?). As you probably know, a 2.0 version was launched at a Sachs’ conceived “Space Camp” on Governor’s Island in New York. A lot has to do with how the original version (released in 2012 to coincide with a Space Program exhibit at the Park Avenue Armory) has achieved near-mythical status.
I’m fortunate enough to own both – the differences are striking in many ways, so I thought I’d take time to talk about them. My interest is to understand and articulate how something so similar might yield such divergent impressions. And I’m a fan of thoughtful design, Tom Sachs and shoes, so I thought it’d be fun to share.
Before I get started, I want to emphasize – these shoes are not for sale. This is also lightly edited, so apologies for any oversights. Oh, and if you like this, I wrote more regularly for Heddels – here’s a piece I wrote on sneaker culture, for instance
You can’t judge a book by its cover – but sometimes, the cover is part of the book. And in this case, the packaging sets the tone.
Backing up a bit – in a large way, this project purportedly came from a conversation between artist Tom Sachs and Nike CEO Mark Parker about the relative merits of handcrafted items vs those that are mass-produced. Sachs definitely has a horse in this race – the hand that produces his pieces is often visible in the final production, and shows a bias towards transparency for the way they were produced. For the OG shoe, this is carried through in its box, which is built to look like a stock Nike box (using a design from the early-to-mid 2000s – see below), turned inside out and patched together with duct tape. It has a fastening system fashioned from duct tape and velcro, with an X box stitch in contrast thread. It looks like something that was improvised by somebody (perhaps disinterested in standard corporate branding).
The interesting thing is, the box was specifically manufactured to look that way – the box doesn’t show the signs of stress that it would if it was actually folded inside out, and the printing on the bottom is on the outside, as expected. This imagined process is a Sachs move, through and through. As a final note, the cardboard is thicker, more similar to the weight of a Jordan Brand box.
By contrast, the 2.0 box is a standard box with custom printing. The duct tape pull-tab remains, but without fastening. There’s a nice bonus graphic on the bottom, as well as directional arrows on the inside.
Looking inside, the tissue inside of the original features custom printed artwork…
…whereas the 2.0 is standard.
Finally, I thought one of the nicest touches of the original is the line of swatches of each material utilized in the construction of the shoe (including the tongue tag). It also featured a hang tag (not pictured).
Extras aside, I’d say these are two different approaches to repurposing a Nike box. And the tactile sensation of opening (and closing)the velcro fastening system of the original is pretty pleasing.
Both pairs come with a standard mesh sockliner (footbed) and an extra pair. The original featured leather footbeds. The 2.0 replaced these with cork footbeds. NikeCraft explained it thusly:
We provide an optional cork sock liner because many users rock the shoe sockless and research shows that cork has natural antimicrobial properties. Try it and see if you like it.
The unavoidable question is, how do the shoes themselves compare? I sort these differences into the major, the minor and the incidental. In rising order of significance:
The eagle-eyed might spot differences in the way the leather looks. There’s both nubuck trim and leather lining. Part of Sachs’ aesthetic is to include untreated material, so each appear in their natural state. Unless a designer is being exacting about material, it’s normal practice to specify the general attributes / grades required and see what the procurement chain delivers. As an example from the world of groceries, Grade A large brown eggs aren’t all the exactly the same, but are similar enough to know generally what you’re going to get. I believe that the variances in leather are the result of that sourcing process.
The nubuck on my OG pair is texturally different and its leather lining has a slightly pink tinge. Ms. Crossfire says the OG nubuck is “better” (someone has to, right?). And it’s possible that other shoes from these runs differ from pair to pair in this department; it’s all a part of life’s rich pageant.
I’ve noticed three minor differences, two are functional and one not functional.
The two functional differences are both covered in the NikeCraft statement (see Fig. 13 – “Failure Is Always an Option,” below). The tongue donning straps weren’t reinforced properly by the factory that produced the original, so this was strengthened in the 2.0 (it’s not easy to see, but I verified this). Also, the protruding nipples on the outsole tread were inverted for better wet weather traction.
The non-functional difference is from a bit of an Easter egg that was incorporated into the original design – in the middle of the outsole, there are some glyphs debossed into the tread. I didn’t even notice this until I looked at the original SFB Chukka boot that this unit was borrowed from. I’m not hardcore enough to understand the significance of these marks (they don’t make any sense in Morse Code), other than the Swoosh that ended up in 2.0.
By far, the defining difference between the shoes is the material of their uppers. The original was fabricated from Vectran, which is a ripstop fabric used in the airbags (in the inflatable parachute sense) for the Mars Excursion Rover. Its attributes include excellence in tension (so it can’t be stretched apart), abrasion resistance and heat resistance. Like all products of the space-age (Tang, anyone?), it has a charmingly dated look to it. It also has a nice unstructured slouch to it, that accentuates the vintage aspects of its design.
According to NikeCraft, the testing of the material didn’t include creasing – which anyone who’s worn out a pair of sneakers knows is one of the first things to give on a pair of sneakers (a pair of Nike Maharam Oregon Waffles failed within a week of wear). To solve this problem, 2.0 utilizes a more thoroughly tested polyester warp-knit tricot mesh. It looks tremendously breathable, like something you’d see in, well, a sneaker.
This is the crux of the difference between the original and the 2.0. Vectran is the last material you’d normally make a shoe with, so it perfectly expresses the illusion of being hand-crafted from materials scavenged in a well-equipped space lab (consistent with the paracord used as shoelaces). Whereas the mesh material in the 2.0 is what you’d use if you actually produced the shoe in, well, a Nike factory. In fact, all the changes in the 2.0 are improvements to its utility.
That is terrific for me, because I’m going to wear my 2.0 pair once it stops raining (I don’t like to get my feet wet). It’s also important to note that it serves very different purpose – to illustrate how failure makes you stronger (which is also the theme of the Governors Island Space Camp). For me, though, the original shoe is immediately powerful in a way that its successor isn’t – much in the same way that the Apollo 11 mission holds a space in our collective memory much larger than, say, the Apollo 14. There is an aura to being first, a true OG.
Hopefully all of the above helps you understand why.
Appendix: Original Specs