You are making shoes, but you are not selling shoes. You're selling happiness.
You’re not selling shoes. You have to sell wellbeing. You have to sell something that puts a smile on people’s face. This is what you sell. You are making shoes, but you are not selling shoes. You are selling what you have. I mean, the only reason, your only purpose at the end of the day is to make people happy. If you make people happy, believe me, the shareholders will be happy very quickly. But always start with that mindset on whatever you do.
The following is a transcript of The Crux Podcast Season 1, Episode 9 with Jean-Luc Diard of Deckers X Lab
Kyle Duford: Deckers X Lab is an experiment in feeling good from the ground up. Well, that’s what today’s guest would say anyway. He’s the former CEO of Salomon, the Founder of Hoka One One, and the creator of this workshop of ideas called the Deckers X Lab. Now, as part of the Decker’s family, the X Lab develops innovations in comfort for its own label, with its sights set on feeling good from foot to head. That went on purpose.The lab just doesn’t keep its best ideas to itself though. What happens in the lab also influences product development for its cousins like UGG, Hoka, Sanuk, and Teva. The X Lab is on the heel of some of their biggest launches yet, having just released some of the most genre bending footwear designs the industry has ever seen, let alone in this decade. It’s with utmost excitement that today, on The Crux, we are so excited to introduce Jean-Luc Diard. Hope you enjoy today’s show.
Jean-Luc, thanks for joining me today. It is an honor to finally speak with you. I know we’ve been trying to get together for quite some time, so thank you for joining us
Jean-Luc Diard: Well, an honor for me. Thanks.
KD: You’re very welcome. Well, listen, you’ve been around and people listening to this are going to know your name. If they don’t know your name, they know where you’ve been. You were the CEO of Salomon, you are the Founder of Hoka, you’ve designed everything from skis to shoes and everything in between. Now, you lead up Deckers X Lab and I think some people might not know that Deckers in general, kind of a collective Decker’s brands, they own UGG, Hoka, as we just mentioned, Teva, Sanuk. But then there’s this X Lab, it’s kind of this place where you get to have fun and play. I’d love for you to just tell me from your point of view, what the heck are you doing these days? What are you inventing? What is this thing?
JD: We’re having fun, but it’s not just about having fun. I mean, as you can imagine, we’re all doing things with a purpose. I mean, the first purpose that we serve within the group is to serve as the innovation team. Just like any innovation team, I mean, we try different things, we look for every area where we can, let’s say, improve the consumer experience. That’s the fundamental thing. It’s not about the way you do it, it’s first and foremost about identifying where are the opportunities to elevate the consumer experience. That’s really the reason to be there. Then you take different routes to achieve that. That’s the first thing that we do across the categories of shoes that there are in the group, but not only shoes, there’s also apparel, but shoes being the biggest part of the business.
The unicity of the Deckers group is that it covers all kinds of shoes. I mean, from slippers, to casual shoes, to sandals, to running shoes, you name it. I mean, this is what is really nice, is that we can also leverage ideas from one place to the other, cross pollinate them. There are not that many groups that have that spectrum. When we do so, we came to realize, like every group realizes that when you’re trying to push things from an innovation standpoint, it always takes however time till things may come in line or into a given established, let’s say, brand for. There are plenty of reasons for it, and notably, because there are plannings. There are things that have to carry on. There are things that people are discovering, they may not, let’s say, look at it mandatorily in the right way at the beginning and it takes time. Which is totally human. Every group in every company in the world faces this.
What we tried to do with the management of the group was to take the things differently. Being really aware of that time is extremely important today. Everyone has access to the same information across the world. Everyone has great ideas, great capacity of analyzing things. Very quickly, it comes to who is the first one to package it in an interesting way and bring it to market. You always have companies that are bigger than you, that can have bigger marketing means in the future. You can have always smaller companies that are very quick in decision making. The group is kind of in between. The spirit was to say, let’s have the spirit of the startup, but with more means, let’s say, to achieve it. Let’s try to always have a sense of not urgency in the sense of stupid urgency, but the sense of moving it. Moving it, go for it. Therefore, we had to have a channel to bring the products to market. Because whatever you may think, first, effectively, plenty of people can have the same idea at the same time in different places of the world. And you also have to test your things. I mean, when I say to – in real, we have consumers, we have factories, we have suppliers, et cetera.
What Decker’s lab enables to do is, we’ve always got direction of elevating the consumer experience, to however bring to market extremely fast, things that where we believe that we can go to the next step, and not have to go through the classical, let’s say, processes that you have usually in going in line. We can make decisions in a much faster way. We have developed a relationship with partners, whether it’s suppliers or factories. Well, they know that we are going to start with limited edition products, that the products may be a little bit complex at the beginning. But they know that there are some opportunities as it moves.
We bring that fast to market, we needed a label, so the label is Deckers X Lab. X Lab means experiencing something that is at a new level. It’s not about experimenting for experimenting. It’s always checking if the level of improvement that we bring, is it something that the people feel, recognize, or not there. It’s not about, I said, once again, experiment all over the place. No, no, no, no. It is always in the same direction.
KD: I love that philosophy of moving forward, iterating quickly. Clearly, it’s why you’ve been so successful. At the lab, are you working on ideas and innovation first and then saying, “Oh, where would this idea fit in one of the Decker’s brands?” I mean, because they’re very disparate brands, I mean, you go from Teva to UGG. I mean, you can’t get more different, right? But then I also know you have direct to consumer with Deckers X Lab online that you can buy the brand, X Lab. How does that fit? Does the brand come first or does the innovation comes first? How does that work?
JD: The processes go both ways. Okay. When brands have something that they have identified as part of their strategy, they come to us and they say, “Here is something that where we would like to go to, what would be your advices? Can you take that project on?” Et cetera. Sometimes we do a dual path development where the inline team, I mean, all the brand teams are doing their own way and we do our own way. Then we confirm the ideas at various steps.
It goes really both ways. But the reality is that, you get relatively few briefs, let’s say, from brands, and you have to propose more. It’s in a ratio, I would say that is more to what we propose. Then it’s not 50:50 into those directions. It’s more, two thirds, we propose things, and one third, we get some demands. The reason for that is that brands, it’s not that they cannot provide demands and things like that, but they’re in line process is requesting them to focus on things. So, in the meantime, we can still move out on our side and propose things. And when it makes sense, then they can implement it.
KD: That’s why I started off the show by saying, seems like a fun place to be, because you get to – especially for proposing. Not to say it’s not work and not to say it’s not a challenge. I’m sure you probably put a lot more things in the bin than you actually put to market. But to be able to innovate from your perspective, you’re not encumbered anymore by being the CEO of Salomon or the Founder and CEO of Hoka. You get to just say, I don’t want to deal with that kind of side of it, I get to innovate for the consumer and see where we can take this and kind of stretch not just one brand. This is the cool thing. You get to push, five, six brands forward every time you innovate. That to me is really the gold ticket right there.
JD: It definitively is something that is a wonderful job, and it’s a job that you share with a team. It really is a team work, like everything. I mean, we have built a team which is sitting in every geographical area. We have one third of the team more or less in the US, one third of the team in Europe and one third of the team in China. Through that, first, we have different perspectives on a given topic. We work almost 24/7. I mean, we’re using the things, which is a big asset in terms of rolling things fast. And yes, it’s a wide spectrum and the beauty of the wide spectrum is that then you rebound from one category to the other.
We still want to look way beyond footwear because that’s also part of the – part of the thing. I, mean the best ideas or the best parallels, et cetera, most of the time, you take them from areas that are outside of the scope of your work. You try to reinterpret things and say, “Well, when they do this, or when you see this, what would it mean on our side?” We bring the things, not just as, let’s say one prototype that you effectively are showing at one point, and that is a rough proto. We need to go all the way to a product that is marketable, so that if the brands are interested later on, on something like that, they have something where they know the cost. We have tested everything in between, so they can implement it in their own way, with their own identity, at their own price point, with their own features, et cetera. But they get already something that has been digested.
Respectively, the other thing is that we are working on categories also, that the group is not involved in at that stage or little involved in. And here we are, just opening it, just building it. Then we’ll see if it becomes a new brand, or if it’s picked up by brand A, or brand B, or brand C. But we’re also creating new pillars for the company.
KD: You’re open to the idea of, if this new innovative product, it’s going concern, it’s going to work, the DNA doesn’t fit in one of the existing brands, Deckers is open to spinning up a new brand and seeing if you can make it fly?
JD: Absolutely. That’s absolutely part of the concept in general. Kudos to the top management team of the group. I mean, we looked at many different options, but you have to also innovate in the way you innovate. If I can say it this way, and they are making it, and we see that it starts to really pay off, sometimes it’s a fraction of the concept that moves somewhere, or a component or something. But very quickly, you see many things, I mean, spreading into the other brands while at the same time, starting to identify some areas where we see really some potential that we are going to build up for the future.
KD: Is there something that feels, from the brand side, there’s something that inherently feels like a UGG, or Hoka or – I run in Hokas, so thank you for the invention. Or you know, like this is Colorado River Guide, this is Teva all the way, they have their own little DNA. But is there starting to become a red thread through all the brands that now you can say, “Ah! This feels like a Decker’s product,” or are they still very disparate in and of themselves?
JD: Until now, I would say that – and it has to be so I mean in the sense that every brand has to have its own identity. But in any category, and this is where the process is interesting. Where shoes have evolved the most is in the running world, the level of let’s say, wellness, wellbeing, and performance that you get through running shows today is very, very different from what it was 15 years ago and it has continued to accelerate big time every year. If you looked at the trade show, which was the running event, I mean, that was held like two weeks ago, you could see just a continuity of major evolutions in the running world in terms of the nature of the forms, the nature of the geometries, the plates, inserts, et cetera.
What it means is that, there is this category of running that is really pushing the boundaries. Respectively, you have many categories that are not so different today than what they were 10 or 20 years ago. Those categories have the potential to evolve. This is where, while you keep your own specificities naturally. I mean, there are things that you don’t need when you engineer a slippe, compared to engineering a marathon racing shoe. But there still are points of references that have completely changed, because – and notably with the pandemic, so many people have been using running shoe, modern running shoes. They have started to get used to a feeling of comfort, of fluidity of movement, of lightweight, et cetera that is at different levels than what they knew maybe before, and that has continued to evolve.
This can absolutely be brought into a multitude of categories. In new ways of tuning it, you don’t need to make the shoes big, you don’t need – but you can really create an experience that is much more elevated across all the categories. That’s what we’re really trying to push.
KD: Because you’re talking about running shoes, it seems like a natural fit to talk a little bit about Hoka. The story is legend. We don’t need to go into detail, because anyone can pick up any blog or listen to any number podcast to hear your story. But I want to key in on the innovation standpoint. What was the thing that you went, “Ah! This is not just an innovation in existing shoes. This is going to be its own thing”? I mean, you basically ushered in a new era of lightweight running shoes, and inspired everything from the form of the heel shape, to the cushion, the materials. What was the genesis I guess is what I’m asking of Hoka in the very beginning, for you personally, when you went, “Ah! This is going to be a category killer”?
JD: It was associated with equipment in other categories. We had the chance with the Salomon Group, I mean to work on a multitude of types of equipment. I mean, from anything that is winter sports related, gliding type of products, I mean, skis, balls, et cetera, to cycling products, to golf. In every equipment, what had happened that created the revolution was very much linked to getting a little bit oversize, but at the same time getting very lightweight.
Think about golf heads, just as an example, the Taylormade, which was one of the brand of the Salomon Group. I mean, the golf company was the first one to do metal woods. But the golf size at that time, the volume of the head was 170 cc, something like that. As soon as you add something that was small, I mean, it required quite a lot of precision. I mean, to weight it properly, et cetera, et cetera.
When the golf head started to grow, and they grew in different steps, and they grew up to more than 500 cc as a volume, the level of tolerance as well as the level of performance increased drastically. That was one, one example. In the skis, where I used to have narrow sticks, long, two-meter long, 65 millimeters at the waist. And then gradually, we shorten drastically the length, we widen the tip and tail. And gradually, that side cut that was like an hourglass shape became also wider and the rocker changed. All of a sudden, the ability of using the skis from icy slope, to powder runs, to wet snow, et cetera became way better than before. We had seen that in many areas, there had been a revolution in changing parameters. For example, snowboard was a great inspiration. Without snowboard, skis would never have evolved in the same way.
When we were running, there was this weird thing in saying that, why is it so that when you go down, I mean, there is nothing that is really feeling great. And why is it so that so many people are not enjoying running while it should be simple, it should be easy? Why is it so that 20-year-old student are quitting running, and they get more injuries than people who are doing boxing, or football or whatever. You say, “Come on. I mean, there’s something that’s not working there.” Then there were a few signs that were starting to happen like MBT, you could see this big rocker that had happened, but it was a very heavy shoe, very special, I mean, from that standpoint. But you take all those things and you say, “Wouldn’t there be something which would come closer to the rocking chair principle, because the wheel is always the most efficient tool, let’s say to move forward? Could we have the same sensation in running on tough surfaces as what you have when you run into sand, or when you run on snow or on soft grounds?”
But we knew since the beginning that we had to make it super light. This is where the thing started to be a challenge because we designed the shape, we started to tune it, et cetera, but we have to make it very light. We discovered that, let’s say, we could make it light and make it very soft at the same time, change completely the parameters and then have something special. We went a little bit step by step, but I was kind of sure at the very beginning that there would be an opportunity. How to make it was the question, but that the opportunity would be there.
KD: Just to see how your mind thinks, speaking of skis, and snowboards, and golf heads. It really is a design philosophy that you have. It’s to innovate to make better. Not necessarily just to do which we know – listen, I’m not near the pedigree of you at all, but I spent some time at Chrome Industries making vulcanized footwear at Keen for a bit. I was at Dr. Martens for a long time, working actually probably for a gentlemen you might know, Steve Murray. He was at UGG for a number of years. Great man.
The process of shoe innovation is actually very difficult. You said earlier on, because the lead time is so long. One of the things you can do at X Lab is you can actually bring to market quicker. Maybe it’s a little bit mean of me to ask, but is there anything that you’re working on right now that excites you or that might come to the market sometime soon. If you can talk about it, maybe even in broad strokes?
JD: Effectively, there are things that are exciting on the things that we work on. But to come back just briefly before that, on the philosophy, what I’m trying to tell two people in notably the marketing side, on the managers and on the designers. I’m telling them, “You’re not selling shoes. You have to sell wellbeing. You have to sell something that puts a smile on people’s face. This is what you sell. You are making shoes, but you are not selling shoes. You are selling what you have. I mean, the only reason, your only purpose at the end of the day is to make people happy. If you make people happy, believe me, the shareholders will be happy very quickly. But always start with that mindset on whatever you do.”
That was one of the things that always drove us, I mean, in the past business that I had, which has enabled us to innovate in categories that were very, very different. I mean, from where notably the Salomon Company started. If you think that it was a ski binding-only company, and I had to change to bring to market, I mean, many of the new adventures. But always, because we innovated with a promise. That’s what you should never forget, that this is the starting point.
What we are doing now in terms of the things that are quite interesting, and some of the things are going to come to market very soon. One of the things is. we work with the military, but the military project has to be seen like more something that is associated to frontline workers in general, people that care about others, where people that have to work in really challenging environment, where life matters and things like that. Military is one thing where you have special forces that have very specific missions that require very specific equipment. Every time you have a very specific equipment to develop, it is a good way of having to think differently, because you have to combine things in various ways. We have worked on that. We are bringing two things that are going to arrive on the market, a Garrison boot, but not your usual Garrison boot. Something which definitively also elevates the experience, while respecting the rules.
Then we have another project, which is a project that has been developed in connection and for the Navy SEALs that is going to come. But both of the projects, they will go beyond the interest of people that are in the army. I mean, the technical platforms can expand way beyond. Those are the things that will be visible gradually, that we will take those concepts that are being developed for very specific, very targeted usages. I mean, obviously, the number of Navy SEALS in the world is not a big market. But the needs that they have are really interesting. Then you can transfer the concept that you have done for the Navy SEALs to outdoor shoes or other shoes. That’s the type of thing that is really interesting, because you work with people that are best caliber athletes. Obviously, they are in an environment that are very, very specific. I mean, you can’t miss things. I mean, it has to work and then you broaden the usage.
That’s the type of thing that is very exciting. The other thing that we are bringing, I’ll visualize it for you while the other people can’t see it. But the developments that are happening into the running world, I said can transfer into different shoes. One of the shoes that we are going to bring it here, like here. We are taking a casual sneaker if you want, but we’re bringing it into a way where we combine both all the benefits of running shoes. I mean, from rolling, cushioning, et cetera. We combine it with sustainability. I mean, all this is upcycled, high performance CVA. But this shoe that looks like a very casual, nice sneaker that has some wool, et cetera. It integrates a carbon plate. The experience is completely different. That’s the kind of thing where you are pushing the things differently.
Obviously, you don’t use it in the same way as you use on a marathon shoe or things like that. But you try things and we’ll see how people react. People will definitely feel the benefit for them or not. On our side, we think that they will feel the benefit. I mean, that’s what our tests are saying. But unless you come to market and have 1,000 people. I mean, try it and have to make – the action also of buying it. I mean, you are never sure of everything. But that’s the kind of thing which are really interesting because you bring into categories where it is unexpected, features that we know can elevate the experience.
KD: Have you always thought this way? Were you walking around as a child thinking like if I only had better shoes, or if I could perform better or – do you think it’s a sin to walk around barefoot for example at your home? Like what are on your feet right now?
JD: On my feet right now, it’s a very special shoe that I cannot show. But I come from a ski resort, and in the ski resorts, I mean you are into the outdoors and you have the opportunity to experience a multitude of sports. That’s already the first thing. I mean, is that it gives you when you are skiing, snowboarding, cycling, running, climbing, canoeing, rafting, paragliding, hand gliding, et cetera. Those are all the things that I’ve been doing all my youth and adult life.
You get to use different equipments, you get to experience different sensations. You are also into a place where people come to and they want to experience different things. I’m also a ski teacher, and bringing people to different places where they can experience something new, where you also help them move at indoor skills, where you put them a little bit outside of their initial comfort zone. But at the same time, they improve through time.
I think what’s really critical in saying, I want to help people enjoy things further and discover new things. I think that has been the key at the beginning. Then I had the chance with the Salomon Group to also work on a multitude of different equipment categories. We had 21 – I recall different product lines, but the founder of the company always had in mind that we can do whatever we want, provided that we bring something good for the users. I think it was also really critical at the beginning of my professional career to have also a guy who had built a business on those principles.
KD: Well, it sounds your principle of making people happy, right?
KD: You charge to the marketing team. You’re not selling shoes. You’re selling happiness. It sounds like –
JD: You’re selling happiness, that’s it. You’re not selling perfumes. You’re selling dreams. It’s the same thing.
KD: No, I think that’s really cool, for sure. There’s a feeling that you get when you connect with something that enables you to be enjoying what you’d like to enjoy. Whether it’s skiing, or golfing, or cycling or running, when I’m sure there’s a bunch of other sports categories that you’ve crossed into over the years. But you need something to do those sports, even as simple as running, unless you are talking about the [inaudible 00:27:23] Indians or whatever, barefoot running thing that happened years ago. You need something, right? You need good materials. You need – maybe sometimes it’s quick, wicking materials, if you’re wearing some clothing, or good warmth for base layer, or whatever it is, protection, shells, you need something.
I think that what you’re saying is, you were given permission very early on from the founder of Salomon to allow people to experience those things through the tools that you’re giving them. It seems to me like none of them impede what you’re doing. They’re always enhancing what you’re doing. Because sometimes – I’m a cyclist and a runner, and so there’s sometimes you have tools that you – that you use that which – you might want to – just look at power meters. You might want to know what your power is while you’re riding, but it adds weight to your bicycle.
There’s things like that, that you have to hold those in tension with one another. The products that you’re inventing and bringing to market are always enhancing people’s experience. In the case of Hoka, have cured a lot of people of running injuries. You have to feel kind of pride in that, right?
JD: We do. I mean, definitely myself. I mean, all the people that have been part of the journey and they continue to be part of that journey. What’s really interesting with footwear is that it touches everyone, every day. It’s not like some equipment, which may be expensive or that you have to use in a given environment. Footwear, you wear it every day. There was nothing better, let’s say in some ways. When you think about the population, besides the need of having food and or you can take the Maslow Pyramid, I mean, if you want to. But once you go beyond the absolute need for survival. The next thing is to try to be healthy, and walking, shuffling, jogging, running, et cetera is the easiest, cheapest, simplest way to stay healthy. Clear.
How can you contribute to that? Sometimes it’s just helping bring someone off the couch. Sometimes it’s bringing people back to what they loved. Sometime it’s making athletes enable to train more, while not having injuries so that they perform at their best potential. Not everyone will be world champion. But at least, you have the opportunity to reach your best potential rather than being plagued with injuries and being very frustrated, because you never knew where you could go. This is something that – while there was, let’s say a sense of it. It went beyond what both myself and the team that started it could expect.
It’s true that we do have tears in our eyes. I mean, sometimes when reading things on comments, the people and – the very first time I experienced it, I remember it like if it was absolutely one hour ago, it was two American woman, middle-aged, who came to Chamonix to take part to the UTMB. They said that they wanted to meet me and I was there at the booth. Nice meeting you, et cetera. They started to tell me their stories.
They had been doing sport when they were young, then they had grown older, they became heavier, et cetera and they were really unhappy with their life. Then one of the coaches said, “We’ll, try this.” They started to enjoy walking first, then they started to enjoy shuffling, jogging a little bit. Then the trainer said, “Why don’t we make a little bit longer tours.” Then installed in their heads, why wouldn’t you have the dream like your Everest at some point? I mean, do the UTMB? And they said, “Yeah, we’ll try.” It took some time. I mean, they went step by step. But then they said, look, it changed our lives completely. We are happy people. We are happy for the others. That’s the kind of thing where you say –
KD: I bet.
JD: That’s great. We have thousands of people like that. If not, more.
KD: I’m sure it’s more than that. It’s tens of thousands. If not, hundreds of thousands. You’ve got the basic giants of running shoe world. Obviously, Nike, Adidas, Puma, ASICS, Saucony. Then there’s this other movement of new wave shoes. I’m thinking of Newton, and On and Hoka. But one of the things that I find interesting, and again, full transparency, and this is not why you’re on the show. But I run in the Clifton, I run in Hokas, and cured my foot of some metatarsalgia and kind of have a little plantar fascia issues, and that’s helped get rid of that and help prevent it. I’m thankful.
You don’t hear, and no disrespect to those other brands. You just don’t hear those kinds of stories. Like, “Oh! I wanted a pair of whatever, and it changed my life or brought me back to the sport.” I’m sure they’re out there. But consistently, you say Hoka One One into somebody, and they will either have a story themselves or point to somebody and say, “I know someone who tried those.” Let’s be honest, everyone in the beginning thought it was crazy, these massive shoes with a rocker soul and it was like, “Okay, this is crazy.” And then they try it. My wife being one of them and, like I said, myself. You have a story of like, “Wow!”
It’s almost a feeling that you don’t get in another shoe. You think about running, it’s just another thing to do, especially if you’re a runner yourself. You don’t really have that moment when you lace up in the morning, or whenever you jump on a treadmill or go for a run outside. That kind of aha moment of, “Wow, this is different. This has changed somehow. Changed my gait. Changed my weight. Changed whatever.” Consistently, I hear that when you bring up that brand. It’s unlike any other. Obviously, it makes you feel like – well, you just said that. But do you now feel there’s almost a responsibility to continue to innovate for maybe that brand specifically? Because it’s come so far, there’s almost an expectation that Hoka is going to do something special,
JD: It has to be a prominent driver. The journey never ends. I think what we have had is some form of luck, by some aspects, is that we came at a time when the trend was the opposite in some ways. I mean, it was not so much the opposite, because there are many things actually, many common grounds with what was minimalist and what we did. But visually, obviously, and some of the features were very different. But we had the chance to be there, almost by our own for quite a lot of years. It has naturally changed. I mean, we can be proud to have contributed to change the industry, definitively. But there are lots of good products now out there, definitely.
People have learned to think beyond what I would say that was – in many sports, sometimes you have a culture that is inherited from, exclusively, the very best runners in the world. You try to mimic that. But people did not realize, I mean, that there are only that many adults that are weighing 130 pounds, and that have the ability to run at four-minute mile pace for 20 kilometers, et cetera. People make mistakes like this. It was the same in the bike industry by many aspects. You see how much, for example, gravel today is changing things.
KD: Yeah, 100 percent.
JD: Most of the people will use gravel bikes as their road bikes, not especially to do gravel, but it gives extra things. You have to always think about both the elite, but also the masses. Now, I think it’s getting more sophisticated. We have a combination of parameters that are becoming more important. I like this analogy, which comes from someone in our team who says, it’s both building a skeleton, building muscles, building tendons into a shoe and not just building one or the other. It’s the combination of all that that we’re building.
We have plenty of things that that we are bringing to market into this direction. We want to push it further. At the same time, through Deckers X Lab, we want notably to bring those elements of running that can continue to elevate the experience there, I said, across all the categories. There are so many categories that have been under developed lately, that there are plenty of opportunities.
KD: Do you see something now in footwear across the board, no matter if it’s running or casual that it’s niche right now, but that you see, maybe by the middle of the century will be kind of commonplace in all shoes?
JD: The first thing that we will see developing, I think, extremely fast, it’s plates. I mean, whatever the shape of the plates, whatever the material of the plate, et cetera. But there’s only so much you can do with foams a lot. That’s why it’s taking this image of your own body. And for example, shanks have been used in shoes, I mean forever. But they were used only we’ve kind of a given spectrum of shoes that you’re given, relatively limited spectrum of usage.
But if you if you think beyond that, the ability to control rolling, stability, provide additional resilience in various places, et cetera, we will see more and more combinations of things. We have to see, let’s say, the package of footwear, it really is about geometries, whether it is side cut or [inaudible 00:36:44]. It’s the way you combine then different elements, I said between skeleton, muscles, and tendons and into it. It’s the way you engineer, let’s say, mechanical deformation, or on the opposite. I mean stiffening in selective areas.
It’s not that complicated. I mean, coming from equipment, there are many things that we really honestly do not see that complicated, because we are – we are used to it. It’s not something usually in footwear. But if you compare this to racing ski equipment, where you have to make work your ski that has its own structure, plus an interface, plus a binding on top of it, plus a ski boot and all this has to handle a wide variety of situation. It is way more complex than it shouldn’t. But it’s getting there and it’s really is interesting.
KD: That’s fascinating. Well, I look forward to continuing to see things that come out of your mind onto the feet of people worldwide soon. We’re coming up on our time together. It’s usually that point where we ask people this one question. We call the show The Crux for a reason. That is because, the crux in rock climbing – I don’t know if you’ve done any rock climbing out in France in your day. But the crux is usually the hardest part of a route or a climb, that you have to figure out how to get over and get through.
I’m wondering what was the crux in your life? Was it deciding who to sell Hoka to? Was it deciding what shoe to invent next? What has been a standout moment for you that you had to inevitably decide how to get through it and it was a challenge that you overcame?
JD: I mean, the situation of Hoka is interesting, because we knew we had something special, but we knew that, at the same time, if we were to try to bring it to the next level, only by our own, we have Nikola, notably, that we would be limited. Having been in charge of the group before, I knew everything it took, in addition, let’s say to make something successful. There was a moment, which is really a tough one where you say, let’s be aware of our limitations as entrepreneurs.
There were quite a few people that were willing to invest into our company, I mean, just as financial supporters, et cetera. What we decided upon was that, no, that was not really what could accelerate things only. Because if you work with a group that already has, let’s say, your supply chain or distribution network, et cetera, you get much more. There was then a sense of time to say that when you do something, and you are a small company, you can disappear the next day, as good as your idea can be. There’s always someone that is much bigger that can take the idea, and how are you going to defend yourself? I mean, even from a legal standpoint or things like that.
There’s that moment where you say, we can’t continue just by ourselves. We had a clear vision of what we thought the potential was, but we needed to go beyond and that’s where Deckers Group came in. We found through the management at that time really good partners that we’re passionate about something. There were no other brands in running into the group, so it was really complimentary. We said, okay. It certainly is too early. I mean, we probably could make much more money in another way, et cetera. But what is it that counts the most is to make that blossom. We are, let’s say, having people make way more money with it than we have ever done, and that will [inaudible 00:40:25] with that brand and that’s great.
At the end of the day, the fact of giving the opportunity to have many people have a job, to have retailer, shareholders, et cetera benefit from it, that’s all good. We could not have done it by ourselves, so that’s why I have no regrets by any mean. On the contrary, I’m really happy that we did it, because it enabled the opportunity to blossom.
KD: That’s a great word. It’s a good mindset to have and I should have expected nothing less from you knowing how your mind thinks. Jean-Luc, such a pleasure. I appreciate you and your time on the show and I wish you all the best in all of your innovations in the future.
JD: Thank you so much. It was a pleasure meeting you.
© 2021 The Crux Podcast. The Crux Podcast is a production of The Brand Leader out of Greenville, South Carolina. For more information on the show or to be a guest, visit us at thecruxpodcast.com.