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Footwear Headlines: Going Deep On Lulu, Deckers & Adidas with Footwear Designer Richard Kuchinsky

Today we're going deep on recent footwear headlines with a real life footwear designer!

Richard Kuchinsky has been making footwear for over 20 years and is the Founder of The Directive Collective, an agency that partners with brands to go from concept to production in the running shoe space. 

An expert in both product and brand, Richard has no problem offering his opinion on the direction a brand is taking when it comes to the shoes they make.

Today Richard joins THE ROCK FIGHT to talk about the influence of footwear in the zeitgeist, check in on what we think about On Running and to help breakdown some recent footwear headlines about brands like Lululemon, Deckers & Adidas.

Please follow and subscribe to THE ROCK FIGHT and give us a 5 star rating wherever you get your podcasts.

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Episode Transcript

Colin (00:00):

Welcome to the Rock Fight where we speak out truth, slay sacred cows, and sometimes agree to disagree. This is an outdoor podcast that aims for the head. I'm Colin true, and today we're going deep on some of the latest headlines to come out of the footwear world with a footwear expert. Richard Kazinski has been making footwear for over 20 years and is the founder of the Directive Collective an agency that partners with brands to go from concept to production in the running shoe space. Richard has an intimate knowledge of both product and brand and has no problem offering his opinion on the direction of brand is taking when it comes to the shoes they make. Now we've touched on several footwear related headlines here on the Rock Fight recently, and I'm excited to welcome Richard on the show to go through the current state of athletic footwear, but also to go deeper into stories like Lululemon's new line of shoes, the Decker's Anu super sneaker fiasco, as well as the Adidas single-use marathon shoe. Welcome back to the Rock Fight, where today we're talking shoes with footwear designer Richard Kazinski. Welcome,

Chris DeMakes (00:58):

Fight, fight, fight, fight.

Colin (01:02):

Alright, we are here with Richard Kazinski. Welcome to the Rock Fight man. Stoked to have you here.

Richard (01:07):

Thanks for having me Colin.

Colin (01:09):

Alright, so you're a footwear guys. We need to know what shoes are you wearing right now?

Richard (01:14):

I'm not wearing any shoes. I have probably like 25 behind me that I had to wear

Colin (01:19):

The past week. Can see? Yes. See kind of a personal brand fail though for you not to have a pair of shoes on. I feel like you're not allowed to wear flip flops or gray or barefoot in your line of work. You should always have shoes on.

Richard (01:28):

I don't know. I'm a shoe guy, but I don't wear shoes in the house. What can I say?

Colin (01:33):

So I want to start with the category itself because when I was working at retail places like city sports and Eastern Mountain sports and then I tech wrapped for some footwear brands, I always saw the footwear department and I feel like this was validated from the folks I talked to in the shops and my coworkers. The Ford department at a shop is sort of the epicenter of the shop, and I think that's true whether we're talking about a specialty retailer or even a Dick's, you know what I mean? It's all sort of circles around the footwear section and I always refer to outdoor and athletic footwear as the show. You might have make really cool pieces of apparel, you might make really cool gear, but in my experience, especially in that tech rep role, if I was putting a pair of shoes in somebody's hands, it was like being touched by the finger of God. Like, oh my God, you're giving me shoes. It just was this incredible experience to be able to hook somebody up with a pair of shoes and I just think there might be categories that generate more revenue, but for some reason I think shoes captured us in a way that other products don't. So as someone who's been designing footwear for over 20 years, I mean, does that resonate with you? Do you have an explanation for why maybe I feel that way?

Richard (02:42):

I think that's absolutely true. I think shoes are personal and they're cultural and I mean, put it this way, people line up for shoes. People don't line up to get socks, right,

Colin (02:52):

Don't take 'em, but it's not the same.

Richard (02:55):

Yeah, I mean I think the thing with shoes is obviously I think holds a special place for people and it doesn't matter if you're talking performance or sneakers and lifestyle because it's that separation between yourself, the human and the earth. For one. I mean I guess you could say socks does that too, but I think that that physically makes a difference. It's an intimate object from that perspective. I think anything that kind of goes on your body has that, whether it's glasses or jewelry or whatnot, but I think shoes are also special because you're also likely to have very few of them in a sense. I mean obviously there's sneaker heads and whatnot, but you may have 25, you're probably not going to have 25 pairs of shoes. I mean, not true for me, I do. Yeah, sure.

Colin (03:38):

We'll get into the sustainability part later,

Richard (03:41):

But I think that's kind of what makes it special and it is the sort of also object. I think that that's kind also the big difference between even gear that is a physical thing or apparel is that shoes, the combination between sort of hard and soft and different materials. It becomes something kind of more than just, okay, here's a really great cotton shirt and it's stitch and cut where shoes has all these different components, different materials. There's some magic I think in there

Colin (04:10):

And it's the one kind of thing we can wear in our body. I mean, you could obviously have a branded or it maybe be you're wearing something, especially if it's outerwear that has a brand on it, but it's the one kind of billboard we wear that is sort of just always socially acceptable. My kids, ever since I worked at Timberland and kind of become a footwear guy from my time in retail, I can't help but look at shoes and I haven't worked in footwear specifically in a long time, but it's just kind of stuck with me. I think when you become a shoe dog, it kind of becomes part of your DNA. And I remember we were actually, I was in Europe with my family this summer and we're walking around Rome and I'm just pointing out the shoes that people were wearing to my kids.

(04:46)I'm like, see, that's an American brand right there. That's interesting. That person looks like a local and they're wearing a brand that we have. And they say, I'm not sure who that is. And my kids look at me like, dad, are you just looking at everyone's shoes? And I'm like, no, no. I'm immediately embarrassed by it. But it is this sort of way to, you really can subtly signal to the world via a logo or even the silhouette of the shoe about who you are. I mean, I get a little kind of woo woo on this, but I kind of feel like that's true.

Richard (05:14):

I think it's one of those things as well, and I'm not sure I can go into the psychology behind it, but that everyone has an opinion on. I mean, whether you ask a young guy or my mom or grandmother, whatever, everyone will have an opinion. Whether it's like, okay, this is not comfortable. What's going to work with my bunions? What's cool? What are the kids wearing? I don't think it's the same thing when it comes to apparel or it comes to even most accessories. Some people are watch people great, other people don't care as long as it tells the time or smart watch or whatnot. But I think shoes is one of those things because of that, I guess maybe blend of cultural aspects and function and performance and fit. I mean, it makes a big difference. And then also just that lifestyle, this cultural signifier of whatever socioeconomic or fashion or personal taste that makes it kind of unique for sure.

Colin (06:07):

Definitely when I was a kid in the eighties, nineties, I feel like, and I could be wrong about this, you would have the data you'd known better than I would, but it feels like the kind of popular sneaker styles or silhouettes were a little more diverse. We had the Chucks and the sambas were big for a while and Sambas seem like they're back now. And then basketball shoes, and then there's obviously kind of the cross trainer boom that I don't even know that's funny, that cross trainers, I don't feel like that has come back in a meaningful way. And you figure with all the kind of 80 eighties and nineties and nostalgia cross trainers would be like, Reebok should be having a moment here. But it does feel to me that everyone today is kind of competing for just running shoes, is running shoe scraps, everyone has a pair of running shoes. It feels like a running shoe world that we're living in. I mean, is that an accurate assessment or am I kind of pigeonholing that too much?

Richard (06:51):

I mean, obviously as a runner and running shoe designer, I'm a little bit biased, but No, I think that's true. I think running shoes today, I like to say are where basketball shoes were in the nineties. I mean back then it was peak Jordans you can say, and Reebok pumps and DMX and all that kind of stuff. And that's what was hot for sure. There was trainers and stuff and my first pair of shoes I can remember was the air trainer from grade seven. That was a thing. But I think, yeah, today, nowadays that running performance has taken over that, and obviously I use performance here very loosely. It's a pretty big spectrum, but I think it is that kind of thing where again, it's the combination between aesthetics, between actual functional performance and that sort of elevated kind of object style. I mean, running shoes are now more expensive in many cases than basketball shoes and basketball shoes were the ones that were leading. Those were some of the first shoes that were over whatever it was $150, $200 back in the day and now there's running shoes that are getting up there.

Colin (07:57):

When did that flip? That's a really good point. I mean even probably less than 10 years ago when it was still mostly the kind of asics Brooks like Saucony world still feel like running shoes were in the 110, $130 range. Even trail runners at that point were kind of in that ballpark and now it's very routine that these things are over 150 bucks. I mean, especially in the trail running category. Was there a moment when that flipped? Are things just like, Hey, that's just actually we we're now charging what the should have been charging all along. Can you pinpoint when that flipped?

Richard (08:28):

I think it kind goes back to the innovation and material side of things. I mean, I think that typically is the driver in running shoes in particular and maybe in a larger picture in footwear in general. But I mean, I think it kind of goes through sort generations and phases. I mean, from the old running shoes that were cut and buff, EVA and rubber, those were whatever price that was kind of before my time to when things started changing to molded EVA or Pew Midsoles in the whatever, late seventies, eighties, stuff like that. I mean the new balance shoes, for example, their numbering system originally was based on price. So that nine 90 was $99 and that's why it was, that was the top end shoe because that $99 price point was at the time whenever that was kind of crazy. So they had to kind of lean into it, they had to kind of lean into it and it was part of the whole story.

(09:23)It was like this is top performance because you're getting whatever technology was based in that. And I think that the generations of running shoes since have kind of followed that same sort of pattern. First jump I would probably say is back in 2000, maybe it was 11 or 12 or something with Adidas Boost that was sort of the next generation of technology from molded EVA and all that stuff from the nineties where it's TPU shanks and stuff. All this stuff is coming back in fashion now, but in a performance sense to a new material that BASF developed, the Infin, TPU expanded TPU that had all this great performance and had those cool look, but it was also really expensive. It was a very engineered polymer and that made those Adidas Boost shoes when they first came out really expensive relative to whatever else was on the market.

Colin (10:12):

For the record, I never liked the Boost shoes.

Richard (10:16):

It's complicated. Let's just say

Colin (10:20):

Out of, am I insulting you? No, no.

Richard (10:22):

I had nothing to do with it. I think I've only ran in a pair of Boost once someone who was working for some PR agency gave than me, but that could be a whole another episode just talking

Colin (10:30):

About that. It felt like because the Nike Air, it always felt like, I'm like, I don't think that's really doing anything, but it looks cool. And the Boost was like that times 10. I'm like, you know what I mean? I don't think that's doing anything for me and it looks terrible.

Richard (10:42):

I think what Boost though brought into the market, I have to get too much sidetracked on Boost was again that next generation engineered polymer material. It was a new material kind of used in footwear. PU had been used before, but this expanded TPU beads material had a initial feel on it that was very, very different. It was really soft, it was really springy. And that's I think a big part of why it became popular on paper. It also did work. It had that rebound but also had some drawbacks. It was kind of heavy and it looked kind of weird and whatnot, but that was that next generation. And then obviously now we're sort of past that and we're now in this next generation where everybody and their mom is using a material or PBAs or unbranded, not from Marka, but that's also why things are jumping up and now you have carbon fiber, and that's kind of where the point we're at now. So I mean all those different price points that you talk about and all those kind of different generations and even sort of interest of shoes in terms of the technology and the performance and what is in there, that's new I think comes back to that, comes back to that innovation and comes back to that performance development really.

Colin (11:52):

So how much is trend aesthetic versus performance? Because I just wrote down while you were talking and you kind of led right into it with all the headlines from an outsider's point of view seem to be right now, at least in the trade stuff, I'm not sure what's really making it to the consumer level, but is carbon plates on trail runners? Well, here's, here's our new shoe with the carbon plate on it. And I know between modified shanks and even when I was at Timberland, we were making Trail Runner shoes in the early two thousands and we're working a plate system into it and all those kinds of things, but now it feels like it's becoming the story du jore of the category. Is that just trend? Is it new technology mean, is there some proof in the puddin there or is it just like, ah, this is just a thing that's happening now?

Richard (12:34):

I think it's a little bit of both, and I think it's a combination thing. And for one, I'm definitely not a biomechanist and I'm not a material scientist, but obviously I have a lot of both practical experience as a rudder and as a running shoe designer in this, for one, the carbon fiber plate idea is definitely not new. Fila was using carbon fiber back in the nineties, I think it was in some running shoes. And again, this whole idea of having a stiffer shoe and having more energy stored and energy returned is definitely an extension of everything you're talking about with those TPU shanks or different materials and stuff like that, that all those crazy 90 shoes that are coming back or 2000 shoes are coming back are doing in fashion. But I think, again, kind of going back to what I was saying before, the innovation is, or the difference is this next generation where it's the combination of these super foams, they call them these PBA foams or super critical foams.

(13:29)That's sort of why they're called super foams, new foaming process. And that plus the carbon fiber plates is something that is actually new and it is new from both a material perspective and an innovation perspective, and also from a performance perspective. I mean these new foams that they have, again, sort of that next generation past boost are super light and super bouncy and super responsive. But when you combine more of it because more foam is more bouncy, they're also unstable. So when you sandwich that plate in there in the middle, that's when you get not only the benefits of the plate acting like not a spring per se, but as a rebound or a lever kind of effect, but also as a stabilizer, stabilizing that sandwich of foam because try and walk around on a marshmallow, it's not going to work out Very good.

Colin (14:22):

I didn't really pair of Hoka. I know what that feels like.

(14:28)Well mean, actually, that's an interesting comment too because is if you go back now and look at the 50 plus years of the modern running shoes especially, or even just athletic shoes, and you do see these little peaks and valleys of technology, and it kind of always then seems the balance out to, well, we've got an upper and midsole and outsole and it's basic and it's foam. Maybe the foam improves those kinds of things. But at the end of the day, that seems like the tried and true method. And then you have these other sort of diversions into different technologies that some hit, maybe it carries forward some that don't. Those kinds of things. I mean, ho is a good example. We actually are reviewing this on our gear segment later. It will be this week when our episode comes out. And that's one where when coming out of the barefoot craze of the 2009 10 frame timeframe, even between Ultra and Hoka and these brands, it felt like, oh, it's cool that the category expanded to create some new technologies. But I never in a million years would've said that Hoka is going to become a billion dollar brand that I see on moms and dads at the airport. They're truly, it's like they're in the mix now with Asics and Brooks at the airport when you look at people's feet, right? And like I said, I look at people's feet all the time. So can you even predict something like that happening? I mean, is that something that surprised you?

Richard (15:41):

I mean, I think if one thing is true in footwear, but maybe most industries, it's this idea of a pendulum swinging. And I think that Hoka has been on the right side of that pendulum to some extent since it kind of came out and as that maximalist kind of concept coming at a time when as you said, the barefoot or the very minimal concept was out, which I did a lot of work in that space. And I do remember seeing Hoka the first time at some trade show, whatever trade show that was, and it was this kind of holy shit kind of moment. What is this big beefy,

Colin (16:16):

It's the new shoes that the spice girls are wearing.

Richard (16:19):

And I mean obviously that gets some kind of reaction, but obviously targeted performance for trail runners or going down a hill or whatnot makes some sort of sense. But yeah, I mean the overall expansion of that into lifestyle, I mean, I think it's one of those things I think people were writing probably business case studies for a long time about that.

Colin (16:41):

Yeah. Well, don't worry, Deckers, we have some criticism coming for you in a minute here, but good job on Hoka. I guess kind of last thing before we move into some footwear headlines, how are we feeling about on? Because on, to me, just as a cynic and somebody who's, frankly, I've never even worn a pair of ons and my running days are behind me because of some knee issues, but at the same time I look at them and I'm like, that's just the shoe that happened to hit. That's the trendy shoe that happened to hit. They made something really interesting in the midsole that I don't really believe does that much. But how are we feeling about on and the on revolution that we've been experiencing the past few years?

Richard (17:15):

Again, it's really complicated.

Colin (17:18):

Is it though? It's a complicated,

Richard (17:20):

Well, it's complicated in terms of, I would say my thoughts on the matter. I actually have a whole article I'm working on. It's in my sort of drafts at the moment. Okay,

Colin (17:27):

We won't spoil that,

Richard (17:28):

But yeah, well, it's not finished with nothing to spoil yet. But I do, I mean, put it this way, I also do remember seeing the first time a pair of on shoes, and I was actually in a factory working on a minimal concept at the time over in China in 2009 or 10 ish, something like that. And we were working in the same factory that was making ons, and it was one of these again, kind of like, whoa, what's that? Kind of, but yeah, I mean I definitely agree, at least in terms of many iterations, I don't think it does anything. I think it is interesting watching the evolution also of that. So-called technology of these air bubbles, which were actually originally all molded in rubber, and then it kind of became to be half rubber and then attached to a midsole, and then now there's just kind of holes in a midsole and then kind of getting smaller and smaller and smaller.

(18:11)But obviously again, it's that kind of combination between doing things differently and also being consistent at it. I think that for the most part has been there as success. I mean, their shoes, even from the first ones looked very different aesthetically, not only the technology, but even the upper design, a much more simplified design when everything was all crazy overlays and screen prints and bells and whistles and whatnot. And yeah, I think it's also kind of just a testament to the storytelling of it. I think they've done a very good job of that. If they're telling you these are clouds or pillows or whatever they're called, they look like that. So yeah, your mom can understand that. That kind of makes sense.

Colin (18:51):

Honestly, the biggest hurdle is the name of the brand itself. I didn't know what they were called for probably the first year I knew they were around. I'm like, is it just on?

Richard (18:59):

That's it. People still don't know what they're called. Honestly, the number of times I get some uncle or some random person come up to me and be like, oh, have you tried these shoes? They're called QC or something because the logo, that's

Colin (19:11):

What it looks like.

Richard (19:12):

Yeah, actually I can't find it for the life of me, but was I read an article once that they actually have bought all of the Google keywords for all the misspellings of the brand because nobody that's smart can spell it because the logo doesn't look like it spells on because it looks like a U or a Q or a C or something like that. And yeah, not to mention that, trying to Google the word on running. I mean obviously you throw a lot of money at anything works, but it's like name your brand the

Colin (19:40):

Exactly. Yeah, I think just the antithesis to HoCo where I look at that and go, wow, I can't believe that has had mass appeal. I think what on has done well is the shoes, have you look at 'em. I could see that becoming a popular shoe, just nice and clean looking and very broadly speaking, a good looking running shoe. The technology almost doesn't matter. So between the work they put in on the marketing side to get it out there, and it's reasonably simple. And even the technology story is simple too. Like, oh, we put these bubbles in there. Okay, I know what Nike Air is. That's probably close, right? No, it's not the same, but yeah, close enough. So I get why that hit the Hoka one still kind of makes me scratch my head.

Richard (20:19):

Yeah, I mean I think both of them, they'll kind of at least share those same challenges though at the same time of it is easily understandable and all the moms or the whatever people in line of Starbucks or at the airport or whatever are wearing them. But how does that also relate to the authenticity story of coming from performance or offering performance or speaking to runners? I think that that's definitely a whole topic that again, aside from what Wall Street or the industry says is something that is to discuss because at what point does that performance brand become all lifestyle and then loses some of that performance, right?

Colin (20:57):

But isn't the figure it's like 75 or 85% of running shoe sold or just never worn to go running in? I mean, it's almost always, you'd be silly to kind of think that we're only launching a performance brand. Actually I wrote down speed. Is it speed land or speed land, however you pronounce it in our doc because 300 plus dollars running shoes. But I also kind of get it too, as a runner, I'd be really curious, I'd be more interested in trying to run in those that I would be in a pair of ons, right? And so I think that most people were probably designing for the masses, even if they think they're not just based on the numbers

Richard (21:32):

For sure. But there's also, I mean brands to think about in terms of champion, I saw they just got another brand that got bought this week by, I guess it was a BG or something like that. They used to be, again, pure performance and all that. And now it's like sweatshirts, sweatshirts at Walmart and stuff like that. Nobody thinks of them. They're like, Hey, we

Colin (21:53):

Can make a lot more money doing this.

Richard (21:56):

So yeah, I mean obviously their business has changed and whether that's successful or not, it's a different story, but at some point I don't think it's possible to have your cake and eat it too. And I think that that sport, lifestyle and performance mix and balance is tricky. It's not just like, okay, whatever sells, we're printing money. And there's lots of kind of cases of that. I mean even bigger brands that obviously have that heritage and have the authenticity from coming from sport of how easily that can go away. Another brand at a BG, Reebok, another perfect example. Right.

Colin (22:30):

Well, let's talk about some current footwear stories. There are two recent stories that resulted in you and I connecting and chatting, and there's another one I want to get your weigh in on. And the first one though is Lululemon's new footwear line for men's. So Lulu recently announced that they're expanding their footwear line to include men's. The shoes are, I guess the running shoes are at least running adjacent. I think they're kind of positioning them as running shoes. My take was less about the shoe itself and more about the marketing of the shoe. I know you've now had a chance to try the shoe. So what did you think as both, I guess both a runner or design perspective? I think you can say that if you'd say they perform great, I'll believe you. I also feel like, I mean this is a full kit play more than it is a performance footwear play, I think. Anyway, you think

Richard (23:14):

There's a lot going on in this story mean this is what they've launched now is their second generation of shoes. Their first one came out a year or two ago, and those were women's only. I did buy one that sort of converted to my size or close to my size, and that one was, I'm going to just say on Bly terrible, it was like a Payless shoe, honestly, just quality of build design materials, just basic EVA rubber is heavy, huge drop. There's no redeeming qualities from my perspective, their new generation, I have to say, is much improved. And from a product point of view, I was impressed just a, that they were able to kind of step it up. And I think it's a lot more at least kind of contemporary in terms of what someone would expect at that price point, and definitely not cheap.

(24:05)The larger story though, I think is the, as you say, that marketing play and the whole idea of, okay, this is designed for women's and this is something new and innovative, and there's that whole thing, which for one is may or may not be true in terms of how many foot scans they did or research or kind of whatever, but obviously they're not the first one who's doing that. This is a hundred percent not something new. I mean, I literally have a book here of old ads from the sixties, seventies, eighties and nineties from all these different brands, a sneaker freaker kind of compendium thing, and there's tons of ads from whatever, Nike and New Balance and Reebok and stuff going back to early eighties that say the exact same thing, that here's our first women shoe and whatever. So that's not new. And again, talk to any of your friends in the industry who work with lasts people at Johnson Vining, and they'll tell you that, yeah, this is not a revolution like tons of brands do. Yeah,

Colin (24:58):

But why do they keep marketing? Not to interrupt you, but it's just like Adidas had a tar hiking boot a year ago and they're like, Hey, we're building on a women's last. I'm like, you don't need to say that anymore. That's not a marketing bullet point. If you weren't, that means that says to me that you weren't doing that before.

Richard (25:16):


Colin (25:16):


Richard (25:17):

Blowing. To me, it is a marketing bullet point because it works and obviously we're talking about it and other people are talking about it and other people don't know that. Yeah, there was some shoe or even whole brands like Reka in the eighties that was doing only that, right? Right.

Colin (25:29):

Oh my God, I forgot about that brand

Richard (25:31):

Via another one. Oh yeah. So there definitely is a precedent there. Again, whether or not it's right or not is another question. I mean, I've also talked to people who are biomechanists and they've told me more than one has told me that, and again, this is not my domain, that there's actually more variation within a gender than across gender. So even within a women's gender for sure, there are some broad speaking differences between men and women. You could say just as you could say in general, men are taller or something than women, but there's also wide and skinny kind of within a gender. So is that gendered fit necessarily the solution? Not always. It's not that simple. But again, as a marketing point, for sure, there's something there. And again, people can see that. They understand that and okay, that makes a difference. Yes, women's bodies are different than men. Women are not small men. Yeah, I get that. So that works. I mean for me though, the more complicated thing is, or the confusing thing is why are they doing that? And then at the same time saying, and hey, we also have a men's footwear collection. I just feel like it's shooting yourself in the foot. You can't have it both ways.

(26:46)And it's the weird thing as well too in terms of also knowing their market and knowing their customer and what are they trying to achieve and how is that customer different between men's and women's, but yet trying to do the same product. And it's almost the exact same, almost the same colors. There's some minor differences in design language or whatnot, but it kind of seems like they're throwing a lot at the wall, and I'm not sure what's sticking at this point.

Colin (27:10):

Yeah, I think we had similar takeaways for different reasons, I think because the thing that made me bristle in some of the press materials about it was the phrase innovative and breakthrough and all these things about the shoe, which is not, I've said this ad nauseum probably on this podcast. I mean, pick a brand in the outdoor and active space and show me where they don't say those things. And it's just, as someone who works at a textile manufacturer, it's like, yeah, there's not a lot of innovation and breakthroughs happening, guys. I think the conversation we just had about foams and plates, that's interesting, that's different. That's at least design innovation based off of new materials and things like that. But it's also, I wouldn't necessarily say that's a massive breakthrough that's kind of just applying what we know in a better way. And so to say that, Hey, Lululemon, you cracked the code on men's athletic footwear with this massive breakthrough, it's like it's just an overstatement.

(28:04)And I don't think there's anything wrong with saying, Hey, we took a look at our kit and be like, I think men would like to have some Lulu shoes with their Lulu. We have enthusiast wear a B, C pants and go out and run in our stuff and they dig our shoes. I think that's a good enough reason for you to make full wear. And I would imagine there's plenty of folks out there who will buy Lulu shoes because they're enthusiasts of your brand. You don't have to try and sell me on this big innovation breakthrough

Richard (28:27):

For sure. I mean, I think obviously Lulu has no, they don't have the market cornered on Hyper Bowl, as you say. Every brand kind of does that, but I think for sure that message does get confusing and the connection of the message and the brand to the product when it's like, Hey, this is something totally new. It's totally innovative and it's not, like I said, this new collection I would say is relatively current in terms of materials and design and whatnot, but definitely it's not, I would say I can point to a single thing that's innovative or different or new. The first collection was 10, 15 years behind, so yeah, they've caught up to date.

Colin (29:02):

That's good. I guess compared to their own collections, it's incredible for

Richard (29:05):

Sure. But then also there's the whole aspect of like you say, what is the shoe for and who is it for? And if they're making this whole thing and even online, someone was messaging me about it, like, oh, I don't know if this is really for running. And literally on their website underneath the little card, when it pops up, it says this feel, whatever it's called, designed for running. It has those words. So I'm like, oh, okay, it's designed for running. But then again, if I'm trying it or I'm commenting on or judging it against other running shoes for running and people are like, oh, well it's not for running running, it's just for running. Again, you can't have it kind of both ways. You can't,

Colin (29:40):

Especially if the brand's selling you that. So what was your takeaway running in it?

Richard (29:45):

Again, I think it was a pretty decent shoe. I was definitely pleasantly surprised. I would say it felt comparable to a Nike Pegasus or something like a good mid range trainer, which I think for what they were kind of going for make sense, but then again, there's that whole kind of disconnect between what they're saying and what they're doing and how they're marketing it. They had this whole event with the Ultra runners running for six days in the desert and stuff like that. And the runner who broke all this records, she wasn't actually wearing the shoes that looks like she was wearing because she was wearing,

Colin (30:17):

And this is what they say that was made for or for these folks.

Richard (30:21):

It's made for them, but it's not made for them because not an ultra running shoe obviously, I don't dunno how many pairs these people went through, probably not one pair,

Colin (30:30):

Just the pair they wore at the finish line.

Richard (30:31):

And even the one, like I said, that shoe that was worn by Camille Harron that said all these records, it looks the same, but if you actually look at some of the closeups, it's a different shoe that is listed on the world athletics list that is probably coming out later, but it's a development shoe that probably is a higher stack shoe made for maybe marathons or something like that, maybe for the Olympics. I don't know. I just think it kind of comes down at the end of the day it kind of setting the limits within your brand, and it's okay if not every brand is Nike or high performance or breaking records or running marathons, whatever. That's okay too. Again, most people are probably not running a marathon. I think it's 1% of people run a marathon ever. So athleisure or fashion or lifestyle or comfort or whatever, all those things are fine.

(31:14)But yeah, I mean even I mentioned this, whatever, I guess it was two or three years ago when Lululemon was going into the last Olympic cycle in Tokyo and they had sponsored I think two out of the three Canadian marathon team and none of them were obviously wearing Lululemon shoes because at that point weren't any. There were none, right? So it's like, okay, well what's the point here? Because they're also not wearing Lululemon clothes. You have to wear the Olympic uniform and whatnot, and they're not wearing the shoes. So is it just some sort of connection by association or something? What are you trying to achieve I guess at the end of the day from both a brand and a product perspective? I think how does that alignment fit to me? That's the interesting conversation.

Colin (31:53):

So speaking of what's the point here, the next story is the Decker's super sneaker. You and I definitely had some good interactions on LinkedIn on this one. I just want to actually hit me hard enough that I recorded an emergency reaction podcast about it. I was so blown away at how this turned out for the audience listening, Deckers been Deckers who's the parent of Hoka, Teva Ugg. They've been teasing a new footwear brand, a slotted next to those brands and kind of saying it was going to be this cool new sneaker brand that was going to apply the learnings from their other footwear brand. And then when they released it, it was just a very basic looking sneaker, but then it was also branded as anu, which was a footwear brand that I believe Decker's launched if they didn't launch it, they acquired it in the 2008 nine 10 range and then shut it down in 2018 because it just never really got traction.

(32:42)It was a little bit more of a boot brand then, but they had some kind of outdoorsy looking sneakers as well. I think I described it on my podcast as a permanent resident of the REI bargain bin, just kind of always on sale at REI kind of brand. So it just was shocking to see that after. Not that it been like the world was anticipating this, but you're calling something the super sneaker and then when you release it, the product wasn't that, I honestly thought it was an old picture of an NU in the image that was released, like a 10-year-old NU design. And then you're calling it this thing that you just had laying around this defunct brand you just had laying around. So what were your thoughts on the super sneaker and new honor line?

Richard (33:21):

I mean, I think when it comes to things like this, and I think it actually even applies to the Lululemon conversation as well, it's all about brands trying to find new opportunities. And I think that that's fine and that's definitely part of business, but I think whereas for example, Lulu had an opportunity to do something really unique in footwear, and I'm not saying that they shouldn't go into footwear because they have a lot of attributes, of course,

Colin (33:43):

A lot of upside for Lulu. I think there's still a really high ceiling for where those shoes could go.

Richard (33:48):

Oh, for sure. And that's the, I think interesting thing is that they have a good brand. They are known for a lot of good qualities, whether it's fit or material innovation or comfort and being a cool brand. That's also a thing. And for sure that can translate into footwear. I don't think it has in terms of their execution. I think the same thing though applies with this Decker's Annu thing is Decker saw an opportunity for I guess a more, I don't want to say upscale or older version of Hoka because a lot of old people wear Hoka, but let's say a more, not even workplace appropriate, no one's in a workplace anymore, but

Colin (34:29):

Let it rip man

Richard (34:30):

A less athletic version perhaps. And I think that that's kind of where they went. But again, like you said, I don't really see why it should be a new brand and B, why they should recycle some brand that honestly I never even knew I knew existed in the first place. So I dunno if that's good or bad, but even the press release saying that, oh, well, we just didn't want to put that much time or resources into coming up with a new brand. We had this thing kind of left over, okay, well how much are you spending on everything else?

Colin (35:01):

Decker Fire your publicist, who was allowing that press statement to go out? That was honestly the most shocking thing that was really said the president, literally anybody listening to this, what Richard just said was literally what they said. They're like, it's a lot of hard work to create a brand. So we had this thing,

Richard (35:17):

But I mean if that's the case, then the even easier solution would just be don't make a new brand that's even cheaper. Just call it Hoka Plus or something. I mean they had this Deckers lab thing, which also is this weird space that nobody knows about. It's kind of a brand but not a brand that's sort of like a mishmash of different stuff. I'm not saying it should be that. I think that that's just a weird mess, but it could just be Hoka lab or something, or Hoka or

Colin (35:46):

Something. Think of the conversation we just had talking about the rise of Hoka and like, wow, that was amazing that emerged given what the product was at the time it came out even on said the investment they had to make and how they're cultivating their brand through SEO and their website and things like that. It's really difficult to start a brand really, really hard. I mean, I guess it's not difficult to actually start a brand. It's difficult to make a brand successful. And I'm sure we could see your probably for another hour, and I'm sure you could recount dozens if not hundreds of stories in your career of working with brands or products that went nowhere or good intentions, all these things. Nobody wants to do something to fail, but Hoka being this kind of juggernaut of the footwear space, you've earned a little latitude from your audience said if you said, Hey, we are going to kind of create this sort of, to your point, a little kind of side project branded Hoka, it's like a little more for that. You know, have an older audience. I mean the original Hoka audience that I knew how I came to know the brand were older runners who found out that they could still run because the cushioning allowed them to continue to run. Those were the stories I heard the most when Hoka first came out. It's like, well, and to your point, it's a lot of moms and dads at the airports. This would probably go over great with the people who are already wearing Hoka.

(36:59)Anyway, the whole thing is just feels like a masterclass of how to not launch a brand.

Richard (37:03):

I mean, just from the perspective of usually you make a new brand if you're trying to create something that is totally new and different or you're trying to escape something that your brand was that you don't want to be associated with anymore. And I don't think honestly say what you will about the product. I don't think there's anything bad in terms of connotation of hokas. I mean it's not Sketchers for example, which is a brand that probably should make a new brand, but with Hoka it's not like that. It already has all this kind of bad press or bad perception or it's not in retail. It kind of has hit a certain ceiling. They're selling at Sacks and good store with bad, they're selling in specialty, they're selling obviously direct to consumer. They're with the cool kids and whatnot with that tattoo running groups. So there is a lot of range there. And I think to make a better product that has a different vibe, whether it's under even sort of a sub umbrella, like the Arteric valence kind of thing, or even Lululemon has Lululemon lab or whatnot, I think that that would be an easier path and just easier understandable in terms of not trying to a compete against yourself. And if you had another pair of shoes and your wife was like, can you wear the nice HOAs tonight? If you're going out, there's your solution, there's your opportunity right there.

Colin (38:22):

Well, we'll see what happens with the Deckers thing from the launch point of view, it just seems like this is just going to end the same as Anu ended in 2018. I just wonder where is this going to slot in when I can't picture a buyer sitting there going like, oh man, I can't wait to get my hands on that thing and try it out, especially the way it was presented by the president of the company. But the last story I want to ask you about, I talked this with one other person. We have an environmental fashion journalist, Sophie Benson. She came on the show and we talk about a lot of sustainability stories that come out of the act of space. So Aidas, you say Aidas or do you say Adidas? Do you go Americ fool American, or do you go traditional? Do you go back and forth?

Richard (39:00):

I say Adidas,

Colin (39:02):

I say Adidas. I say Adidas,

Richard (39:03):

But I think that's with a lowercase a though I believe

Colin (39:06):

It is. I think I spelled it in our outline with an uppercase that's probably wrong. So they released a $500 running shoe last fall that's only designed to last for a single marathon. And this is an interesting story to me. One, I didn't know about it for a long time, and usually stories like this that tend to get a lot of hoopla, but I wanted to use this as a springboard in the sustainability conversation of nothing else. I definitely want to get your thoughts on the shoe. I'm sure you have some, but footwear, there's so much sustainability talk, especially in apparel, but especially when it comes to sneakers, it just feels like there're largely these really short-term use disposable items and no one's really even made, there's a lot of progress and I think there's been not enough progress made on the apparel side. It feels like there may be even less made on the footwear side. So I guess kind of two questions. One, what did you think of the single use shoe? And then two, what is your point of view on the sustainability argument? It does feel like a single use shoe is a big step back when you talk about a sustainability story for footwear.

Richard (40:02):

I think first of all, I haven't tried this shoe. I've read lots of reviews and I did a couple videos about it, but I haven't personally tried it. But I mean I think when it kind of comes down to any product, especially performance product and especially a product as complex as footwear, you always have to talk about the compromises and that's what it kind of comes down to. So making a shoe that is top performance, better energy, read return, a better, faster, lighter, whatever is going to come with compromises. And I think that the single use aspect of this particular product is just another one of those compromises. So from my view, it's not a problem and it's not unexpected. I mean tons of race shoes, if you look at them, are probably not that comfortable and there's a reason because you're only going to wear them when you're racing, right? I mean look at high performance, even football boots like soccer boots, they're really tight and they're really not comfortable and that's just how they fit or

Colin (40:56):

Track. It's like a climbing shoe in a way,

Richard (40:57):

Or climbing shoes or track spikes or anything like that. You kind of give up some thing in column A to get something out of column B. And I think that that shoe is just taking that to the next level and to me is totally logical. Again, it kind of comes back to what we talked about before, innovation on performance. They're using a different kind of foam, a different kind of molding process, a different kind of production process to be able to make that material as light as responsive as possible. But that becomes durability challenges, but it's not really an issue from the intended function of that shoe. If your shoe is intended to run 26.2 miles to run a marathon, let's say, and it falls apart after that, well who cares? The whole point was to run that race. And if it gets you a little bit faster, if you're an elite or trying to get a certain time, that's totally fine. I think though at the same time, mixing in the sustainability conversation is kind a red herring because for one, they're not going to be selling that many of these $500 shoes, that there's going to be giant piles of them in landfills, right?

Colin (42:03):

But 500 of them that they made is still a pretty big pile. I know when compared to the rest compared to a sad statement, but

Richard (42:10):

Compared to 500 million pairs of, I dunno, whatever Air Force ones or Oh,

Colin (42:14):

Totally, but that's a problem too, right?

Richard (42:16):

Right. Yeah. But I think that that's the whole thing though. It's focusing on the wrong things. And I think that again, you can have sustainable running shoes and you can have sustainable performance running shoes and there's some really interesting brands in that space, but again, it's different level of compromises. So I think yeah, mean honestly, I'm more shocked about who was at the Adidas outlet recently, and then a giant pile of the Adidas Parley shoes made a recycled ocean waste that are going to go back into being ocean waste. That to me is more of an issue in terms of a greenwashing or a sustainability story than a shoe that is not designed to be sustainable and is even just from a material standpoint, actually probably a lot less waste if it does end up in a landfill than a normal shoe because it weighs whatever, 140 grams or something like that.

Colin (43:04):

Oh, I think you do a one-for-one comparison. I completely agree with you. It's just the idea of it's a little bit of a hubris of like, we're going to make a single use shoe, you get to wear this one time and then you just throw it away. Can you put it under that lens? I agree. You do a one-for-one comparison. I'm sure there were much dirtier shoes in the world than these, and my argument I think on that episode was, Hey, why are you releasing to the public? Just take your a hundred sponsored athletes, whoever and make 'em these shoes. They'll probably be stoked about it because to your point, the $500 single use running shoe market, probably pretty small, but it just feels like, and correct me if I'm wrong, but I mean just feeling on footwear, there's not as much of a conversation around how do we make these things better as there is even in the apparel side. And I think the apparel side is not doing nearly enough as well, but it does seem to be a constant conversation in hang tags. And I mean, greenwashing is a big thing on apparel because people want to get the attention for it, but then we're all just comfortable, but I got some running shoes and they'll last 300 miles and I'll throw 'em away and go buy another pair. And it's just like, well, that should probably be addressed as well at some point.

Richard (44:08):

Yeah, I mean I think though it is being addressed, and again, like I said, there's those parley shoes and Nike has grind whatever materials and stuff like that, but it's to me more trouble when the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing when these brands, whether it's Adidas or Nike or smaller brands are saying, Hey, we have this environmental mission and look at this shoe over here that's made out of whatever bamboo recycled from whatever. And then also on the other hand, they have this other shoe that is not clearly sustainable. But again, from a specific perspective, those are fine to coexist for different intended uses and functions and they're designed to do what they're going to do. But I think it's more, from my view, a little disingenuous as a brand to kind of pretend, Hey, we're all about this in this conversation and then sort of change the tune. I think there needs to be a more, I think honest and transparent thing of saying, Hey, listen, we're sustainable, but only to a point. We also really care about performance in this case, or we care about fashion in this case, I mean most sustainable shoe is the one that you don't make, and these companies are in the business of making shoes. So oh,

Colin (45:16):

My whole biggest people with any of these folks is just the wanting it both ways because you go to any of these brands and they've got 62 pages of like, we are the green company and we make these things and we make the world better by making products and then this is not true. I'd rather 'em say, Hey, listen, we're making the best shoes we can and we're going to do whatever we can do to do that, how we make our money. I'd at least appreciate the honesty. And that's good to hear that there are some programs out there, and it's probably the same as apparel where it's like it's not as far along with it as we should be. I

Richard (45:45):

Just want to say to start with making any kind of shoe of reasonable quality and design whatever is really hard. The more of those things that you pile on top just becomes harder and harder in a way, exponentially. So even when I got brands coming to me and startups and like, oh, we want to make a shoe that's super high performance and it's sustainable and it's being the USA and it's low price point and it's this, I'm like, okay, well maybe pick one

Colin (46:10):

The one that you really want and we'll see about the rest.

Richard (46:13):

But I think obviously when these brands, like you say, are kind of want it all and kind of want to do everything, I think that that is the tricky conversation that needs to be more light shed on in terms of these things can coexist and there's obviously a different consumer for the person that wants to take that half a second off their marathon time and buy these $500 pairs of shoes versus the person that wants a pair of shoes to last 800 miles or whatever it may be. And the value judgments that we add on to whether one is right or one is wrong, that's a different story. I mean, there's the facts of is it sustainable or is it going to last or is it fast or whatever. Those are facts in a way, and whether it's good or bad, that's just another layer of perception I think.

Colin (47:02):

Well, right on, man. We can wrap it up there. Anything you want to promote, what are you working on? Anything you can tip, any exciting things coming out of the shop?

Richard (47:09):

I mean, again, as I said, as a runner running shoe designer, I'm always in that niche and sort of looking at kind of what's coming next. I've got a few exciting projects, some super shoes that are back to our story, super shoes probably coming out later this year, and some that are coming out spring 25, 26, always on the lookout for startups, brands in the space. We talked a little bit about that, but I mean for that whole idea of identifying opportunities and doing things differently, it's challenging. That kind of status quo is really exciting and it's not for everyone, but when it works it's pretty cool. But no, I mean you can hit me up at any anytime at Directive Collective. That's me and happy to talk shoes anytime. I can do this for hours.

Colin (47:55):

Thank you. For coming on. I hope to have you on again soon, man. This has been really fun.

Richard (47:58):

It's great. Thanks a lot for your time.

Colin (48:00):

Alright, good to see you.

(48:02)Alright. That's the pod for today, but before you move on, you know what would be great if you followed the show, wherever you're listening, you gave the show a five star rating wherever you're listening. And also left us a comment like, my God, this episode of the Rock Fight changed the course of my life. Would you please do that for me? I mean, I'm just sitting over here cranking out four episodes a week for you. It's not a lot to ask, is it? Thanks pal. The Rock Fight is a production of rock Fight LLC. I'm Colin True. Thanks for listening and here to take us out. He swears this is the last time and he swears this is his last try. It's Krista Makes with the rock Fight Fight song will see you next time. Rock fighters. Rock fight.

Chris DeMakes (48:41):

Rock fight. Rock fight. We go into the rat bike where we speak our truth, say sacred cows and sometimes agree to disagree. We talk about human power, outdoor activities and pig bikes are fantastic that we find interesting. Black culture, music, the latest movie reviews, ideas for the This is where we Speak truth. This is where we Truth. Bike, bike, rock, bike. Welcome to the, welcome to the.


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