The 16-year-old with cerebral palsy Matthew Walzer never expected to have a Nike shoe designed especially for him. He spelled out his challenges as a teenager striving for self-sufficiency in a letter to the sporting mega corporation. It ended up working out surprisingly well for everyone.
The shoe company is famous for its athletic celebrity campaigns of legendary proportions, showcasing the likes of Michael Jordan and LeBron James. They’ve also hinged on controversy, severing contracts with Tiger Woods after a scandal and signing a politically charged Colin Kaepernick campaign.
Be it sportsmanship or scandal, it’s all marketing when all is said and done. Corning the market on forward-thinking inclusivity this time proved to be a smart move by Nike. Thus, the FlyEase shoe was born from a collaboration between Matthew and the sports giant. It all started when Nike designer Tobie Hatfield got a hold of Matthew’s letter.
Although Matthew could do many things for himself, such as dress himself, he still relied on help to tie his shoes—a source of shame for the 16-year-old. For the teen who loved wearing Nike, this presented some significant hurdles. He wrote:
Out of all the challenges I have overcome in my life, there is one that I am still trying to master, tying my shoes. Cerebral palsy stiffens the muscles in the body. As a result I have flexibility in only one of my hands which makes it impossible for me to tie my shoes. My dream is to go to the college of my choice without having to worry about someone coming to tie my shoes everyday [sic].
How does a 16-year-old boy with cerebral palsy, determined to help others with disabilities, influence one of the world’s most successful shoe companies? This is the Matthew Walzer story.
Posted by BB&T on Friday, August 12, 2016
I’ve worn Nike basketball shoes all my life. I can only wear this type of shoe because I need ankle support to walk. I am currently wearing the Lunar hyper gamer and LeBron Zoom Soldier 6’s. At 16 years old, I am able to completely dress myself, but my parents still have to tie my shoes. As a teenager who is striving to become totally self-sufficient, I find this extremely frustrating, and at times, embarrassing.
I know that Nike makes slip-ons, sandals and other types of shoes. However, I and many other physically challenged people are unable to wear them due to a lack of support. When I think of Nike, I think of one of America’s most innovative and forward thinking [sic] companies. Nike is always pushing the limits, making their shoes lighter, faster and stronger by using new materials, new designs and new technologies. This benefits people all around the world. Bill Bowerman said it best, ‘If you have a body you are an athlete.’ I believe everyone, no matter what their physical, economic, or social circumstances may be, deserves to call themselves an athlete, and deserves to have a sense of freedom and independence.
Nike was on board right from the get-go. Matthew had picked up that the marketing climate had shifted in a progressive direction, from elite to everyone, and his instincts proved true. Hatfield started working with Matthew immediately with a swiftness that left the young teen pleasantly surprised.
Together, they came up with what was basically a slip-on design but with a wrap-around, supportive back with a special zipper that could be operated with just one hand. Then they refined the final design together to benefit more people besides Matthew. In the end, FlyEase turned out to have a sleek, innovative design that anyone could wear and enjoy.
Tobie even invited Matthew to visit the company to check out the finished product, where he also got to meet his hero LeBron James.
From start to finish, the FlyEase project only proves that there is a niche outside of the superstar brand model. Sporting companies like Nike have begun to realize that meeting a genuine need from all walks of life among their clientele is also a valid and perhaps wide-open opportunity with the same mass-appeal that leads to a positive outcome for everyone.