The running world is flush with plucky upstarts who have the kind of ideas, attitude and marketing sheen to take it to the big boys at Nike and Adidas. In fact, designer running labels are becoming an entire thing, and when they're not collaborating with the sportswear giants a-la Gyakusou, they're busy disrupting the scene completely, re-inventing running style to become something far more futuristic and tech-led.
On, a Swiss running brand, is one such company, initially starting in 2010 and since building a reputation for quality and innovation that's landed their shoes on the feet of everyone from Olympic Gold Medalist Nicola Sprig to fashion designer J.W. Anderson and actors Will Smith, John Malkovich and Emma Stone.
Quite the mix, then. But perhaps ironically, the brand's most high-profile fan comes in the form of someone who up until just last year was one of Nike's most iconic poster boys: Roger Federer.
"In joining On as an entrepreneur, Roger becomes a close partner to our founders and the On team. He will use his unique experience to help take our product development, marketing and fan experiences to new levels. Roger will also play a role in developing the athlete spirit that’s at the core of our high-performing culture," says On's website.
"When we spotted Roger wearing On shoes around the world, we just got in touch. Turns out, he has been an On fan for a while... this partnership is about much more than Swiss roots. As a friendship developed it became clear he is a natural leader and entrepreneur off the court as well. We value the same things and share a passion for innovation and design."
On's signature kicks, known most often simply as 'Clouds' (derived from the name given to their unique cushioning system), seem to have gained their reputation among the hollywood and sporting elite almost entirely organically. They have a very 'runner's running shoe' kind of feel to them, sure, but as the success of brands like Salomon has shown us this year, that's not necessarily a bad thing any more in the sneaker landscape. "Fans seem to think of us as an athletes’ insider secret," Olivier Bernhard, one of On's founders, told the New York Times.
Federer, a noted low-key sneakerhead himself, told the Times that his love for the shoes was something that grew slowly. “I learned to embrace personal style a while ago, both on and off the court," he said. "They were impossible to ignore because everyone had them, people on the street, my friends, my wife,” he said. "At first, I thought that they were a little strange to look at, then I realized I actually really liked the design."
Federer is signed on as a co-entrepreneur, meaning (as well as a chunk of change, we presume) he'll be bringing athlete insight, marketing guidance and expertise in product development to the brand.
"Brand building and global marketing," he said. "How to connect with fans across cultures. And I think I can motivate employees from a leadership perspective too, on how to stay humble but dream big."