Nike looks to reinvent the loafer with step in-shoe investment

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Hate tying your shoes? Nike Inc. is continuing its effort to save you the trouble.

After announcing a high-tech self-lacing shoe in January, the sportswear giant said Tuesday it’s investing in a company that makes hands-free footwear -- essentially loafers that go on and off without a lot of fumbling.

Nike is buying an undisclosed stake in Utah-based Handsfree Labs Inc. The company specializes in step-in shoes, which are popular with consumers who prefer laceless footwear and those with disabilities who have trouble tying them. Terms weren’t disclosed.

The products are marketed as the world’s first hands-free shoes. That’s perhaps an overstatement in a world of slippers, sandals and loafers, but Handsfree’s footwear gives the appearance of laces and is meant to be especially effortless.

Nike has made it a priority in recent years to develop products for a wider set of athletes -- releasing items that cater to underserved groups. The company said the new partnership will advance that.

It’s not alone in pushing into so-called adaptive clothing -- apparel that can be easier for people with disabilities to wear. Tommy Hilfiger released an adaptive-clothing line two years ago.

“We believe Handsfree’s ‘easy on and off’ technology has the potential to broaden and enhance this effort by removing barriers to play and making sport easier for more people,” Tom Clarke, Nike’s president of innovation, said in a statement.

In 2015, Nike unveiled FlyEase, a collection of shoes that employ zippers, Velcro and other fasteners in place of laces. The latest FlyEase shoe was shown off this month, a football cleat for Seattle Seahawks linebacker Shaquem Griffin, whose left hand was amputated when he was a child.

That followed the January debut of the $350 self-lacing basketball shoes. The self-lacing models, which are connected to the Nike app and require recharging, are more of an expression of Nike’s tech prowess than a practical solution for those who might need it.

Bloomberg News