Interview // adidas Running’s Jim Jennings Discusses The Ultra Boost

words, interview & images // Nick DePaula:

Throughout the course of time in the footwear industry, every brand hopes to have its share of landmark models that help to set a new direction for a specific category, ushering in new fans towards a new era along the way. A handful of years ago, the debut Crazy Light did just that for adidas Basketball. The first-ever sub-10 ounce hoops shoe took the industry to a new place, and also incorporated a fresh and original design language that helped to reset the basketball footwear direction going forward.

As it relates to adidas’ Running category, the Ultra Boost is shaping up to be that landmark model. Framed as an “ultimate expression” of the company’s amazingly responsive Boost cushioning technology, the running silhouette marries together a more targeted and dynamic Boost platform along with an all-new Primeknit upper. The shoe looks to lead the industry in fit, comfort and true performance, and its already earned a bevy of fans from both the serious running and casual crowds alike.

To hear all about the shoe’s updated Boost platform and it’s debut Primeknit upper, I recently caught up with adidas Running’s Category Manager Jim Jennings for a detailed breakdown of how the shoe came to be, the excitement it’s brought the group, and of course, if adidas has noticed the recent trend of Uncaged pairs and has plans to release an official variation of their own.

Check out the exclusive interview below, and let us know your thoughts on the Ultra Boost in the comments section.

Nick DePaula: To go back a bit, what was the initial design brief and concept for the Ultra Boost, and how did this project come to be?

Jim Jennings: As you know, when we launched Boost, we had it definitely on the technical side of Running, but we also knew the experience in that product and in that innovation was so different, so unique and new. So we wanted to look at how we could create that experience and take it to the ultimate level.

That’s where the word “Ultra” came in. We were thinking in that way, and wanted to created the ultimate or ultra experience of what a running shoe could be. We wanted to take that platform and join it with our new upper technology with PrimeKnit. We wanted to marry those two together to be the ultra expression of what Boost could be.

above: Jim Jennings, adidas Running Category Manager

NDP: The sculpting of the Boost itself is more contoured here. How did the engineering process go and what were you guys looking to improve on over the first round of Boost shoes?

JJ: There’s more Boost in it, to start. There’s 20% more Boost in it, so instead of around 2000 capsules, there’s more like 2500 capsules. That in itself is certainly felt underfoot, but it’s the way the whole package came together that makes it ultra. There’s a new stretch web outsole, and the ability of the outsole to move with the foot through footstrike, and then also rebound with the midsole is something that has elevated the experience of what Boost is. It’s been exciting for us to see the feel and response from the runners and athletes across the marketplace.

NDP: In the Pure Boost and Energy Boost, those felt great right away once you put them on, but there’s a different level of responsiveness even with the Ultra Boost.

JJ: The longer we work with Boost, the more we learn about it. The nature of what that material does during footstrike is something that we’re really learning about, and it’s allowing us to create these enhancements. That stretch web outsole also deflects into the Boost midsole, so it’s an additive effect of more cushioning.

NDP: From an aesthetic standpoint, Boost has of course only come in white to date. Where are you guys at in the development stage of bringing more color to the platform?

JJ: We’re there. We’re definitely exploring it, and it will be coming sooner than later, we hope. It’s something that we wanted to first ensure the experience and performance level would stay the same, knowing that the properties of Boost couldn’t change if we did different executions in terms of color.

NDP: How did the PrimeKnit upper change throughout the process? Did you guys have any big shifts in terms of how you zoned the pattern along the way?

JJ: We had been doing a lot of testing on the foot with a new motion capture system that’s new to our industry. It’s really amazing, and it can measure the most minute movement inside of a shoe. It’s something that the aerospace industry uses, and it’s very unique that we have it and can study another level of the foot.

With that upper, that technology allowed us to really know where to create the weaves. With Primeknit, we have the support where you need it, and also the breathability where you’ll need it. There’s a unique structure that the Ultra Boost has allowed us to provide.NDP: Something else that I noticed as a design language consistency through the adidas Running line is that elongated heel pattern. How did some of those quirks of the design come about?

JJ: The goal for us is to have some icons. I don’t want to overstate that, because it’s the heel here — and that’s obviously a goal of everyone in our market — but we want to create an iconic look and the heel is definitely a part of that. That s-shaped curve that you then get through the heel cup and into the midfoot, is what helps to keep you locked in at what we call the “point of origin.”

We know that 90% of runners will strike with their heel first, and so we really wanted to focus on lockdown in that area. I mentioned the additive feel of Boost, and the upper is a big part of that too, to be able to have that initial sensation in the heel.

NDP: For our community, Kanye wearing Boost shoes so consistently has also been huge for the Boost platform in general. How much has it meant for him to co-sign the shoe so regularly, and what’s the halo effect been from his silhouettes having Boost as well?

JJ: I didn’t think anyone could like Boost more than me, but apparently Kanye does. [laughs] He might even be able to tech you out better than I can. It’s been amazing for us, we love it and it couldn’t be better. The guy is super passionate about footwear, and he knows how good this is. It’s exciting for us, because what an opportunity for our category to have him wearing it.

NDP: That’s awesome, and it’s definitely been a noticeable shift in terms of people that closely watch what he’s wearing also now adopting Boost into their rotations.

JJ: He’s real and true about it, and it couldn’t be better.NDP: Ok, I’ve gotta show you one of my pairs here. I took the cage off.

JJ: Oh! [laughs] There it is. We’ve got something coming for you actually.

NDP: Interesting! One of the consistent terms I’ve heard from the brand in the last few months is this idea of celebrating “creators” and also the concept of being an “open source” company. When you guys started to see the Uncaged Ultra Boost become a thing, what was it like to see people get creative with how they were wearing it?

JJ: It’s been super cool. To have that kind of interaction, directly on our product, has been new. You can have it with the brand or with the athletes that represent our brand. There’s an ongoing interaction with Kanye for sure. To have it on the actual product where people are making it their own is great. It’s something that we got really excited about, and we’re taking it to heart.

We want to use that open source aspect of who we are, to build in the future. That open source term is real, and we’ve definitely felt that, so we want to make sure that we’re opening things up to creators like the consumers that are wearing the Ultra Boost in a new way, and then also to collaborators that take our products beyond that.

NDP: I really like wearing the shoe casually, but of course, it’s also made an impact for your category with true running consumers. How impactful has the model been so far in reaching both sides of people?

JJ: That’s really the holy grail for us. Where you can have something that’s unique and great for runners, and then also can be so compelling that people will want to have it on all the time too.

We definitely are feeling the early stages of that, where we feel like we have an icon on both sides of that and have gotten off to a great start with the Ultra Boost. We’re learning so much, and the best thing about the Ultra Boost is that it’s been coming from so many angles for us. That to me is what makes it so exciting.

I’m a track guy by trade, and we want to create product for athletes first, but then we also want people to just have amazing experiences in it for their everyday lives. Boost is such a unique experience, and what we’re really excited about, is it’s just the beginning of where we’re at with it and what we can build on.  

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