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Why this cult running shoe launched its first sneaker in the midst of a pandemic

On Running’s Cloudnova is the brand’s first fashion sneaker, and cofounder David Allemann says it ties perfectly into the trends this crisis is accelerating.

Why this cult running shoe launched its first sneaker in the midst of a pandemic
[Photo: courtesy of On]
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A record number of retailers have closed their doors, and people all around the world are hunkered down at home amid the global health crisis created by the spread of COVID-19. This does not appear to be the ideal moment to launch a new product for any company, unless it’s a mask or a hand sanitizer or some sort of bread-baking accessory.

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This week, however, is when Zurich-based running shoe brand On has decided to launch its first-ever streetwear sneaker, the Cloudnova.

Originally slated for a June release, the new shoe still incorporates the design features that have made On’s technical running options so popular. The company moved up the date because of what cofounder David Allemann sees as an acceleration of the same trend that sparked the new sneaker in the first place. “What we’ve seen already in the last few years [is] that fashion, sports, and outdoor gear are converging,” says Allemann, who cofounded On in 2010 with Olivier Bernhard and Caspar Coppetti. “Performance used to borrow from fashion. Now it’s been the other way around, and we see that in how outdoor gear has been adopted by fashion brands and how almost every brand now has sneakers, because it’s driven by a generation who is blurring the boundaries between work, home, sports, and play.”

Now with a mass shift to working from home, those boundaries are just getting blurrier.

“That shift is accelerating and also very difficult to turn fully back, and people probably don’t want to turn it fully back,” says Allemann. “We debated whether this was the right moment for a new product, but we ultimately felt that launching one that speaks to the needs people have right now is a positive thing. There’s a certain element of optimism to that.”

[Photo: courtesy of On]
For the launch, On teamed with specialty shops and influential streetwear retailers, such as Dover Street Market, Atmos, and Bodega, lending it streetwear cred beyond the traditional running crowd. Preorders started on April 30, and the company claims that it’s attracted by far the most sign-ups for any On shoe launch to date.

Allemann says the company’s optimism is fueled by a few things, despite all the negativity around this crisis. First, it’s managed to more than double digital sales, while also creating programs to support its brick-and-mortar partners that are hurting at the moment. “We’ve given them an ad hoc e-comm store on our website, where they give out a link to their customers and then when an online purchase is made, that retailer gets the same margin as if they sold it in their store,” says Allemann. “We’re hoping that can help even a little to bridge this difficult time.”

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The other is an overall boost in running. With gyms and fitness clubs closed, more and more people are picking it up for the first time, or the first time in a long time. A recent study by RunRepeat found that people who run once or twice a week have increased that frequency by 117%, and moderate runners who run up to three times a week have boosted that by 55%.

“On has always been a word-of-mouth brand, and a lot of the people who hadn’t been running in a long time are just getting back into it,” says Allemann. “What do you do when you’re just getting back into something like running or exercising, and you can’t go to the store—who do you ask? The first person is probably your running buddies, or people you know who run a lot, and ask them what they like. We’ve seen, month over month, more than double traffic and sales through our website. Contrary to all the closures, it’s been incredible, and a lot of these people are new customers who’ve never bought our shoes before.”

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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