A QUEST FOR THE PERFECT RUNNING SENSATION
It’s not just a love of running that former top athlete Olivier Bernhard and his friends David Allemann and Caspar Coppetti share. They’re all also dedicated to developing the perfect product for running. What started as a revolutionary idea has turned into a new running shoe (and apparel collection) that began in 2010 by amazing the sporting scene and has since helped numerous top athletes to new personal bests at World Championship events.
After retiring from professional competition, three-times World Duathlon Champion and multiple Ironman Winner Olivier Bernhard devoted himself to finding a running shoe that would give him the perfect running sensation. In doing so he crossed paths with a like-minded Swiss engineer who had an idea for a new kind of running shoe. And it was this ideal symbiosis of running experience and engineering expertise that allowed this original idea to be steadily refined over the following years.
Truck loads of prototypes were developed; but the basic concept – cushioned landing, firm take off – remained paramount throughout. It was this unique running sensation that convinced Caspar Coppetti and David Allemann to come aboard too. Together with Bernhard they formally established the On company in Zurich to develop a product range fully engineered in Switzerland using the latest technology.
After that, things started to move swiftly. In February the prototypes won the ISPO Brandnew Award, one of the most important prizes for innovation in sports. Test runners were enthusiastic and spoke of running on clouds. In July 2010 the first running stores had the On stocked on their shelves.
Today, seven years later, the shoe is available at over 3,000 specialist running stores in more than 50 countries and has won international design and technology awards. In addition to its European headquarters in Zurich, On has now opened offices in Portland, Oregon (US) and Yokohama (JP).
It was only a matter of time before On crossed paths with KTC, when they decided to branch out, evolving their vision to offer innovative functional running gear that works effortlessly in harmony with their best-in-class footwear.
Manufaktur catches up with Marc Maurer, On’s COO, to understand how the brand aims to make runners across the globe happy by putting the fun into the run and why the introduction of precision engineered, essential running apparel continues amazing the sporting scene.
WE WANT TO CREATE PRODUCT FOR EVERYONE WHO RUNS, WHICH IS WHY WE OFFER DIFFERENT OPTIONS. WE WANT TO BE ABLE TO CATER FOR EVERY RUNNER’S NEEDS, ALL INCORPORATING THE SAME TECHNOLOGY.
GREAT TO MEET YOU MARC. WE LOVE THE IDEA OF MAKING RUNNING MORE FUN. TELL US A BIT MORE ABOUT THIS AND ON’S APPROACH TO RUNNING.
On has three Core Beliefs. The first one is that running should be fun and not an exercise in self-control. Instead of correcting your movement, On lets you run how you are meant to run: The result is unmatched comfort and a more fun running experience. How it works? On’s patented CloudTec® cushioning cleverly takes the first heavy blow off the street and then lets you transition naturally to the forefoot, where the Cloud elements become firm for a stable stance and a powerful push-off. In short: On provides cushioning only when you need it and helps you delay fatigue, keep up your individual stride and not give in to the street.
Our second Core Belief is that there’s not one best way to run but billions of ways to run. A whole team of Cloud elements at the sole of the On shoe actively reacts to your individual running motion. They can act in unison or individually cushion your landing – however you need it. In fact, they have no predefined rolling line but empower each runner to run how he is meant to run. This means freedom for your feet, putting you back in control.
The third Core Belief is that your running shoe should transform your motion into forward momentum. We take a holistic look at the running movement of your whole body, not just your feet. This is why On puts a lot of focus on the transition so you can have less ground contact time.
THE COLLECTION LOOKS INCREDIBLE. IS IT PREDOMINANTLY AIMED AT PROFESSIONAL RUNNERS?
Not at all. We want to create product for everyone who runs, which is why we offer different options. We want to be able to cater for every runner’s needs, all incorporating the same technology. Yes, we have professional athletes wearing our shoes, but we also have 50-year-old women who are running 2 or 3 miles a week. It’s for anyone who appreciates a premium product, that provides a better running experience at the same time.
PRESUMABLY THE VISION OF CREATING A BETTER RUNNING EXPERIENCE IS MIRRORED IN THE APPAREL COLLECTION?
We believed there was not a highly functional and highly premium and minimalistic apparel collection out there. From the beginning we set out to offer a tight, specialist collection focusing on the functional benefits of running. We wanted it to be accessible to all at the same time.
On’s Essential collection aims to cover all your basic needs as a runner. We have ultra light running shorts, performance T-shirts, running pants, lightweight jackets with 360° ventilition and performance running shirts. The premium colour palette is toned down purposely allowing the shoes to shine.
WHAT ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT FUNCTIONAL BENEFITS OF THE COLLECTION?
We believe is they have to be made from really lightweight materials, ones that still protect you while you are running. Most brands use a single material to construct a whole garment, but we believe that you have different needs for different parts of the body, so different materials should cater for these different needs accordingly. It is about understanding what fabrics and materials make sense and go where. Also, when you run you need to have a lot of movement, so you need very stretchy materials that allow you to move freely, but the pieces should never be too big. You need something tight but stretchy. We have worked closely with KTC to get this right.
WE BELIEVED THERE WAS NOT A HIGHLY FUNCTIONAL AND HIGHLY PREMIUM AND MINIMALISTIC APPAREL COLLECTION OUT THERE. FROM THE BEGINNING WE SET OUT TO OFFER A TIGHT, SPECIALIST COLLECTION FOCUSING ON THE FUNCTIONAL BENEFITS OF RUNNING.
HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED WITH KTC?
When we decided to make apparel and started looking for the best guys in the market with a focus on the very best quality, KTC’s name kept coming up. It was already producing for some brands we knew. We were instantly really impressed with the quality of everything they were producing but also their openness and production standards. So we met up and discussed what our first collection could look like. From the outset they gave us a lot of input and knowledge on all aspects of the collection and development.
WAS IT HELPFUL THAT KTC PRODUCES UVU - WHICH IS ABOUT DELIVERING COMFORT AND PROTECTION UNDER THE MOST PUNISHING CONDITIONS FOR ULTRA RUNNERS?
With UVU, KTC is able to bring the most advanced thinking and technology to life by creating specific product. Having that approach and knowledge from a manufacturer is completely unique. With many manufacturers you ask them to make something and they do it without questioning anything. KTC however showed us that they are actively driving innovation with UVU, and how to make our products better and to come up with better innovations based on a runner’s needs. We can use the technology and translate it into what we do.
HOW DOES THE RELATIONSHIP WORK?
We send them the tech packs for a certain collection. They in turn will send us the first set of prototypes. And then we iterate this set of initial prototypes with them. We will have some changes and they will tell us what they can do, offer advice on different fabric suppliers we can work with. Then the process repeats until we go into production. We will mainly work on evolving the prototypes in China, where we can work with the team to develop the designs. You need to be there and discuss all of the possibilities, it’s much more efficient, particularly with the skilled team KTC has.
THE QUALITY THAT KTC OFFERS IS INCREDIBLE. THE SECOND REASON IS BECAUSE THEY ARE ACTIVELY DRIVING INNOVATION. THEY HELP US IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF OUR RANGE - IT IS A JOINT APPROACH FOR COMING UP WITH PRODUCTS.
WHAT DO YOU GET FROM KTC THAT YOU WOULDN’T GET FROM ANYONE ELSE?
The quality that KTC offers is incredible. The second reason is because they are actively driving innovation. They help us in the development of our range - it is a joint approach for coming up with products. Many products we have created have been the result of us working closely together. KTC is always up for a challenge and as a brand we have very complex needs. Thankfully, KTC is very open to trying out new things. The results speak for themselves.
FOR MANY YEARS ‘MADE IN CHINA’ HAS HAD A NEGATIVE PERCEPTION IN THE WEST? WE BELIEVE THAT PERFORMANCE SPORTSWEAR MADE IN CHINA IS THE BEST IN THE WORLD? WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THIS IN RELATION TO KTC?
There are lots of things you could never produce in Europe even if you wanted to, because the knowledge and skills are no longer here. But there should be. If I was KTC I would think about opening a factory in Europe and the US, opening up the possibilities of letting customers produce where they want to.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF KTC’S APPROACH TO CSR?
It us super important for us as a company. It is one of the reasons we went with KTC in the first place. We have a set of values that we believe in as a company, one of them is that we will only work with partners that set these high standards too. KTC is definitely doing this – proving a working standard where people are happy to stay. It is beneficial to everyone in the long run.