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Hoka One One Takes Flight With Double-Digit Growth

For a performance running brand that’s only eight years old, a lot of things have changed for Hoka One One. First and foremost: its aesthetic.

“When the shoes first came on the market, I think a lot of people said, ‘Holy cow, that is a funny, silly-looking product,’” said Wendy Yang, president of Hoka One One and Performance Lifestyle Brands at Deckers. That’s because many of Hoka’s early models featured midsoles more than twice as thick as other running shoes on the market. “But I think with every passing season, our aesthetic just gets stronger and faster and cleaner and more current.”

The brand’s customer base has also evolved along the way. While it once appealed solely to more elite, in-the-know performance runners—and skewed heavily male—Hoka now casts a decidedly larger net, with a customer base split almost evenly between men and women, casual joggers and certified athletes. “We pride ourselves on being a very inclusive brand in that our products are for everybody,” Yang said.

And while change has come quickly at Hoka, Yang and her team have made sure that the DNA of the brand—its focus on performance and its unique cushioning technology—doesn’t get lost along the way.

The company is known for a number of key technologies that it believes make the products both premium and some of the most comfortable on the market. These include ultra-thick “marshmallow” midsoles that are lightweight and provide extra shock absorption; “meta-rocker geometry” that features a low heel-to-toe differential and a sculpted outsole for a smoother run; and a “bucket seat” foot frame, allowing the foot to sit deeper in the midsole for additional stability.

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“Hoka makes running a more enjoyable experience, delivering incredible comfort and quicker recovery so that your feet feel just as good at the end of the day as they do when you first put them on in the morning,” Yang said.

It’s this focus on performance and comfort that Yang said is leading the brand to “healthy double-digit growth” and helping word-of-mouth buzz spread among the brand’s dedicated customers. “As people experience it and find out about it, they don’t leave they brand.

They tell their friends, and then their friends tell friends,” she said. “As the awareness has grown for Hoka, more and more consumers are coming into the brand and they’re becoming loyal consumers and they’re staying.”

Some of these dedicated customers are elite athletes, like those competing in the recent Ironman World Championship in Hawaii, where Yang said Hoka was the No. 1 shoe worn by participants in the event. “That shows me how strong we’re becoming globally, not just in the U.S.,” she said. “When we’re having that great of success with pinnacle athletes, it’s really going to set us up for future growth.”

While Hoka sees its best performance in the U.S. and French markets—the brand was founded in France in 2009—it’s also seeing growth in the rest of Europe, as well as in new Asian markets like Japan and China.

“We’ve been very fortunate in that every model we put out becomes a new success story,” she said, pointing to styles like the Bondi 5 ($150), Clifton 4 ($130) and the lower-profile, knit-upper Hupana ($115) as best sellers for the brand.

“Everything we make is grounded in performance running, and the Hupana is no exception to this,” she said. “We have people here who take Hupanas straight out of the box and go on a 30-mile run.”

Hoka will debut a new Fly collection for Spring ’18—inspired by the brand’s name, with “hoka one one” meaning “to fly over the earth” in Maori—which combines the technology customers have come to expect from Hoka with a more fashion-savvy, versatile design. “It’s for a consumer who runs as part of their fitness or gym workout, and they have a life in between,” Yang said. “So the Fly collection really has the aesthetic and versatility aspect tied in with the performance aspect.”

The collection features a trio of new styles—the Elevon, Mach and Cavu—all made with ProFly dual-density midsoles that are softer in the heel for more cushioning, while featuring high-density foam in the forefoot to increase propulsion.

The brand is also updating two of its core styles for spring: the Challenger ATR 4 ($130), which is a trail shoe, as well as the Arahi 2 ($130), a stability shoe. Both styles will be available in a range of new colorways, as well as both men’s and women’s sizes.

“This is a young brand, and we’re having tremendous success, but we’re just getting started,” Yang said. “We have a great team in place that focuses on brand building and delivering the consumer a superior experience, and I’m bullish on our future.”