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Q&A: Adidas Chief Outdoor Officer on How Outdoor is Influencing Mainstream Fashion and Footwear

It’s an interesting time to be Greg Thomsen, chief outdoor officer at Adidas.

While the brand continues to set standards in sustainability and circularity with its Futurecraft.loop project and Parley for the Oceans Partnership, its footwear innovations have begun to matriculate into other areas—namely outdoor.

As outdoor styling continues to grow in popularity, the category’s versatility and performance are making their way into collections around the world.

Here, Thomsen explains how Adidas Outdoor is learning how to meld with the mainstream.

SJ: Outdoor has started to permeate both fashion and footwear—what do you think is driving the appeal there?

GT: The outdoor lifestyle has for many years influenced fashion. The cycle goes up and down and right now it is on an upward trend. Active healthy outdoor lifestyles are both exciting and attractive. But true outdoor products start with performance requirements and a specific activity addressed for design improvement. Practical performance is the true foundation of outdoor products. True outdoor products stand the test of time. They present a point of view and personal statement for the consumer and offer great value in true comfort and use in all conditions. They walk the walk.

I think the driving force is the relentless focus on improving performance coupled with new advancements in construction techniques and materials. Adidas make a wide range of products and in many cases fashion influences outdoor and outdoor influences fashion. They are not mutually exclusive influencers.

SJ: When it comes to footwear technology, what area of the shoe do you think has seen the most innovation? Is it the midsole, insole, upper?

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GT: Over the past 5 years the general focus on technological innovation has been on the upper materials. Starting with knits instead of woven material and then prime knit technology where the one-piece uppers are engineered for more stretch where needed and more abrasion resistance where required. Now the innovation is focused on sustainability with uppers made entirely out of recycled plastic bottles. The result is a more comfortable higher performance product with the added value of doing good for the environment with no sacrifice in performance.

At Adidas Outdoor, the additional focus has been in bringing Boost cushioning technology to the midsole on hiking boots. This new technology has been designed into the hiking category and results in the most comfortably cushioned hiking boot ever made.

SJ: What made Adidas start incorporating the Adidas Boost midsole into its outdoor footwear?

GT: Boost cushioning technology was incorporated into the midsoles for hiking and trail running models because it greatly increases performance. Better cushioning on rough ground and consistent support in all weather conditions, wet, dry, hot and cold. Once you wear hiking boots with Boost technology it is almost impossible to wear anything else. It’s that good.

SJ: There’s been a big push for sustainability in footwear and Adidas has largely been at the forefront of it. What do you see as holding the most potential to reshape the industry?

GT: I believe the coordination with Parley for the Oceans has the potential to change the market. The threat of ocean plastic overload on the marine ecosystem is real and growing. Adidas is helping bring awareness to the problem and offers a step in the right direction in stopping single-use plastic bottles from making it into the seas. There is a major movement in the outdoor industry to support these actions and growing consumer awareness.

SJ: How does a brand like Adidas continue to set itself apart in terms of sustainability?

GT: For many years, Adidas has been ranked as one of the most sustainable companies in the world. It is more than a marketing campaign it is a fundamental core value of the company.

SJ: Do you think the industry will get to a point where sustainability is built into design across global brands as a way of practice?

GT: I think sustainability is already built into the global brand’s designs, especially in the outdoor categories. The environment and protection of wild areas are fundamental for survival. No one knows that better than people who love and experience the outdoors and unspoiled nature. You protect and preserve what you love. Global designers are working hard to make a difference through thoughtful design and corporate responsibility.

SJ: What’s driving footwear innovation in general today?

GT: I think the driving force is the relentless focus on improving performance coupled with new advancements in construction techniques and materials. Adidas make a wide range of products and in many cases fashion influences outdoor and outdoor influences fashion. They are not mutually exclusive influencers.

SJ: What’s next for Adidas where innovation is concerned?

Innovation is at the heart of Adidas design and development. Lighter, faster, better.