HOKA ONE ONE® Co-Founders
Jean-Luc Diard and Nicolas Mermoud
“While trail runners by night, our day jobs were in gravity sports. We had a hand in several snow sport and cycling innovations, and every day we wondered, “How do we go faster”? The running shoe establishments ridiculed Hoka’s, they scoffed at Hoka’s maximal shoe-the shoes were ugly but they were functional.
As Hoka’s popularity grew, they developed a cult-like following among ultra runners, and as the word spread like a virus, it would become a staple in local running shoe stores, and soon runners from all across the country were lacing up their Hoka’s for road races.
“Over the years, we’ve become synonymous with premium cushioning — and for a good reason. We are constantly searching for lighter, more responsive and durable cushion that protects without compromising performance. This has allowed us to add faster, lighter shoes to our range”. When everyone else in the industry was raging about minimalist barefoot and Vibram FiveFingers, these two rebels were on the other end of the spectrum with their marsh mellow platform shoes and showing no signs of retreating either-they were committed to their vision.
“Meta-Rocker, or wheels for your feet, is all about the geometry. We combine a low heel-toe drop, our unique-shaped midsoles and signature HOKA cushioning to complement a runner’s normal gait cycle and drive you forward.” Soon the industry pendulum would swing toward the maximal sneaker trend. Every brand and their “Mama” started offering maximal kicks: Altra, Skechers, New Balance and Under Armour. The game significantly changed when Hoka dropped, the OG Clifton. The Clifton was the perfect storm lightweight, cushioned, and flexible. Sure, the Clifton was still ugly-but it killed! Hoka’s oversized shoes have also influenced the hip hop and fashion cultures, even Versace has an oversized sneaker, with a mortgage payment as a price tag at $1,350.
It wouldn’t be long before all this hype caught the attention of a little running shoe company founded by a pair of rebels of their own, I’m talking about none other than Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight, sure they’re not at the helm any longer, but their spirit is still alive within the company.
Nike’s success has been the result of their constant innovation and appropriate investments that have resulted in Nike making profits worth hundreds of millions of dollars every year. Nike’s genius to me is in their design and marketing. They didn’t merely throw some additional foam on the bottom of an existing shoe, then take out a full-page spread in Runner’s World Magazine and a few billboard Ads, no! they would take their time in the lab. Nike is now light years away from Bowerman’s Waffle Irons in the kitchen.
After carefully calculating their next move like a chess grandmaster, they released the Vaporfly 4%, ZoomFly, and Zoomfly SP. The release of the VaporFly came with claims of making you run 4% faster, the initial colorway was a fresh Ice Blue/Bright Crimson University, Red-Blue Fox, but Nike didn’t stop there, no way, because that “woulda been lame”-Instead, Nike recruited a crew of world-class athletes to break the 2hour marathon barrier.
Nike wasn’t even a player in this niche; for years Hoka dominated this segment of the market by staying true to their original mission/vision. Hoka was the first mover in the maximal shoe segment and had an advantage, however by waiting and entering the game late, Nike was able to capitalize off of Hoka’s mistakes and build off their successful innovations. It doesn’t hurt to have your shoe on the feet of athletes as they cross the finish line: Galen Rupp in Chicago 2017, Shalane Flanagan in NYC 2017, Eliud Kipchoge in Berlin 2017, London 2018, Berlin 2018 and London 2019. The Nike Vaporfly 4% looks fast, and it will appeal to a broader audience particularly young people. To keep the sport of running growing and vibrant, attracting millennials from all demographics will be essential.
Hoka is not afraid of Goliath, it didn’t just roll over and play dead, No, they when back to the drawing board and prepared to do battle-the result was the Project Carbon X, and the introduction of their Carbon X-and records fell. Hoka took a traditional and grassroots approach to the marketing of Project Carbon X, giving YouTube influencers access to the event and got the shoe into the hands of bloggers. The Carbon X will fall into a fair price sweet spot, between the ZoomFly and ZoomFly Vapor 4% at about $180.
Hoka was the first mover in the maximal shoe segment, they carved out a nice niche for themselves, but they didn’t sit back and watch Netflix and Chill-they continued to build. Nike entered late in the game but introduced a carbon plate. Hoka liked the idea so much that they included a carbon plate in their shoe. The clear winner to me, hands down are the runners. If Hoka would swipe another page out of Nike’s handbook and have a design contest or something to infuse a little flair into their kicks that would be sweet.