FX 360

ONE of the more bizarre footwear trends to recently hit the streets of New York is the foot glove fitness shoe that literally has space for all the five toes mimicking the look and feel of someone walking barefoot. These fitness shoes, which have become all the rage among long distance runners, are supposed to provide a more natural, less stressful running experience. I have no reason to doubt the health claims, but I do know that sartorially these “barefoot” shoes make the wearer look like he has just walked off the set of the Planet of the Apes.

Questionable fashion sense aside, the “barefoot” shoe movement is simply the latest incarnation of the never ending human desire for more comfortable footwear, which brings me to this week’s trade idea – Nike, the world’s leading supplier of athletic footwear. In July, Nike will introduce a 5.6 ounce running shoe called the Flyknit that may radically change not only the market for running shoes but for footwear in general.

For years, footwear designers have long sought to make shoes as comfortable to wear as socks. Unfortunately up to now they have always encountered problems with durability. The new Flyknit shoe circumvents this issue completely because it uses ultra strong synthetic yarn to make the shoe. The yarn is woven by a knitting machine controlled by an extremely sophisticated computer software program. The computer-controlled weaving technology knits the entire upper part of the shoe in a single piece. That’s 35 fewer pieces to sew than similar shoes, which makes the production costs of these shoes radically lower. In fact the manufacturing process may allow Nike to move some production back to the US and possibly Europe meaning that the company can respond to demand must faster as it will reduce shipping time by as much as four weeks.

However, what makes the Flyknit technology unique is the fact that the customer can now design the shoe by colour and style down to the single thread. What Nike has created is not merely a new shoe, but the intellectual foundation for the ultimate holy grail of retail marketing in the 21st century – mass customisation.

There is no doubt that the Flyknit may find a receptive audience among runners, but its market potential is vastly wider. My lanky teenage son who hasn’t so much as run a pair of stairs in more than a year and who frequently wears bedroom slippers on the sidewalks of Broadway, immediately got excited about the prospect of designing his own slip-on Flyknit.

Nike’s potential with the Flyknit technology is truly revolutionary. Not only can it benefit from the new line of ultra-comfortable athletic shoes, but it may be able to realise significant revenue from licensing its software process to other shoe manufacturers. Nike’s stock has been on a long and steady rise more than doubling since 2009 as it reached a high of $112.95 per share last week. The company said its orders heading into spring were up 15 per cent from a year ago, signaling continued strong demand for its goods ahead of the Olympics and European soccer championships in June. Its stock, however, sold off into the week’s end trading near the $107 a share level as profit taking kicked in.

The sell off in Nike presents an opportunity to establish a position in the stock ahead of the July Flyknit release. The company is trading for about 22 trailing earnings and sports a dividend yield of 1.3 per cent, so it is not extraordinarily expensive from a fundamental point of view and technically it enjoys support near the psychologically key $100 mark. If the manufacturing technology proves to be as much of a hit as I think, the current price will look like a bargain a year from now.