what does your role at HOKA entail now?
As the VP of Innovation for the Deckers Group, the Innovation department I lead provides technical support and advanced product development in the following areas: new compounds for midsole/ outsole/insole which equates to new foams, new runners, new technical designs, new combinations of materials, new geometries; all of this is targeted for the various uses of the shoes.
The same applies for uppers - new components (new textiles, composites), new lacing and closing systems and new constructions. Additionally, this applies both to regular in line products but also more specifically to all racing products for track, road, triathlon, trail and extreme outdoor. Besides footwear, we also do the same for technical racing apparel and gear. We provide permanent benchmarks with competitors, through trade shows, performance testing and lab testing.
In your own words, what is the general brand philosophy of HOKA?
To make anyone happy to run, at any time, anywhere, and be willing to do it again and again while enjoying it.
To help any athlete and enthusiast improve, to help him reach his best performance potential and his dreams, and keep up his best level as long as possible. To help people live better lives, as they simply feel better in their bodies and minds.
In your opinion, what makes HOKA so special and unique?
Our humility and real problem solving solutions - a commitment to listen to, help, and support all users, always striving to improve products, providing real answers to problems people face and helping them reach some of their dreams.
what’s been the brand’s biggest breakthrough do you think?
It could be a product or technology or sponsorship activation… Reversing a market trend and having every performance brand, and subsequently each fashion brand, embrace the features and benefits which we initially brought to the market.
What’s the importance of wearing trail shoes when trail running as opposed to neutral shoes? What are the fundamental differences?
A trail run means possibly handling a wide variety of situations, from different types of terrains (uphill, downhill, traverses), to different types of ground (dirt, rock, grass, mud, possibly creeks). This is what makes it fun but also requires a shoe that is able to handle those varied situations, therefore improved griptraction, stability-support, abrasion resistance, nose protection and quick dry are important feature.
Which HOKA model would you say is best for someone starting out at running?
Clifton is a very good shoe to start with. Extremely versatile for any speed, it is lightweight, with a good level of protection and fluid rolling.
What’s the most important aspect of max cushioning in a running shoe?
Cushioning plays the same role as suspension in a car. The longer the ride, the more repetitive the nature of the run, the more challenging the terrain, the more tired the runner becomes, the more important the cushioning becomes. When looking even at short distances top athletes, as well as athletes in a wide variety of sports, all of them have to do some simple condition training.
During that type of training, the less shocks you get in the body and the less fibres you break, the better shape you will be in for racing and the more chances you have to avoid injuries (way too frequent among runners, including young runners).
Explain the importance of the perfect shoe
I am not sure there is a perfect shoe. But, there certainly are shoes you want to avoid in some situations like doing long runs on asphalt with very low profile shoes if you are not a trained forefoot striking athlete, or using shoes without lugs in a wet trail. The first important element is finding the right fit, the right shape for your foot. The second element in case you tend to pronate, is making sure you have a shoe that will provide you with enough medial support. Third, always go one step further than you think you may need when it comes to protection. Your body will thank you and your performance will actually improve.
Do you have any advice for someone starting a footwear/sports brand?
Have a real consumer benefit (do not launch me-too products) and if possible have a visual point of difference.
Is there a particular running category that you think will grow significantly in the next ten years?
Just as SUV’s have taken over standard cars, I think ATR will , once we find the right combination of features, the all terrain segment will grow.
How important is HOKA’s presence at big events (e.g. utmb, ironman) and what benefits do you envisage for the brand?
It is absolutely fundamental to be present at all big events whether they are road events, trail events or triathlon events. This is the moment where you meet the most enthusiastic, passionate, committed users as well as the very best athletes. This is a moment of exchange, of first hearing about their experiences, the good and the not so good, and gives you an opportunity to present the latest products and having the athlete test them right away.
This is the moment of seeing, through the participants, how well overall your brand is doing versus competitors, and which models of shoes overall across the various brands are the most popular, and understanding why. This is also a great time for the company to regroup, exchange across functions, share successes, and also assess improvements to do all together.