If you're finding it difficult to keep your running resolution, perhaps On can help with that. The Swiss performance wear brand has been hard at work redesigning footwear since 2010, with a goal of changing the experience of running. In their first two years, the founding trio—David Allemann, Olivier Bernhard, and Caspar Coppetti—already had several innovations underway, including the Cloudsurfer competition shoe (made, of course, to feel like you're running on high-performance clouds) and an overall design tested to lower pulse rates and blood lactate levels.
Nearly a decade later, On has marathoned far beyond its European roots, having entered running stores across 50 countries as well as established office presences in Japan, Australia, Brazil, and the United States. The team has developed increasingly lighter Cloud shoes while continuing to develop performance, expanded offerings into running apparel, and seen everyone from Olympians to Oscar winners become a fan. To revisit On's success and look forward to improving the running experience in 2019 and beyond, Allemann spoke with L'Officiel USA about his favorite style, the brand's surprising impact on fashion, and what about the shoes makes running feel so great.
Your shoe is all about "soft landings followed by explosive takeoffs." It’s a catchy phrase—and has meaning. Were you struggling to find a shoe that did exactly this before you launched On?
My co-founder, Olivier Bernhard, is a former pro athlete and world champion. His disappointment in a lack of innovation in running shoes led to a radical new approach: how can we redesign the feel of running with an engineering solution instead of just simply putting a better material under our feet? Collaboration with a Swiss engineer and prototypes with glued-on pieces of a cut-open garden hose led to the breakthrough: shoes as comfortable as a training shoe and as fast as a racing flat. After this, it was a lot of work to refine the technology. It probably helped that none of us had any previous experience in developing running shoes.
The On Cloudsurfer originally launched in 2010, and now it’s back in its 4th iteration. What is the biggest difference between the first version and the latest?
The Cloudsurfer is what initially put us on the map. I think people thought it was gimmicky at first, but once they tried the shoes on, they realized it was a truly unique technology and sensation–something the running industry was missing. Over eight years later, the shoe still sells and people all around the world write to us saying how much they love it. The new version of the shoe maintains that same sensation that runners love but with the very latest of our CloudTec system. It truly feels very different, like running on clouds.
Color is something On isn’t afraid to play with, but it’s always very well played. What’s your approach to introducing new colors and tones?
Our world is probably more visual than ever before. What sticks with you after you scroll? The basic sports colors simply fail to inspire a contemporary customer who is highly receptive to change in color sentiment. We are in a constant dialogue with sports and popular culture to filter what we believe is a new direction for running shoe design and coloring.
On seems to be like a new restaurant that you hear about once and then can't stop reading about. Why do you think On is the brand on everyone’s lips right now, especially in a cluttered market?
It definitely comes down to a great product, a unique shoe that feels and looks different. I think the consumer is ready for something different, in all industries, not just running. They discover a genuine product [in On], from a group of Swiss running enthusiasts, that elevates their running experience. It helps that On is a bit of an insider secret that wants to be discovered. I also think feel and performance are super important to the young consumer looking for a new sneaker. It can't just look good; it has to make us feel better as well.
Your goal is to "make running fun." For someone who truly doesn’t find it that fun, what are your suggestions for changing that perspective?
This happened a lot to us when we started On a few years ago. Runners had stopped believing that there is a better way to run and that not all running shoes are created equal. That’s why we stopped talking about our technology and instead took people on a run. And they got it.
From a performance-oriented approach, On shoes are now competing in the fashion space. Did you expect this to happen?
We definitely saw a need for comfort and simplicity in today’s very complicated lives. We constantly switch between activity and environment. Private and business is blurry. Clothing and shoes have to adapt. And we might ask: what if I could wear my running shoe all day and every day? A shoe that brings all the great comfort and agility of an advanced running shoe combined with great design. Some streetwear goes for the looks inspired by running. We go for the performance inspired by running and pair it with fashion. This resonates with consumers who want products that have a background story and the technology to perform well.
What does the future look like for On?
2019 will be the first year that we really purposefully delve into the fashion space with a few new, exclusive products in our collection. We're not really interested in following trends so you won't see On come out with a dad shoe any time soon. We're creating performance shoes with purposeful and beautiful design that will hopefully extend beyond seasonal trends. In the future, and beyond just products, our mission is to truly build a community that embraces an active life, experience and discovery.
What’s your favorite style to wear day in and day out, and why?
My personal favorite to wear every day is the On Cloud. It's the shoe that won us a podium at the Rio Olympics but that's also been seen on the Oscar red carpet. It's my go-to travel shoe as well. I can wear it to business meetings, during a lunchtime 5k and to happy hour with a pair of jeans in the evening. I pack pretty light during my business trips, so it's perfect.