Trash Turned into Gold: The Nike Cosmic Unity Taps High-Level Performance with Sustainability

Nike Basketball continues to innovate with its core value of high-level performance leads the charge. The Nike Cosmic Unity is the latest creation from the Swoosh as the sustainable performance basketball sneaker makes its way to the court by alleviating the world from its waste.

Nike’s sustainable approach isn’t new and Cosmic Unity highlights the progression of the brand’s commitment to the future with its products of today.

Since 2010, Nike has diverted more than 7.5 billion plastic bottles from landfills and waterways by turning them into recycled polyester. The decade-long mission has led to the Cosmic Unity as it’s made with at least 25% recycled content by weight. 

The shoe utilizes Nike Crater Foam for its midsole, a material made with a blend of Nike foams combined with about 10% Nike Grind Rubber. For those unfamiliar, Nike Grind is a collection of materials originating from Nike manufacturing scrap, unsellable and donated products, and worn-out sneakers that would have otherwise entered the waste stream.

The shoe’s tongue top detail and heel are made with Crater Foam and the Swoosh is made of recycled TPU. The cabling system, lining, tongue, sock liner, and laces are created thanks to recycled polyester.

But the Cosmic Unity is more than a sustainable achievement. It’s the future of performance as the shoe’s three pillars are Control, Durability, and Responsiveness.

Control: An upper built with an innovative upper cabling technology that mimics cosmic frequencies and provides dynamic forefoot support in its web network construction. It is created by an additive manufacturing process that reduces material waste, offers zonal tuning, forefoot lockdown, breathability, and recycled material to deliver engineered performance precision.

Durability: A thin outsole made with rubber provides on-court traction without a lot of extra weight, maximizing control and connecting the athlete to the ground.

Responsiveness: A full-length Zoom Air Strobel unit is stitched directly to the upper, providing energy return and bringing responsiveness underfoot. Cushioning in the midsole uses foam scraps from factory floors. Additionally, Nike Crater Foam was used for the first time in a performance shoe, so the team needed to make the Crater Foam firmer for better support and responsiveness. To achieve this new construction, Nike used smaller, confetti-size Nike Grind pieces and a different molding process to further compress the material.

The Nike Cosmic Unity in its “Green Glow” launch colorway touches down on February 26, 2021, for $150.

We spoke with Ross Klein, Senior Creative Director of Men’s Footwear Performance, and discussed the all-new creation from the Swoosh.

From the shoes’ upcoming colorways to a breakdown of its components, you can learn more about the Nike Cosmic Unity below.

The Cosmic Unity’s Big Bang Moment

Nice Kicks: In terms of the genesis of the Cosmic Unity, what was the moment that exactly prompted the need to create the shoe?

Ross Klein: Let’s go back to Space Hippie for a second, and we can talk about the journey. Space Hippie was a conversation of really unlocking new innovations, new thoughts to better our world, and they did it through the lens of lifestyles sportswear. It brought upon a new conversation about what’s going on and how our decisions have high impact.

We’re looking at the broader spectrum of performance as well. As we sort of transfer from the knowledge, the experience, and the education we have from space hippie, we’re starting to scale those ideas and make them even you know powered through the lens of performance. That was one of the missions of cosmic.

Space Hippie and Cosmic were at one point at the same timeline. We looked and said, is it possible to make a high-performance product at our level, at what Nike says high performance, by also bettering the world?

As that question came up, we learned a lot. We couldn’t take one to one exactly about what was going on in Space Hippie and bring it into basketball. We had to make some different decisions along the way.

What we asked for was a conversation. That’s the way that we work. We work by having a conversation with our athletes and with our consumers and give us feedback and we revise.

The journey was pretty long, but now we’re with a project that not only is sustainable in the way that we’re approaching it but also plays high-level basketball.

The Future of the Cosmic Unity Line

Nice Kicks: Will we the Cosmic Unity transform into its own line, or will it become integrated with other marquee signature series like KD, Kyrie, and LeBron?

Ross Klein: So far, I think this is a conversation starter. This pushes our limits. This is one of its own in the way that we’re thinking, so the way that this will influence the rest of our projects and how we’re thinking as we go forward can be pretty big it opens up a whole new landscape for us.

I would have to say that this is going to be an influencer for the way that we think and approach product as we move forward.

The Cosmic Unity’s Performance on the Court

Nice Kicks: A’ja Wilson and Anthony Davis have been the main players rocking the Cosmic Unity so far. What’s some of the feedback and how did that fuel the final stages of the product?

Ross Klein: We targeted so many different types of basketball athletes. You could look even at region and geography and see what the different types of play. Whether it’s here, or in Greater China, or in Western Europe, there are different styles of play, but there’s something that’s always connecting us.

We focused on the type of athletes that want to play longer; that want to go that extra mile into the game. Think of an 82 game season and staying on court longer. If you stay on the court longer, you can have more impact to the game.

What we wanted to drive was a high level of comfort. What you’ll see in the shoe is the amount of comfort that we’re bringing into the collar, in the tongue, in the packages that we use even that you don’t see. It’s all sustainable content as well.

One part is bringing a supreme and ultimate level of comfort for basketball athletes and the other one is the usage of Crater Foam and how we were able to engineer for basketball.

We could drive people to be lower to the ground. Accompanying Crater Foam is Zoom Strobel and Zoom Strobel brings that responsiveness directly underfoot without anything muting it. What you’ll feel when you put your foot in the shoe is a real sensation right off the bat, a step-in kind of sensation.

The thought process of sustainability and our goals actually unlocked an advantage to performance. It’s not just using sustainable content for the sake of using it, it’s using it so that it performs as an advantage for our athletes.

Turn trash into gold.

The Role of the Cosmic Unity in its ‘Afterlife’

Nice Kicks: The beauty of sustainability is that it’s cyclical — it has its own circle of life. In terms of the Cosmic Unity, is there an afterlife for it? What does Nike plan for the shoe after it serves its purpose?

Ross Klein: Right now the focus heavily is to take the trash out of the world; to take all the things that we’re leaving behind and transform it. Cosmic Unity is part of the afterlife ecosystem as it takes old footwear and makes it new again through the Nike Crater Foam that includes Nike Grind which is featured in the shoe.

The future of this idea of circularity is that it’s a big question. I don’t want to answer that right now, because that’s a behind-the-scenes type of thing.

A Breakdown of the Shoes’ Components

Nice Kicks: Can you talk more about the shoe and its components such as the outsole and the thin web rubber? It’s evident that it’s very different from a traditional performance shoe.

Ross Klein: Every part, everything has a meaning right. We looked at every part and piece as something that was integral to the build because we don’t want to add anything that we don’t need to.

It’s the idea of creating a sustainable shoe: don’t add things that you don’t need to add.

For the upper, we used an approach called an additive process and added a method of make.

Let’s say you have a spool of yarn, and you’re stitching something. You cut it. You don’t have any waste because you used all of it when you were stitching. It’s all in that thing.

That’s what this upper is. The cording that we’re using here is an additive method of make where we’re using an embroidery machine to stitch down a path that’s all recycled content.

In addition, if you look at the layering, there’s one on top of the other. It creates a web-like lightweight structure to hold for those shear forces or those up and down forces or back and forward forces that basketball athletes apply.

There’s also a foam package that adds comfort to the back of the heel. Within this whole component, it’s basically everything that you need to play the sport of basketball. Then you compile the framework of the tooling on it. We put those two things together in a different type of process that makes it a little faster so we’re using less time, less energy to put them together, and there we go. It’s Cosmic.

It’s thinking differently about the way that we’re putting our pieces together, the way that we’re cutting material, the way that our patterns look, the way that we’re using stitching instead of all glues, the ways that we’re innovating even the compounds in the chemistry in these materials used.

It’s all a different way to approach a shoe, but it’s a lot more micro in the way that you look at designing.

We also use the process and math because each part has a specific weight to it. Each part has a specific amount of content to it. In terms of recycled content, we wanted to target for the whole shoe to be at least 25% recycled content by weight. That was the goal.

The Significance of the Cosmic Unity’s Colorways

Nice Kicks: When looking at the shoe for the first time, it immediately reminded me of the Nike Air Zoom AlphaFly NEXT%. As we know, the shoe broke barriers. What was the thinking behind launching the Cosmic Unity in this specific colorway first?

Ross Klein: It’s a similar thing. It’s a break barriers kind of color. It’s also a hint to focus on the tooling. If you focus on the tooling and the part that’s really different that people haven’t seen before in terms of its expression, in terms of its recycled content, you can drive people to really have a conversation.

Oh, look at that. What choices have they made specifically in this?

As we generate more colors, you’ll have another conversation about other parts.

The next colorway you’ll have another conversation about other things that were chosen in terms of the way that the world looks such as land, water usage, and even light and heat.

Each one of these is to sort of spawn a way to speak and look at the world.

Nike Cosmic Unity “Green Glow”

Style #: DA6725-001
Release Date: February 26, 2021
Price: $150

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