How On’s running sneakers have conquered Tech Bros and high fashion alike

The sneaker sole is what you notice first. It is bizarre, almost alien, defined by a ring of hollowed-out blocks. This particular sole, dubbed CloudTec, has been the defining feature of the ultra-light running shoes made by On, a footwear company based in Zurich, since the brand’s launch in 2010. Unlike the solid foundation of a traditional running shoe , like New Balance’s 996, or the godfather of all, Nike‘S

Streamlined Waffle Trainer: The On’s sole has sizable, almost clumsy, gaps between each cube. It looks like a mouth that is in dire need of braces.

The outsole helped make On a stealth-statement sneaker, worn by the likes of tennis great Roger Federer (now an investor of On) as well as picky tech brothers, who fell in love with On’s curious shoes alike. in which they crave Patagonia fleece vests and zippered sweatshirts.

Roger Federer, On fans and investors.


Photo:

Courtesy of Hon

Tomorrow begins a new phase in On’s sole design history, as it will introduce the Cloudmonster, a maximalist sneaker built on a wobbly, swollen sole that will add a few inches to your height. Those U-shaped cubes are intact, but this time they are bigger, longer and a bit offset from each other, giving the sole a honeycomb shape.

Compared to On’s previous low-profile models, like the Cloudnova and Cloudstratus, the Cloudmonster is a behemoth, a big walking rig of a shoe. And that’s exactly the point, as it’s aimed at a class of runners that On has previously missed: those who prefer a fatter, more cushioning sole. Perhaps not surprisingly, this raised, knee-friendly outsole is widely associated with California-based Hoka, one of On’s main competitors in the specialist running market.

Co-CEO Marc Maurer brushes this comparison away: “It’s not like, OK, ‘Hoka makes a shoe that’s popular,'” so On will make a similar model, he says. “We are basically like, what does the consumer want?”

So far, On seems to have a good understanding of what the consumer wants. On went public last year and its net sales in 2021 reached approximately $ 775 million, a 70% increase over 2020. According to Matt Powell, senior industrial consultant at NPD Group, On quest’s revenues year are on track to surpass those of Hoka. Near the front of the sneaker space (code for the companies running longtime giants Nike, Adidas and New Balance). Today, On products are sold in 8,000 stores, ranging from major running chains like Road Runner Sports to mainstream department stores like Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s.

“The silhouettes that originally came from sports have arrived in the midst of fashion culture.”


– About co-founder David Allemann

Racing remains at the heart of On’s business: Maurer estimates that 40 percent of its revenues come from consumers who purchase dedicated racing equipment. The brand is so obsessed with capturing the exercise market that it sends analysts to popular jogging routes in major cities to count how many sprinters are wearing the brand’s shoes.

But to further its rise, On is also targeting a new category: luxury consumers. In mid-March On introduced a footwear and apparel collaboration with Spanish luxury house Loewe, its first partnership with an external fashion brand. The offering, which included a $ 390 navy gradient version of On’s low-profile Cloudventure sneakers and a $ 890 waterproof windbreaker, is almost completely sold out worldwide, despite being priced much higher than the main offerings of On.

Until recently, On had no desire to enter the competitive sneaker collaborations market. “There is no reason for us to do the 250th collaboration in the industry,” says co-founder David Allemann.

But he was hooked by Jonathan Anderson, Loewe’s British creative director, who had converted to the brand’s shoes and called Allemann with the idea that the two labels would merge. On and Loewe designed the collection in tandem, and it was released in Loewe stores, On physical outlets and retailers such as Bergdorf Goodman, Webster and Net-a-Porter. The shoes sold so well that the models resell for nearly double their retail price on the StockX online resale market.

Shoes from the Loewe x On collaboration.


Photo:

Courtesy of Hon

For the On team it was important that the collection included not only trainers but also clothing. Currently, apparel is the company’s fastest growing product category, and Maurer sees the development of its clothes as a key to making the brand more than just a sneaker company.

As the brand expands to compete against the Nike and Adidas of the world, both launches – the Cloudmonster and the Loewe collaboration – represent “the beginning of a new road,” says Maurer, “but one is really running and l ‘other is very clearly trying to get more into the fashion space.

This separation between sport and fashion is not as clear-cut as it once was. On executives say they have noticed that their shoes are already being adopted for fashion rather than function. This applies to high-style consumers, like Anderson, as well as fans of the tech world.

“We almost feel like performance is taking over fashion,” says Allemann. “The silhouettes that originally came from sports have arrived in the midst of fashion culture.”

The new Cloudmonster features a sole with maximum cushioning.


Photo:

Courtesy of Hon

To be sure, On is also openly courting that fashion-oriented consumer. In 2019, when he launched The Roger, his first sneaker in collaboration with Federer, he did it exclusively in the exclusive Dover Street Market boutiques in cities like London, New York and Tokyo.

Building relationships with boutiques known more for selling complicated pleated trousers than running shoes is a key growth strategy for On. “They knocked on our door pretty loud,” says Kevin Carney, founder of Mohawk General Store, a store in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles that wore On’s sneakers for a year. On, he says, was interested in being not only in running stores, but also in shopping destinations like his, where futuristic shoes are found alongside Issey Miyake trousers and Stüssy knits.

Cloudmonster himself could be an unexpected fashion hit. In recent years, extremist wide-soled models have dominated the sneaker market and are currently being offered by brands from Gucci to Converse. A few weeks ago, Balenciaga launched the Defender, a massive shoe with a gigantic curved sole that could be read as the Cloudmonster’s more steroid cousin.

“That kind of orthopedic-looking nerdy running shoe” is popular, says Justin Machus, the owner of Machus, a fashion boutique in Portland, Oregon, who has also been courted by On and sells his egalitarian shoes alongside niche and high fashion designers such as Rick Owens and Willy Chavarria. At Machus’ shop, On ran into discerning customers who might think Nike and Adidas are too overexposed. They are “looking at something else to be creative with and have fun with,” says Machus.

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