The brand name and the styling are unusual, but that hasn’t stopped Hoka One One from making major inroads into the running shoe market.
The shoe with the oversize sole that built its reputation on providing maximum cushioning, is now the seventh most popular brand within the run specialty space, according to SSI Data by SportsOneSource. Brooks is number one while Asics, Adidas, New Balance, Nike and Saucony round out the top six.
On Dec. 6, Hoka will introduce a new model, the Hupana, that is designed to appeal to the more commercial market.
Hoka One One was founded in 2009 by Nicolas “Nico” Mermoud and Jean-Luc Diard, two French ultrarunners who were unhappy with the options available at that time in the running shoe market and searching for an alternative that would help them run downhill comfortably after racing up mountains.
Hoka was acquired in 2013 by Deckers Brands, which has worked for three years to expand beyond strictly a niche brand.
Ironically, Hoka One One — a Maori phrase that means “fly over the earth,” was introduced smack in the middle of the minimalistic shoe phase that was so popular several years ago.
Wendy Yang, president of Deckers’ performance lifestyle brands, said because the shoes were initially designed to solve the problem of ultrarunners, “they were almost developed in a vacuum,” and the timing was unintentional.
But as minimalistic shoes waned in popularity, Hoka got more popular. The brand is carried in more than 2,000 doors in the U.S. and it is eyeing international expansion as well, with a particular focus on Europe and Asia.
In March, Hoka became the Official Running Shoe Sponsor for the Ironman triathlon U.S. series and it sponsors 11 triathletes including Hall of Famer Dave Scott and Ironman Lake Placid champion Heather Jackson.
At last month’s Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, Yang said Hoka was the number-two shoe among competitors, behind Asics.
Not only does the shoe have two times the midsole cushioning of most competing models, it’s also extremely light, so it appeals to those running long distances. “We want to be the lightest in class,” said Gretchen Weimer, vice president of product at Hoka, who joined the brand about one year ago. Her background includes Nike, New Balance and Fila. “The typical sole is carbon and rubber and built to last. Our thought is that it needs to be as light as possible, so foam is the focus as opposed to the outsole. If a shoe’s this big, it better be light.”
But long-distance runners are still a small part of the overall footwear market and Hoka’s Hupana will be the first model to feature a breathable knit upper and a foam cushioned midsole and outsole so it will appeal more to those running shorter distances.
“The brand began with competitive and elite runners, but it’s time to talk to more fitness runners,” Yang said.
Hupana’s sole, which is still larger than most of its competitors, is designed and colored in such a way that it looks more like a traditional bottom.
And while it may be targeted to the ath-leisure market, it’s a true running shoe, Yang said. She said the design is “bold, innovative and brave,” but remains true to the DNA of the brand. “We’re staying true to what got us here and looking to create the next chapter.”
The Hupana, which will retail for $115, will be offered for men and women. Black will be available for both genders while there will also be a men’s model in blue and a women’s model in purple. It will serve as the opening price point for the brand; its other models retail for $130 to $170 for road running shoes and $170-$230 for trail runners.
Yang said the shoes will be offered in specialty running stores, “not in big-box retailers.” And the marketing will be targeted to women. “In the beginning, our shoes appealed to heavier males,” Yang said, “but the Hupana was built with a woman in mind.”
Looking beyond the Hupana launch, Yang said apparel may be next on the agenda. For spring, Hoka is collaborating with Oiselle on a line of women’s apparel. And launching Hoka apparel is viewed as “a real opportunity,” Yang said. “It’s a matter of when, not if.”