The sole of the sneaker is what you notice first. It’s bizarre – almost alien – defined by a ring of hollowed-out blocks. This particular sole, dubbed CloudTec, has been the defining feature of the featherweight running shoes produced by On, a Zurich-based footwear company, since the brand launched in 2010. Unlike the solid base of a traditional running sneaker , like the 996 from New Balance, or the godfather of all, Nikeit’s

Streamlined Waffle Sneaker – On’s sole features large, almost unsightly gaps between each cube. It looks like a mouth that desperately needs braces.

The sole helped make On a stealthy sneaker, worn by players like tennis great Roger Federer (now an On investor) as well as picky tech bros, who fell in love with On’s curious shoes the same way covet Patagonia fleece vests and zip-up hoodies.

Roger Federer, On fan and investor.


Courtesy of On

Tomorrow begins a new phase in the history of On sole design, as it will introduce the Cloudmonster, a maximalist sneaker built on a wobbly, bloated sole that will add a few inches to your height. Those U-shaped cubes are intact, only this time they’re bigger, longer, and slightly offset from each other, giving the sole a dimpled shape.

Compared to On’s previous low-profile models like the Cloudnova and Cloudstratus, the Cloudmonster is a monster, one big walking shoe platform. And that’s definitely the point, because it’s aimed at a class of runners On already missed: those who prefer a chunky, max-cushioned sole. It’s perhaps no coincidence that this elevated, knee-friendly sole shape is widely associated with California-based company Hoka, one of On’s main competitors in the specialty running market.

On co-CEO Marc Maurer dismisses that comparison: “It’s not like, OK, ‘Hoka makes a shoe that’s popular,'” so On is going to make a similar model, he says. “We’re basically like, what does the consumer want?”

So far, On seems to have a pretty good understanding of what the consumer wants. One went public last year, and its net sales in 2021 reached approximately $775 million, a 70% increase from 2020. According to Matt Powell, senior industry adviser at NPD Group, revenue d’On this year are poised to overtake those of Hoka – putting On near the front of the specialty sneaker space (code for companies that chase after longtime behemoths Nike, Adidas and New Balance.) Today, On products are sold in 8,000 stores, ranging from major running chains like Road Runner Sports to major mainstream stores. like Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s.

“Silhouettes from sport have arrived in the midst of fashion culture.”

— About co-founder David Allemann

Running remains at the core of On’s business: Maurer estimates that 40% of its revenue comes from consumers who purchase dedicated running gear. The brand is so determined to capture the exercise market that it sends analysts to popular jogging routes in major cities to count the number of sprinters wearing the brand’s shoes.

But to support its rise, On is also resolutely targeting a new category: luxury consumers. In mid-March, On launched a footwear and apparel collaboration with Spanish luxury house Loewe, its first partnership with an outdoor fashion brand. The offering, which included a $390 navy gradient version of On’s low-profile Cloudventure sneaker and an $890 waterproof anorak, is almost sold out worldwide, despite being well priced. higher than On’s main offerings.

Until recently, On had no desire to make a name for itself in the competitive sneaker collaboration market. “There’s no reason for us to be doing the 250th industry collaboration,” says co-founder David Allemann.

But he was won over by Jonathan Anderson, the British creative director of Loewe, who converted to the brand’s shoes and called Allemann with the idea that the two labels would join forces. On and Loewe designed the collection in tandem, and it was launched in Loewe stores, physical On stores and retailers like Bergdorf Goodman, the Webster and Net-a-Porter. The shoes have sold so well that the models are reselling for nearly double their retail price on the StockX online resale marketplace.

Shoes from the Loewe x On collaboration.


Courtesy of On

It was important to the On team that the collection encompass not only sneakers, but also clothing. Currently, apparel is the company’s fastest growing product category, and Maurer sees its apparel development as key to making the brand more than just a sneaker business.

As the brand strengthens to rival the Nikes and Adidas of the world, the two launches – the Cloudmonster and Loewe collaboration – represent “the entry into a new avenue”, says Maurer, “but one is really in the process of being execution and the other is very clearly trying to achieve more in the fashion space.

This separation between sport and fashion is no longer as clear as it once was. On executives say they’ve noticed that their shoes are already embraced for fashion more than function. It’s for style-steeped consumers, like Anderson, as well as fans of the tech world.

“We almost feel like performance takes precedence over fashion,” says Allemann. “Silhouettes from sport have arrived in the midst of fashion culture.”

The new Cloudmonster has a maximum cushioned sole.


Courtesy of On

Of course, On is also openly courting this fashion-conscious consumer. In 2019, when she launched The Roger, her first sneaker in partnership with Federer, she did so exclusively at the demanding boutiques of Dover Street Market in cities like London, New York and Tokyo.

Building relationships with boutiques better known for selling delicate pleated pants than fleet running shoes is a key growth strategy for On. “They knocked on our door pretty hard,” says Kevin Carney, founder of Mohawk General Store, a store in Los Angeles’ Silver Lake neighborhood that has been selling On sneakers for a year. On, he says, was interested not only in running stores, but also in shopping destinations like his own, where futuristic shoes rub shoulders with Issey Miyake pants and Stüssy knitwear.

The Cloudmonster itself could be an unexpected fashion hit. In recent years, extremist models with large soles have dominated the sneaker market and are currently offered by brands ranging from Gucci to Converse. Just a few weeks ago, Balenciaga launched the Defender, a hulking shoe with a gigantic curved sole that could be read as the Cloudmonster’s more steroidal cousin.

“This kind of nerdy orthopedic look of chunky running shoes” is popular, says Justin Machus, the owner of Machus, a fashion boutique in Portland, Oregon, which has also been courted by On and stocks its egalitarian shoes alongside designers niche and haute couture like Rick Owens and Willy Chavarria. In the Machus store, On has attracted discerning customers who might think that Nike and Adidas are too overexposed. They’re “looking for something else to be creative and have fun with,” Machus says.

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