How did Tinker Hatfield change the world of fashion?

Tinker Hatfield

Tinker Hatfield is revered among admirers of design, fashion, culture and innovation. For over 30 years Hatfield has consistently delivered designs that have not only revolutionised the trajectory of the Nike brand but the entire world of fashion design. 

He is responsible a number of the most iconic designs in the history of shoe design, the Air Max shoe changed the world of fashion forever and his innovative risk taking approach has paid off for Nike. 

Many of the influential leaders at Nike have been involved with various sporting activities. Phil Knight the co-founder of Nike was a keen runner. Bill Bowerman the other co-founder was a sports coach. Employee number one Jeff Johnson was also a long distance runner. Former CEO Mark Parker ran track for Penn State, and Tinker Hatfield continued that sporting tradition as a promising pole vaulting athlete. 

To find out more about the history of Nike you can see the personal account of the journey by Phil Knight called Shoe Dog –

Hatfield met Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman who helped to coach him on his pole vaulting technique, Hatfield was a promising athlete who had the chance to get to the Olympic games but an injury ended his career and that led him to the path of pursuing architectural design full-time. 

To see more about Bill Bowerman you can click here –

Hatfield has always had an appreciation for his environment and ecology, his love for the environment attracted him to study the field of architecture and he would pursue this as a career. Hatfield would join Nike in 1981 to assist with designing retail stores and environments, in 1985 he would move to designing shoes and he would bring his knowledge of creating architectural structures with him. 

“When you sit down to design something, it can be anything, a car, a toaster, a house, a tall building or a shoe, what you draw or what you design is really a culmination of everything that you’ve seen and done in your life previous to that point.” – Tinker Hatfield

His first official design launch was the Nike Cross Trainer in 1986 and this shoe provided a way for athletes in a variety of different sporting disciplines to use this shoe. The shoe became popular among tennis players and John McEnroe would wear the shoe publicly.

The next year Hatfield created arguably the most iconic shoe in the entire history of Nike, the Air Max shoe. Hatfield visited Paris, France and was inspired by the Pompidou Centre there which was designed and built by a consortium of architects including Gianfranco Franchini, Richard Rogers, Su Rogers, and Renzo Piano. 

The interesting thing about that building is that the internal structure of the building is visible and becomes part of the external structure, this created a polarising feeling in many, as some love this while others hated it. Hatfield’s first Air Max elicited the same reaction when the first version was launched in 1987. 

“If people don’t love or hate your work, you just haven’t done all that much.”
– Tinker Hatfield

The inspiration from the Pompidou centre inspired Hatfield’s cut out area of the Air Max shoe and the revolutionary design of the shoe popularised the shoe to people who were not just runners but enthusiasts of design, fashion and culture. 

In 1988 Hatfield would work with the basketball player Michael Jordan on the third version of the shoe designed for him called “Air Jordan III.” The Air Jordan brand would celebrate the success of Michael Jordan’s ability to seemingly defy gravity when he would play the game. 

Hatfield’s version of the Jordans would be the first to feature the iconic Jumpman logo representing Michael Jordan to be located on the tongue of the shoe. This version also displayed the “NIKE AIR” written logo on the back of the shoe for the first time. The shoe also had the cutaway segment similar to the Air Max shoes but they were slightly smaller on the Air Jordan III version. 

This version changed the entire direction of the Jordan brand as it would grow in popularity and the Jordan III shoe changed street culture and fashion all over the world. 

“A basic design is always functional, but a great one will say something.” – Tinker Hatfield  

Hatfield would work with Jordan for the next decade consistently working on versions until number XV. Hatfield would also work occasionally on special versions of Jordan shoes. The Jordan brand grew from a single line of shoes into a multi-billion dollar brand that is recognised all over the world from people who have no idea of what Michael Jordan achieved on the basketball court. 

Hatfield also worked on designing an iconic shoe for the Back to the Future film series where the lead character Marty McFly played by Michael J. Fox, he wore a pair of Nike shoes that would enable him to literally fly, the film which was part II in the series was made in 1989 and was set in the year 2015. Hatfield worked with faithful support from Tiffany Beers and her team to make a physical version of the shoe. The shoe is called the HyperAdapt 1.0 and uses patented technology to automatically tighten and loosen the shoe. 

As with many people whose career and achievements span over decades new generations of people typically only become familiar with the latest additions to an iconic career without knowing the full history, background and inspirations what made that person great. Hatfield’s status is legendary and will go down as one of the most influential designers in history. 

Hatfield speaks about his journey on Netflix’s The Art of Design 

Designer: Tinker Hatfield

Company: Nike

Channel: Netflix

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