5 Questions for Ecco’s Alexander Nicolai

Ecco was one of the first shoemakers to get into the natural-motion game with the spring ’09 launch of its performance running Biom line. Since then, the company has grown the collection to including walking shoes, in-gym footwear and golf styles, all of which maintain the line’s focus on ground feel and flexibility. And Alexander Nicolai, senior product manager for performance at the Danish company, said there’s room for more. Here, Nicolai talks Biom’s roots, growing the business and where minimal goes from here.

1. What made you think there was a place in the market for the Biom line?
AN: In development, Biom started purely in running. In 2009, when we launched it, [running shoes] were overbuilt. There was too much cushioning, too much motion control. We wanted to create a shoe that was lower to the ground and more flexible, but at same time, we wanted to support the foot with anatomical last shapes.

2. The last year has seen a lot of growth in the minimalist sphere. How has Ecco expanded the Biom collection?
AN: In 2011, the whole market exploded, and every brand was getting into [it]. We launched the Biom Fitness trainer and the first natural-motion [Biom Golf]. And for next spring, we’re debuting our most minimalistic product, Biom Lite, and Biom Trail. We are aiming for optimal support of the foot in different positions and for different sports. We’re going a little bit away from the pure minimalistic trend, to what is needed for the foot. On the trail, [it might be] too dangerous to run in something too minimalistic — you need a little more footwear. We want to simply stay on the more flexible side and lower to the ground.

3. Has that growth been positive for your business?
AN: The big explosion was, for us, a benefit, because understanding on the consumer side is growing, [especially] as other brands promote this [category]. In the beginning, we were pretty much alone, so it was a lot tougher to [educate] the consumer. But the competition [also] gets much tougher, so we need to keep on developing and evolving. We will have a new generation of running shoes in 2013 and some new [categories] in 2012, as well.

4. How do you maintain a solid identity for the line as you move away from purely minimal styles?
AN: We don’t work with any harder materials to support the foot. It’s just based on natural shapes inspired by the foot. We don’t go back to motion control. It’s more of an approach to [follow the] shape of the shoe, thereby offering a more natural approach to the foot. And overall, that’s where this trend will evolve in the future. Right now, it’s a big trend to go minimalist, but over the long term … the industry will evolve.

5. As you expand, how important will the running segment be?
AN: The running category is definitely the driver of this trend. That’s where it all started. But the idea of natural motion is adaptable to all segments. And we’ll also launch in 2012 a Biom Lite kids’ shoe. It makes sense for kids’ feet [because] they depend on the input they’re getting.

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