Calling All Sneakerheads: The Bata Shoe Museum’s Newest Exhibition Is for You

Toronto’s Bata Shoe Museum holds 4,500 years of footwear history in four rotating galleries and is home to exhibitions about all things footwear. Its latest exhibition, FUTURE NOW: Virtual Sneakers to Cutting-Edge Kicks, is all about futuristic footwear designs — from the auto-lacing Nike MAG to the virtual RTFKT x Staple Meta-Pigeon — and includes digitally designed and 3D-printed shoes, sneakers made from mushroom leather and reclaimed ocean plastics, and even footwear crafted specifically for the metaverse. 

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Innovative: Nike ISPA Road Warrior, 2020. Collection of the Bata Show Museum. Image: Kailee Mandel

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Innovative: Nike MAG, 2015. Collection of Nike DNA

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Innovative: “O” Collection, 2000. Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum, gift of Benoit Méléard, Image: Kailee Mandel

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Innovative: Zaha Hadid x United Nude NOVA, first designed in 2013, 2022. Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum

The exhibition, which kicks off (no pun intended) on Thursday, May 26, examines how innovative technologies, unpredictable materials, and inventive ideas are shaping modern footwear trends. FUTURE NOW showcases more than 50 futuristic designs from the museum’s current holdings, in addition to works from prominent designers, inventors, and collectors. Some of the featured designers and brands to look out for include: Salehe Bembury, Steven Smith, Zaha Hadid, Nike ISPA, Tom Sachs, Yeezy, RTFKT, and more.

Designed by award-winning agency Arc + Co. Design Collective, the FUTURE NOW exhibit is divided into four areas: innovation, sustainability, transformation, and the virtual world. The innovation section includes the Nike MAG (a pair of self-lacing sneakers which were actually first imagined in the film Back to the Future Part II but not made real until 2015) and the NOVA (the first shoe made using rotating moulding and a collaboration between renowned architects Rem D. Koolhaas and Zaha Hadid).

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Sustainable: F_WD XP4_Mavy, 2021. Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum, Image: Kailee Mandel

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Sustainable: Converse Renew Chuck 70, 2020. Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum, Image: Kailee Mandel

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Sustainable: Adidas x Alexander Taylor x Parley for the Oceans, 2015. Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum

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Sustainable: Central Saint Martins x Puma Kyron for the Love of Water, 2020. Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum

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Sustainable: Nat-2 Fungi, 2021. Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum

Elsewhere, you’ll find sneakers made from PETA approved recycled materials and a digitally designed biomorphic boot. The transformation category features a Croc inspired by Salehe Bembury’s own fingerprint, as well as an Octopus Shoe created for Takashi Murakami’s ComplexCon exhibition called “Sneakers for Breakfast.” Lastly, you’ll even find a motorized boot which allows VR users to feel like they’re walking through virtual spaces, as well the NFT RTFKT x Staple Meta-Pigeon which blurs the line between reality and the virtual world.

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Transformative: Mr. Bailey Octopus, 2018. Collection of Mr. Bailey

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Transformative: Nike Go FlyEase, 2021. Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum, Image: Kailee Mandel

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Transformative: Salehe Bembury x Crocs Pollex, 2021. Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum

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Transformative: Pyer Moss Sculpt, 2020. Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum

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Transformative: Saysh Ones, 2021. Collection of the Bata Show Museum

“The future is always being shaped by the present,” said Elizabeth Semmelhack, director and senior curator of the Bata Shoe Museum, in a statement. “The exhibition includes the many incredible and innovative new footwear designs that are promising to transform what we wear tomorrow. From sneakers created to address issues related to sustainability and inclusion, to shoes that blur the line between the real world and the metaverse, this exhibition explores how forward-looking creators are helping us step into the future.”

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Virtual: CryptoKickers Wilson Chandler 1 OG NY Retro, 2021

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Virtual: RTFKT Atari retro, 2021

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Virtual: Nike x PlayStation Air Force 1, 2009. Collection of Chad Jones

In addition to the exhibit, the Bata Shoe Museum is also releasing a book titled FUTURE NOW, written by shoe historian and museum director and senior curator, Elizabeth Semmelhack, to provide a deeper dive into the world of futuristic sneakers. In-depth interviews with creatives and designers — Salehe Bembury, Alexander Taylor, Jeff Staple, and Darryl Matthews and Shamees Aden from Nike ISPA, to name a few — as well as 150 images make up the contents of this 224-page book ($75). Accompanying and complementing the exhibition, and published by Rizzoli Electa, the book comes in hardcover and is available at the museum as soon as the exhibit begins on Thursday, May 26 — and worldwide as of June 21.

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© Future Now: Virtual Sneakers to Cutting-Edge Kicks, written by Elizabeth Semmelhack, Rizzoli Electa, 2022 ($55 USD, $75 CAD)

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Virtual: Jeff Staple x RTFKT Meta-Pigeon K-Minus, 2021. Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum, gift of RTFKT

If you didn’t consider yourself a sneakerhead before, it’s highly likely you’ll consider yourself one after seeing the designs of the most forward-thinking creatives working in the wild world of footwear.

Learn more about the FUTURE NOW: Virtual Sneakers to Cutting-Edge Kicks exhibition at the Bata Shoe Museum — which opens May 26 and will be on view until October 2023here and learn more about the FUTURE NOW book here and here.