The concept is simple: What tires are to cars, outsoles are to shoes. That’s why some leading footwear brands that serve high-performance sports are increasingly partnering with Michelin, the 128-year-old tire manufacturer.
The company, known for aircraft, car and heavy-equipment tires, entered the footwear market in 2014 with Michelin Technical Soles, a division devoted to offering innovative solutions for shoe brands. It provides uniquely designed outsoles for around 21 exclusive partners, among them Columbia, Dickies, Mizuno and Under Armour.
“We specialize in customizing technical outsoles to the specific needs of footwear manufacturers and their targeted end-users,” said Filippo Sartor, partnership development manager. “Our technical solutions continue improving year after year.” With design development based in Verona, Italy, and manufacturing in China, Michelin’s team works with brands to create an optimized sole that matches the shoe’s upper.
“Columbia’s Canuk Titanium Omni-Heat OutDry Extreme boot is the first shoe with Michelin Ice Control Technology,” Sartor said. “And Under Armour’s Fat Tire shoe is our most iconic product.”
Sartor noted that running, trail running and the active-sport categories are “an ever-expanding segment” of the market for Michelin.
Baltimore-based Under Armour, for instance, enlisted Michelin in an ongoing relationship to optimize its Fat Tire 3 trail runner, Horizon KTV trail runner and Verge 2.0 hiker. According to Danielle Daly, senior manager of global communications and entertainment, the sportswear brand wanted to “leverage Michelin’s world-renowned expertise in lug design and rubber compounding to create a disruptive outsole that can handle the toughest terrain.”
Indeed, Michelin’s reputation is attracting more footwear labels seeking its leading-edge technology, but also for co-branding opportunities that can entice outdoor enthusiasts.
According to Global Rep-Trak’s 2017 rankings of the world’s 100 most reputable brands, Michelin holds the No. 13 spot — between Levi Strauss & Co. (14) and BMW Group (12). It is also the leading tire manufacturer on the list, besting competitors Goodyear and Bridgestone, which rank 29 and 30, respectively.
Lake Forest, Calif.-based Etnies is one of Michelin’s latest partners and is its exclusive shoe brand in the skate category.
In January, Etnies debuted its most durable performance model ever — an enhanced version of its popular Marana style.
The Marana was already considered a leader in durability, but it had a design flaw: The shoe’s powerfully constructed upper would outlast the outsole, which would wear out after about 23 days of use by pro rider Chris Joslin and after three months for the average daily skater.
It was an anomaly that “had not been seen before,” said James Appleby, Etnies’ VP of sales and e-commerce.
“Traditionally the upper can never outlast the outsole,” Appleby explained. “We had a unique challenge for Michelin, to provide a compound that would not lose any of its existing properties but would add more durability to the outsole.”
Michelin delivered a solution: an optimized outsole that lasts three times longer than the original Marana. It also provided cutting-edge design ideas inspired by its rally racing tires.
“They suggested a combination of tread patterns taken from their high-performance tire archive that provided better flexibility, extreme grip in dusty conditions and rigidity in areas of the sole to protect against primo landings,” Appleby said, referring to when a skater lands on the upturned edge of the deck.
Etnies considers the new Marana Michelin to be the “world’s toughest skate shoe,” and it is now the brand’s top seller in the skateboarding category. “To become a volume shoe at $75 retail in skateboard-only retailers is an exciting step for Etnies. This is why the relationship is long-term,” Appleby said. “We are excited to work on the next compound and outsole design to enhance another product with technology that would not be possible in normal production.”