Drapers speaks to Olivier Bernhard, co-founder of the fast-growing Swiss running brand On, about its recent investment from tennis legend Roger Federer and its plans for future growth.
Founded in 2010, Swiss sportswear brand On quickly gathered an international reputation with its innovative, tech focused running shoes, which it claims give the wearer the sensation they are “running on clouds”.
With 6,000 doors in more than 50 countries the brand’s growth is continuing apace. On says it is currently the fastest growing running shoe brand in the world.
A host of stellar athletes – including Swiss Olympic triathlon champion Nicola Spirig and British triathlete world record holder Tim Don – attribute their enhanced athletic performance to their use of On shoes. French trail runner David Hauss credited the footwear from his move from sixth to first in world rankings. Prices range from £120 for the Cloud shoe to £180 for the Cloudrock hiking boot.
In October, the brand hit the headlines when it secured an undisclosed amount in investment from tennis superstar Roger Federer – which it plans to use to fuel tech innovation and international expansion. Federer will also act as an ambassador for the brand.
Ahead of the brand showing at Jacket Required in January 2020, co-founder Olivier Bernhard has a strong background in sports, and is a former triathlete: a 15-time Swiss champion and three times world Champion. He speaks to Drapers about what makes the brand unique, and its plans for the future.
How would you describe the brand in one sentence?
On is a Swiss sports brand that has its roots in performance running, with next generation technology and design to inspire humans to run and explore.
What makes the On brand unique in the crowded sports footwear space?
On’s “cloud” technology is the first to combine superior cushioning (for soft landings when running) with powerful push-offs (so there is no compromise on speed).
We believe the idea is as ground-breaking to the running shoe industry as, for example, carving skis were in the skiing industry a few years ago [when ski shapes were changed to make skiing require far less effort from the skier].
On’s technology is truly engineered – it is not just a play with material. On shoes follow a very minimalist design approach and are designed by the principle that form follows function.
What are some of the brand’s bestselling styles?
One is certainly the Cloud shoe. It was made to be the world’s lightest fully cushioned performance running shoe. It has been the bestselling running shoe in Switzerland for several years in a row.
The second-generation of the Cloudflow training and racing shoe launched a month ago. It is now refined with athlete input and enhanced with our own Helion superfoam – which is designed to give a smooth ride, soft landings and explosive take-offs. To sum it up: more comfort, more kick, more speed. We call it the shortcut to runners’ high.
On also designs very technical running apparel. Our running pants are particularly popular. They offer insulation, UV protection and durable, water repellent properties.
How are you seeing the sportswear market develop at the moment? What are some changes you are seeing at the moment?
We see that the demand for lighter shoes increasing. At the same time the technical aspect is becoming more and more interesting to customers. It’s not only the look, but also the tech in a shoe that attracts runners to buy new shoes. This goes for men and woman alike.
What are you hoping the new engagement with Roger Federer can bring to the brand?
On is attracting a fast-growing global fan community and [we think] it has joined the ranks of the leading brands in the US, Europe and Japan.
Roger brings unique insight as one of the most influential and admired athletes at the top of world sports. He is not joining On for sponsorship, but entrepreneurship. He has invested a significant amount of his money in our company. Together, we are looking to create unique products and experiences for On fans around the world. Roger is already working with us on new developments in the On lab, and if we succeed we will release those as early as next summer.
How are you hoping to develop the brand in the future? Any plans to grow in the UK?
On is constantly challenging the status quo and working on the next generation of running, outdoor and everyday shoes. We recently opened a new office in Shanghai, and China is definitely going to be a focus market in the future.
In the UK, On has had its own team since 2014. We have just hired new people in the UK on sales and marketing and now have 10 people working for On in the market. On is available at 280 retail doors in the UK, in specialty running and sporting goods stores, but also at Mr Porter and Harrods. John Lewis is another retailer we will start with in 2020.