There is a revival of sorts, the rebirth that happens each spring, or in this case what is coming for Spring 2022. The running industry feels it and after the long winter under a cloud, returning to in-person meeting adds to the optimism that the activity of running brings to a day.
Such was the case among the footwear brands at The Running Event 2021 in Austin, TX, earlier this month. Seeing long-time friends on both the retailer and brand sides of the aisle was a return to normalcy — though there were some not in attendance due to the unpredictable nature of the current pandemic situation.
The 20-month suspension of personal contact did not, however, diminish the industrious production that is seen between seasons and the results were in evidence at TRE, although confirmation of release dates was hard to come by due to supply chain uncertainties. Looking across the brands there was much to digest, but here is one writer’s take on what will matter for run specialty retailers as they ponder their shoe walls in Spring 2022 and beyond.
The flagship of 361’s running line receives an early Christmas present — a midsole upgrade, or more to the point, an upgrade beginning with the midsole and working its way up. It may be a sign of things to come, as the foam from the Flame, 361º’s plated racing shoe begins to permeate the line.
New foams are expected in the current running shoe climate and the pelletized polyurethane foam is an excellent addition. The newly revamped upper is also welcomed, making the fit and breathability equivalent to the midsole upgrade.
The focus on growth while maintaining the cushion, fit and ethos of the brand was on full display at TRE. The unveiling of its first shoe with the Boa closure system emphasized its commitment to performance.
The new Mont Blanc paired its proven zero drop Altra Ego foam and Vibram trail tread, with the fit of Boa. The amalgamation should prove to be a great combination.
Brooks gets a new trail makeover, though it’s not just a wash, cut and style (so to speak). It is more along the lines of a multiple transplant.
Trail, by its nature (wait, it is nature) opened the door to taller stack heights and the brand shows a marked change because of it. The use of DNA Flash, Brooks’ name for its supercritical derived foam, has freshened its trail shoes as well as its mainline shoes this season, just like it did with its performance oriented models the Hyperion Racer and the Hyperion Tempo.
The brand continues to build comfort and refined touches into its shoes, one reason for its leading attitude in the specialty channel.
Craft is very intentional about its product line and the focus has not wavered from its well-executed apparel to the recent extension into footwear.
The introduction in an opening round, plated racer, caught some by surprise. Its new trail offering validates this commitment and execution, allowing Craft to drop onto the shoe wall with a full collection.
The Italian brand has a long and storied history, with connections to World Athletics president Seb Coe’s successful early track career. The brand’s return to performance running for the U.S. market looks promising, thanks to a dose of Italian designed and manufactured running product in the new Atomo, with tall stack heights and impressive attention to detail.
Though similar to some competitors in appearance, its shoes will make an Italian-style splash on many run specialty shoe walls.
From its emergence on the scene as the first maximalist brand, when a sea of minimalist shoes surrounded it, Hoka’s approach made sense; that is, if you ran a mile in its shoes. The brand continues to spin its approach to footwear endurance and solutions in running, racing and recovery.
(BTW, the brand asks that it now be referred to as simply Hoka, with the One One (oney-oney to those in the know before it was Americanized to 1-1) taking a marketing back seat.
Trail focused, the new product plays to the brand’s strength without gimmicks or extra baggage. The Cyklon Cross features a Gore-Tex gaiter, Boa closure and low-profile, sticky Frixion rubber for high level trail performance in bad weather, or worse. At $225 per pair, buyers need to be as committed to mountain performance as is La Sportiva.
The brand has continued to progress, with new foams, established styles and its always-impressive athlete sponsorships.
The Running Event was a gateway to a new season, with new technologies, features and solutions to make runners of every stripe happy. Updates to many of the best sellers in the New Balance line had intentional, well-thought improvements, while a few new styles round out the collections.
The Cat has been busy this past year and the running category has taken notice, in part because of new endorsers such as Olympic medalist Molly Seidel. The line-up of shoes is worthy of the attention, because they perform.
For the new season, the women’s-only XX (appropriately named for the two female XX chromosomes) addresses some of the unique characteristics of the female foot and should attract attention when they appear on the shoe wall.
The bigger story is its family of performance-oriented plated shoes and the Fast-R Nitro Elite, a shoe with a heel pod that aligns the foot to the forefoot plate to maximize performance. Not only is it the most well-rounded running line in recent Puma history, but its polish is well received and the credibility should have a lasting effect.
Reebok performance running has become a credible brand again. A plated racing shoe that is designed to compete well against the field, a running shoe made from natural materials features components and foams that place them on a level playing field with their performance running counterparts — for the first time in a long while.
So what’s the downside? Reebok’s recent sale hopefully will not prove to be its slide to mediocrity.
Performance running has been a focus for decades at Saucony and the latest version of its running shoes keeps the momentum going. The trio of top-end Endorphin shoes, initially developed with a very similar look, will now feature a better range of functions as well as differentiation to signal their use.
A broader line will also bolster the top end, with continued performance in road, trail and track each providing its own following.
Skechers has shown a penchant for converting doubters and skeptics who wonder if such a fashion, street brand can make a good performance running shoe. Well, it can. The brand has led a parade to new foam solutions and continued to innovate and produce footwear for runners of every size and shape. n