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INTERVIEW: Designer Eric Miller Explains the Ethos Behind the Li-Ning Way of Wade 2

Sneaker Report: Right off the bat, one of the most noticeable things about the Way of Wade 2 is its use of full-grain leather. What made you decide to go against the grain, no pun intended, and stick with genuine materials instead of some of the more synthetic-based builds that are common in today’s market?

Eric Miller: That’s a good question. The main thing with going with leather, was that we want to build products that have integrity and an overall durability factor. A lot of the synthetics out there just aren’t as resilient and timeless as leather. It’s a natural material, which makes sure that no two pairs are alike; down to the pebble and grain of the material. And from a performance standpoint, it gives us the durability and resilience needed to lace up and go for it.

How about the cushioning? That was one of my favorite features, can you tell me more about the tech involved here?
The technology underfoot uses two of Li-Ning’s proprietary foams, BounSe in the forefoot and CushioN in the heel. High-impact, high-rebound foams that really improve the ride underfoot and around the bottom of the sole. Overall, they feel good to lace up.

I think a lot of times, shoes feel like equipment, or when you identify certain factors you’re trying to achieve through good design, it often allows other areas to be exposed and create problems. So we stick with the proprietary foams for cushion. Every athlete that we’ve had has loved them, from Baron Davis back in the day to Dwyane Wade now and everyone in between. From NBA courts to our staffers and wear testers, to customer reviews online, everyone’s loving the comfort.

The WoW 2 has an even lower ankle cut than its predecessor, the Way of Wade. Is the lower collar something you’re committed to, or could we see a higher profile in the future?
Both the 1 and the 2 have their own unique lower, mid-cut kind of feel. We’re not targeting that specifically, but that’s something that was set by Dwayne. [With] the WoW 1, the early wear test samples had 3 lace holes at the top, so it was substantially higher. He was like, “Cool, I like the shoe, I like where we’re at, but I’d like a little more ankle mobility. I feel like once it’s a little lower, we’re A) losing weight, and B) improving ankle mobility.” That was something that he prefers, but it was [also] a nice, unique detail to tie into the collar portion of the shoe, allowing us to tell the story of “this is the D Wade preference.”

We carried that through on the WoW 2 as well. From an overall collar standpoint, they’re similar, and as we move forward, we’ll play with slightly higher and slightly lower [cuts]. Just different cuts for different reasons, depending on what we’re trying to achieve. Specifically the Encore 1 compared to the WoW 1, has a lower collar height, and that’s probably one of Dwyane’s most preferred heights so far. It’s not quite a traditional low, but it’s getting closer. So we’re trying to find our own unique collar height zone that works for Dwyane and then delivering it into a shoe for everybody to experience.

Speaking of the Encore, are there any specific changes needed for the transition to the postseason?
There’s not necessarily a difference. The baseline demands are the same for the 82 games Wade plays during the regular season versus however there are in the many the postseason. The intensity is obviously [ramped up] in the playoffs, to make sure they get the W, but overall the reinforcements in the toebox and heel are similar. They’re built with essentially the same grades, the Encore 1 has a slightly heavier reinforcement package compared to the WoW 1, but that had more to do with the design than the performance. [Our overall goal] is to make sure Wade has his performance needs taken care of so that when he laces them up, he’s not even thinking about the footwear.

So can we expect to see another Encore this year?
Definitely, the WoW 2 Encore will be launching this month. It’s a design that we’ve worked with Dwyane on, and he’s eager to lace it up and be ready. Our formula is going to be a Way of Wade model during the regular season, and then the Encore model for the postseason.

How do you approach a shoe for a veteran like Wade, who is a 10-time NBA All-Star, versus a shoe for a rookie coming into the game?
Going back to how we’re building these shoes, and the overall baseline demands, we really understand the biomechanics and psychological needs of being on-court ready. We’re always very mindful of those needs and making sure we’re delivering something that is not too under built or overbuilt for those.

For Dwyane specifically, there’s the lower collar height and certain things he likes that we learn as we work more and more with him. Other guys have different needs, so it’s not necessarily a rookie need. Although that’s a good point because a lot of players don’t have as much as experience lacing up, or might not fully understand or know what they want [in a sneaker]. That’s one thing that Dwyane brings, he was always very confident in what he preferred and what he liked.

From a tooling perspective, though, is where I think you’ll see most of that difference. We put a full-length carbon fiber shank into both the WoW 1 and WoW 2, and Dwyane loves the rigidness and underfoot support of it, without it being overly stiff. It’s about finding that right medium zone of enough flexibility in the forefoot but also enough stiffness in the midfoot and heel.

We’ll work with each and every one of our guys, and make sure that they’re 100% dialed and laced up the way they need to be so they’re confident with their shoes. If we need to build them specifics, that are a little lighter or a little more flexible, that’s what we’ll do. It’s all about what they need.

If you could point out one single component or aspect that makes the WoW 2 Dwyane Wade’s signature shoe, what would it be?
Overall, it’s a timeless piece, and that’s one of the things we worked with him on. He didn’t want it to be anything hot that year and then irrelevant the next. I think the overall design language and product vibe is timeless and iconic. Being made of a natural material like leather helps that, and the simplicity of the design in terms of the patterns and overall efficiency and consumption. Plus the bedazzled camo, it all ties in, and that’s the story that was unique to him. I feel like it’s not necessarily one thing, it’s a series of things, that make the shoe timeless.

Riley Jones is a freelance writer from Charlottesville, VA and a contributor to Sneaker Report. With an unshakable affinity for basketball and all things pop culture, he can be found on Twitter @rchrstphr.

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