Refining, Designing and Constructing Footwear that Feels “Just Right.”
The latest material innovations elevate not only how footwear functions but also how it feels. This is achieved in a few different ways: Some suppliers prefer materials that are hard, while others lean into materials that are soft, with both camps looking for a product that is “just right.” This Goldilocks-style approach emphasizes tailoring of new materials and technologies with increased precision to provide a better workout experience for users, whether that is running, hiking, cycling or obstacle course racing.
Carbon fiber leads the way in the “hard” category. The material has been heating up as a footwear component for a while, with the newest developments sparking more buzz around carbon plate technology. The fiber now finds footing beyond running and steps into other sport categories with new styles being offered at slightly more affordable price points.
Kevlar is another hard-core material making inroads. The fiber’s protection and performance properties are inherently high, in addition to having excellent durability. The knock on Kevlar has been price and comfort, but by creatively blending Kevlar with other fibers, suppliers are able to bring prices points down while leveling up comfort without sacrificing Kevlar’s toughness.
The season also showcases footwear’s soft side. Footwear cushioning technology gets an upgrade in new styles of performance that feature characteristics such as “smoothness,” “super-soft comfort” and “soft landing.” The latest looks target runners, especially those individuals who crave supremely soft cushioning and smooth, easy transitions; gone is a need to immediately peel off the shoes immediately post run.
Scott Speed Carbon RC with Carbitex DFX carbon plate technology is stiff in one direction, flexible in another to provide a balance of responsiveness and energy return for a lightweight, fast road racing shoe.
Saucony Endorphin Edge is engineered with Carbitex AFX technology that flexes with runners’ natural gate for a responsive, stable ride to increase efficiency over time.
Under Armour’s HOVR Machina 3 delivers a balance of flexibility and cushioning with a firmer and more responsive forefront HOVR, an upgraded plate composite, softer heel HOVR, and enhanced spacer mesh upper for soft landings.
Pushing Carbon Plate Tech Forward
Carbon fiber manufacturer Carbitex is capturing the attention of footwear brands beyond running and making strides with technologies that showcase “tuned” flex and stiffness to achieve new functionalities. Propulsive properties put carbon fiber on the elite running shoe map, and that quality remains a key feature of the material. Carbitex goes a step further with products featuring lightweight strength and rigidity with asymmetrical and dynamic flex, opening the door for a broader reach in footwear both athletic and otherwise.
“It is more than just a rigid plate, our carbon fiber is manipulated to be tailored to strategic flex amidst rigidity,” explains Carbitex founder Junus Khan, who launched the company in 2010 out of his garage with just an oven, a small press and some tools. His first big client was Tumi, allowing him to scale, and from there push forward into footwear. Carbitex now has three facilities in Washington state, with 60 employees. Khan is currently based in Hong Kong where he oversees footwear production.
“Originally I was thinking of lots of different market sectors to pursue, from luggage to aerospace and automotive,” Khan recalled during a recent conversation via Zoom. “Then we focused on footwear, and realized the product market, and the size of the market was a good fit. It ticked all the boxes.”
Carbitex offers three core technologies. C6X is a sewn textile with low stretch properties used in the footwear upper to provide immediate power transfer, ideal for a snowboard boot or cycling shoe for example. “Carbon is known for stiffness versus its weight. It doesn’t stretch. But with our technology it offers ‘drapability,’” states Khan, adding, “Conventional methods to achieve this kind of performance take many layers, but with Carbitex it takes one piece.”
AFX and DFX are Carbitex plate technologies. AFX stands for asymmetrical flex developed for stability on uneven terrain, such as trail running and hiking, and is used as an underfoot plate that flexes in one direction not the other, allowing for more efficient performance. “It results in a hiking boot with the flexibility of a sneaker,” Khan notes. DFX stands for dynamic flex that responds as needed, for propulsion and enhanced efficiency. Khan explains, “Think of a track spike that you can sprint in but wouldn’t walk around in.”
While performance shoes are the pacesetters for carbon fiber technology, Khan eyes opportunities in other areas, saying the work boot market “has potential.” The same could be said for something like a ballet flat. “You would get unique performance benefits without changing the silhouette,” says Khan.
Brooks’ Glycerin 20 has an updated midsole that features nitrogen-infused DNA LOFT v3 designed for runners who want supremely soft cushioning from heel to forefoot for a ultra-comfortable ride. The outsole offers a widened platform for smooth and easy transitions.
Craft’s CTM Ultra Carbon Trail combines a durable yet lightweight, ultra-high rebound Ud Foam with a carbon plate precision split for torsion and variable energy return crafted especially for trail, and ultra-distance running for elite athletes ready to attack the elements.
VJ Shoes’ XTRM has a super-tough custom Kevlar and polyester weave upper that stands up to demanding terrain in all conditions for obstacle course racing, trail, sky running and swim run where durability, stability and extra-strong grip are the name of the game.