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How Hoka Fends Off the Imitators

When Hoka One One immune a pristine sneaker in 2020 that includes the logo’s signature dazzling colors, chunky midsole and rocker heel, the web page Tools Patrol requested: “What the Hell Is Going on With This Weird New Running Shoe?”

No one’s asking that query anymore.

The design prospers that after drew prevalent comparisons to clown shoes are actually a $1.4 billion-a-year trade for Hoka and its proprietor, Deckers. Options that have been temporarily followed via an avid population of street and path runners when the logo debuted in 2009 are actually used via enough of non-athletes looking for a sturdy, multipurpose sneaker that may be used during diverse actions right through their day-to-day generation — with the added bonus of taking a look fashionable too.

Upcoming gross sales soared via just about 60 p.c in 2022, many analysts be expecting Hoka to develop revenues with ease past the corporate’s 20 p.c enlargement goal this yr.

However luck breeds imitators. On, the Swiss running brand that’s had a parallel rise to Hoka, ultimate yr offered the “Cloudmonster,” a light-weight sneaker it described as “our weirdest creation yet,” that includes a rocker heel and the logo’s largest-ever midsole. In Would possibly, Nike immune its Motiva layout, a shoe it touts as having an “exaggerated rocker and full-length cushioning.” Adidas’ fresh Ultraboost Luminous operating sneaker introduced in February with its thickest midsole but. The listing is going on.

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Hoka has had to pivot from convincing sceptical runners to wear its “clown shoes” to making the case that its rocker heel and wide midsole are better than the rest. There’s also the looming spectre of fatigue, particularly among fashion-conscious consumers, who may take the sudden ubiquity of Hoka-likes as a sign it’s time to move onto the next silhouette.

“The three core elements of our footwear made us very unique in the industry at one point, but we now have a big target on our backs,” said Colin Ingram, Hoka’s vice president of global product.

A Winning Footwear Formula

Here’s what defines a Hoka shoe, according to Ingram:

The curved “meta-rocker” sole prevents the foot from landing flat, encouraging forward propulsion. The cushioned midsole is a shock absorber, creating a foamy feel underfoot and softening the impact of landing on knees and ankles. Finally, Hoka’s footbed places the user’s foot deeper in the midsole, rather than resting on top of it, creating a secure, cushioned feeling.

“Hoka perfected soft landings,” said sporting goods analyst Matt Powell. “If I have an aggravated injury of some kind, I’m landing on something that’s softer, so it’s not going to hurt or be as jarring as if I was wearing a flatter running shoe with no cushioning at all.”

None of this was conventional wisdom when former Salomon employees Jean-Luc Diard and Nicolas Mermoud founded Hoka in 2009. Previously, the trend in road and trail running had been for brands to create as close to a barefoot feel as possible. For several years after Hoka launched, there was nothing quite like it on the market (the brand was acquired by Deckers about a decade ago and is now based in California).

“Everything was super minimal at the time Hoka entered the market,” Ingram said. “It was all about trying to get the foot as close to the ground as possible.”

Today, Hoka faces challenges from most major sneaker brands, and at virtually every price point (the brand’s popular Bondi 8 model costs $165 a pair). At the high end, in February American running brand Saucony launched its $275 Endorphin Elite running sneaker with a large shock absorber midsole and a curved rocker heel. Adidas’ Ultraboost Lights cost $210, Brooks’ Caldera 6 was released last July; they cost $150. Nike’s Motiva retail for $125. Even Walmart has a chunky running shoe for under $30.

Rather than race to keep ahead of the competition, Hoka is taking the fight to them. It’s expanding into more specialty running stores as well as big chains like Foot Locker and Dick’s Sporting Goods, plus retailers like Nordstrom, Dover Street Market and Kith, where its shoes are positioned more like luxury goods alongside limited edition Nike or Adidas collaborations. Hoka collabs are becoming more frequent, and last year the brand announced tie-ups with streetwear retailers like Bodega and Atmos.

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Hoka’s popularity beyond the running community has seen the brand collaborate with coveted streetwear retailers like Bodega. (Courtesy)

Deckers’ CEO David Powers told investors in May that many consumers still aren’t familiar with the brand in regions such as Europe, the Middle East and China, leaving plenty of room to grow. He expects Hoka to surpass $2 billion in revenue in the near future. That’s a bit behind what Converse generated last year, though well below Nike’s $46.7 billion in 2022 sales.

There are some limitations that come with the brand’s unique shoe design. Because of the height at which the foot sits in the elevated midsole, Hoka will not find it as easy to adapt its footwear for sports or activities that require lateral movement, such as tennis, Powell said. That hasn’t been a problem for On, which adapted its shoes to create a line of tennis footwear, co-designed with investor-collaborator Roger Federer.

Footwear isn’t the only category where Hoka sees a major opportunity, however. Hoka believes apparel could drive significant sales in the future. This autumn, it will launch a new line of running tops and shorts. The brand is also designing clothing that — like its shoes — can be worn for multiple purposes. A $100 women’s playsuit became one of Hoka’s top-selling items on its website when it was released earlier this year, Ingram told BoF.

Powell expects the brand will continue to benefit from being the first-mover in creating a new generation of running footwear.

“I think they’re further ahead in the marketplace than everybody else,” he mentioned. “So far, no one’s been able to put a dent in Hoka yet.”

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