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Saucony CEO Patrick O’Malley on Building a Winter Running Collection

With over 100 years in New England, Saucony understands what runners need to persevere through tough winter weather.

Saucony has a two-pronged history. The namesake company started in 1898 by four investors on the bank of Saucony Creek in Kutztown, Penn. By 1910, Saucony manufactured around 800 shoes a day. During the same year, two states over, the Russian immigrant Abraham Hyde founded his shoe factory on the bank of the Charles River in Cambridge, Mass. Hyde Athletic Industries became one of the earliest manufacturers of athletic footwear in the early 20th century, producing sneakers for brands like PF Flyers and fulfilling contracts for NASA. In fact, Hyde Athletics manufactured the boots worn by the first astronaut to walk in space, Edward H. White.

With a strong reputation in technical footwear, but no private label of its own, Hyde Athletic Industries bought Saucony in 1968, and they’ve been New Englanders ever since.

Saucony, a division of Wolverine Worldwide, remains a favorite for serious runners. Here, Saucony CEO Patrick O’Malley explains why.

VAMP: With sneaker giants like Nike and Adidas dominating the market, how does Saucony distinguish itself?
O’Malley: Because we focus on running, it allows us to really hit the center of the bullseye. That’s one of our competitive advantages in this space—anything we can do to enhance the runners’ performance. We’re constantly thinking about those types of people and we’re not distracted by basketball sneakers or soccer cleats.

VAMP: Does Saucony still hold onto its identity as a New England brand?
O’Malley: Yes, definitely. A big part of our history comes from Cambridge, Mass. We have over 100 years in New England, it’s our home. That’s something we’re proud of. We had manufacturing plants in Bangor, Maine in the 70’s and 80’s and we still show an affinity for the area. We’re proud of our Pennsylvania heritage too.

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VAMP: Is your Winter Running collection, with waterproof and special traction sneakers, inspired by New England winters?
O’Malley: One of the great things about Saucony is that we live and breathe sports. We have guys who put on their sneakers and went on a run this morning [in windy 19 degrees Fahrenheit]. Tackling the challenge of the elements is one of the biggest goals here. So the weather does shape why we do shoes that you can wear during the wintertime.

VAMP: Some of the shoes from the Winter Running collection, like the Razor Ice, have substantial outsoles and a waterproof ankle high upper. How do you keep the sneakers from becoming too much like a boot?
O’Malley: We’re really fortunate because we have a couple of good partners like Gore-Tex for waterproofing and Vibram, which has its headquarters here in Boston, too. The technology for both of those areas has really evolved where our shoes don’t feel like boots. Our goal is to make them feel like your regular running sneakers. There is an evolution of the material.

VAMP: Brands like New Balance and L.L. Bean still do some footwear manufacturing in the region. Do you think production could return to New England?
O’Malley: It can return. We have been a part of that with Wolverine. Saucony will be manufacturing boots for the U.S. military at Wolverine’s factory in Michigan. As far as the future of manufacturing in New England goes, you’ll see a lot more automation, like with Adidas’ new completely automated factory in Atlanta.

VAMP: With automation being the future of manufacturing, do you think New England will have an advantage with companies like Boston Dynamics?
O’Malley: Definitely, and with universities nearby like MIT. The challenge is that technologies like this will be an investment. While we have a long history of footwear manufacturing, we’ve lost a generation or two of people who’ve made shoes. It will take more time and effort to train workers, but I’m optimistic about what this possibility could mean about New England and I think innovative manufacturing will be really good.