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How Hoka Navigates ‘Herculean’ Product-Design Process

When the pandemic began, the sudden pause on in-person gatherings threw a wrench into Hoka One One’s typically meetings-heavy production process.

Before, designers, developers, product management professionals, merchandisers, marketers and sales teams would gather in person to review prototypes. The company would finalize go-to-market strategies at “alignment” meetings. Eventually, Hoka One One would roll out the results of its labor at a brand conference.

The pandemic brought all of this to a halt.

“We found ourselves looking for a pivot to keep us on track while working with a work-from-home scenario,” Hy Rosario, director of outdoor at Hoka One One, said Tuesday, at Sourcing Journal’s virtual Sourcing Summit. “Enter our willing and capable partners at MakerSights.”

Matt Field of MakerSights and Hy Rosario of Hoka One One discussed MakerSights' Digital Line Review Tool at Tuesday's Sourcing Summit

Matt Field, MakerSights’ president and co-founder, said the pain points Hoka was experiencing at the beginning of the pandemic aligned with what the retail technology company was hearing “pretty much unanimously across the industry.” So, when Hoka came looking to digitize its in-person decision-making, he said the firm “jumped at the chance to partner.” With the running brand’s input, it developed what it calls its Digital Line Review (DLR) Tool.

“Through this offering, we help brands build and contextualize their assortments digitally,” Field said. “We help them collaborate far earlier and far more iteratively throughout the product-to-market process, ensuring that all relevant team members have a voice and can identify alignment and misalignment as quickly as possible.”

Though initially created as a stand-in for in-person meetings—both Field and Rosario believe physical gatherings will remain important—MakerSights’ DLR platform also offers use cases that improve upon in-real-life events.

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“Imagine this: you’ve got a two-day meeting where you’ve brought partners together from around the world,” Rosario said. “Some of them are suffering from jet lag. Others have deadlines that have nothing to do with the meeting, and they’re struggling to digest a ton of new inputs. And at the end of these two days, we basically charge them to tell us how they’re going to grow their business, and drive these key stories forward. That’s a Herculean expectation.”

Both men additionally highlighted the tool’s ability to filter down results and present information in a format that is easier to understand. “I think the most common thing we hear from brands, is that there isn’t a lack of data or opinion in retail, but in fact there’s often too much of both,” Field said. Rosario, meanwhile, dubbed the ability to view the range along different attributes such as gender or color story “one of the most powerful elements of the DLR platform.”

Field also framed MakerSights’ DLR platform as a way of lowering the stakes when a brand does meet up in person.

“Part of where we think retail has maybe built up habits that are not super sustainable for the future is that as part of the seasonal calendar you sort of have these singular moments, every three months, where tens or hundreds of people come together and you have these sort of showdown discussions, and that creates a lot of risk and it creates a lot of just intensity, when in reality digital can be this vehicle through which you can be having those conversations just far more frequently, with far less at stake,” Field said.

Hy Rosario, director of outdoor at Hoka One One, discussed the indispensable tech that kept the brand on track during months of remote work.

Ugg navigates sustainable design

Earlier this month, Nicks Ericsson, director of global marketing at Hoka One One’s sister brand Ugg, joined Cal McNeil, associate director of program strategies at the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), for a “fireside chat” on how the Deckers brand is tackling sustainability.

In following the United Nations General Compact, Ugg has adopted a broad definition of sustainability, one that does not only center on the environment and climate change, but also social factors such as gender equity and ethical supply chains. By next year, for example, the lifestyle brand is aiming to diversify its marketing, ensuring that 60 percent of its campaigns showcase Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC); LGBTQ+ individuals; and a diversity of body types and abilities. It has also joined the Valuable 500, a global movement centered around disability inclusion.

In terms of materials, Ugg is working with recycled, renewable, regenerated, natural and certified. “When we understand what our products are made of, and where they come from, it allows us to make better sourcing decisions, it allows us to guide our teams toward more sustainable material selections,” Ericsson said.

Recently, Ugg has spent a lot of time on regenerative farming. “We really believe that we need to facilitate the use of regeneratively farmed materials in fashion,” Ericsson said. At Ugg, this has manifested in a $3 million investment into a grant program that helps promote soil health and biodiversity. One end goal, he noted, is to transition the Australian sheepskin industry toward a regenerative model.

Ericsson also touted Ugg’s lifecycle assessment tool—“another thing that’s been really helpful for us.”

“By tracking the emissions there, we can really identify exactly what we need to work on,” he added. “So, we’re able to set realistic targets and consistently minimize the environmental impact of the products we put out in the world.”