A question of scale

One of the things that I am fascinated by is the point at which design, manufacturing and marketing all intersect. In particular I love the idea of craft and people who take care of the products and services that they are responsible for. And yet the sector that is most important to me – running – seems to not have much in the way of small scale, hands-on production.

I was just watching a video on Hypebeast about the production of jeans in Japan. In the film the person being interviewed says that the difference between Japanese and US, Chinese or European jeans manufactures is that outside of Japan the emphasis is on mass production, whereas in Japan they manufacture in smaller numbers and take more care over the products. I would imagine that two of my favourite brands – Albam and Hiut – would disagree.  In fact I would say that increasingly there is a movement of people drawn towards firms making smaller quantities of jeans and away from the big brands like Levis, Lee and Wrangler.

The same seems to be the case in so many areas – small-scale watch manufacturers, indie magazine publishers, limited edition bag manufacturers.

But not so much in running apparel and certainly not in running footwear. Why is that.

There are certainly some brands that are manufacturing running apparel in small numbers – take ashmei, Soar Running and Iffley Road as great examples of that. But what about shoes? There isn’t – as far as I can see – any running shoe manufacturers making small numbers of shoes.

There is a new collab between traditional shoe-maker Grenson and New Balance, but those shoes are definitely not for running in. And of course there are opportunities to personalise shoes as with Nike iD but there isn’t a chance to build the perfect shoe – just a chance to change the colours. What these two examples do prove that it is possible to make small numbers of shoes. The technology and skills are there.

New Balance x Grenson 576GRB. One shoe, two factories. from New Balance EMEA on Vimeo.

So why not? The shoe brands all hype the importance of footwear technology, but they don’t offer truly bespoke products. Makes me wonder if there isn’t a gap in the market… hmmmm!


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