Altra, the brand that coined the term “zero-drop footwear,” is no longer exclusively in the zero-drop game.
After a dozen years of methodically and successfully building its name with zero-drop footwear as a foundational pillar, Altra is adding different offsets into its running shoe lineup to continue upping its presence in the running marketplace.
The adventure begins this month with the launch of the AltraFWD Experience, the Denver-based brand’s first “low-drop” running shoe. The $140 road model features rocker-shape geometry, a sleek, engineered mesh upper and, most notably, a 4mm offset. It’s the brand’s first step in an ambitious and natural progression to capture more market share.
“We’re on a mission and we’re going to grow and expand who can enjoy our footwear,” Altra co-founder Brian Beckstead says.
Long Road to Low Drop
Beckstead calls the introduction of low-drop footwear a decade-long project.
Within a year of releasing its first shoe in 2011, Beckstead says Altra began fielding inquiries from people intrigued by the brand’s wide toe boxes – another foundational pillar of the brand – yet wary of a zero-drop shoe. The inquiries only accelerated as the brand’s reputation in run specialty climbed.
Careful not to overreact or rush any solution to market, Altra experimented with numerous low-drop prototypes over the years, including options with transition insoles featuring wedges. But nothing was as dialed in as it needed to be, Beckstead says.
While VF Corporation’s acquisition of Altra in 2018 followed by Altra’s relocation from Utah to Denver sidelined the development of low-drop footwear for a moment, the brand never abandoned its interest in moving beyond zero-drop shoes.
“Ultimately, the consumer drives the experience and we heard [about low-drop footwear] so much, we knew we had to move,” Beckstead says.
Over recent years, Altra’s increasing headway in the running marketplace and corporate stability intensified brand leadership’s focus on low-drop models. Where some saw a divergence from Altra’s core principles, Altra leaders saw opportunity and “a natural evolution.”
Though offering a different feel than other Altra models with its rocker geometry and 4mm offset, the AltraFWD Experience still carries the wide toe box of Altra’s Standard FootShape fit. It’s both familiar and distinctive, something unapologetically Altra and something unquestionably fresh.
“We felt there was space in the industry for our FootShape offerings and minimal drop,” Beckstead says. “It made sense for us to expand our offerings.”
The AltraFWD Experience doesn’t mark the culmination of a journey. Rather, it’s the beginning of a new day for Altra, which has plans to aggressively market zero to low-drop performance running shoes.
More To Come
While zero-drop footwear will remain central to Altra’s offerings and the brand “wants to continue owning zero drop,” Beckstead says low-drop options will grow and expand beyond the AltraFWD Experience. It is a way for Altra to broaden its clientele and invite trials of its footwear.
“The AltraFWD Experience doesn’t take away from any existing option in our catalog. It’s an addition,” Beckstead assures.
And with the introduction of its first low-drop model, Altra is ushering in something else: a change in how the brand presents its footwear to consumers.
Historically, Beckstead says, conversation about running footwear has been limited. Pronation or neutral? Minimal or maximal? There’s been little talk about how a runner experiences a particular shoe.
“The feeling we get as we run,” Beckstead explains.
In an effort to move the dialogue away from industry terminology and embrace designations more palatable to consumers, Altra is recategorizing its footwear into one of four buckets:
• Feel: Minimal, low-cushioned models such as the Lone Peak and Escalante that enable runners to feel the ground underneath them.
• Float: Higher-stack models such as the Torin and Timp that cushion every step.
• Forward: More rocker-styled footwear offering a propulsive feel, beginning with the AltraFWD Experience and with additional models to come.
• Fast: A self-evident category headlined by speed-oriented models like the Vanish Carbon and Escalante Racer.
“Ultimately, the modern consumer is most interested in how a shoe feels,” Beckstead says. “We want to connect with running consumers on a more personal level rather than hitting them with tech.”
It’s an undeniable shift for Altra, but also a sign of the brand’s continued evolution and emerging place in the running world.
“We’re excited and bullish and believe the best is yet to come for Altra,” Beckstead says.
Altra Joins the Marines
Altra strengthens its road cred with sponsorship of Marine Corps Marathon.
In July, Altra signed on as the official footwear partner of the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM), one of the nation’s largest road races and most celebrated marathons.
Known as “The People’s Marathon” for its focus on everyday runners, including military veterans and first responders, the MCM course winds through Arlington, VA, and Washington, D.C. It passes significant landmarks such as Arlington National Cemetery, the Jefferson Memorial, the Pentagon and the Washington Monument.
For Altra, the opportunity to sponsor the iconic race proved too compelling to bypass. Altra co-founder Brian Beckstead says the MCM fits in line with the brand’s core belief systems, enables Altra to support its veteran athletes and gives the Denver-based company a prominent presence at a major East Coast marathon.
“It checks a ton of boxes for us and allows us to continue putting our flag in the ground as a major player in road running,” Beckstead says. “Though we got our start as a niche trail brand, we’ve come to own significant share in road running and intend to grow more.”
The sold-out 48th edition of the MCM takes place on October 29. The race will feature more than 23,000 participants representing all 50 states and more than five dozen countries.