For years, athletic brands catered to time-crunched consumers’ appetite for shoes they could easily pull on and off. Tying shoelaces, for some people, is often an irritant — particularly for the parents of young children. And for the elderly, disabled, sick or pregnant, the act of bending down to tie laces may also be physically challenging or even impossible. Then there are athletes, for whom an ill-fitting or hard-to-adjust shoe could impact their performance.
But the popularity of laceless shoes — think Nike HyperAdapt, Vans slip-ons or anything with Velcro — has given rise to another cottage industry: companies that make tie-free lacing systems.
Hickies, for one, developed a set of thermal-plastic polymer fastenings that can be threaded through a shoe’s eyelets in various creative ways for customized tightness and fit. Caterpy’s offering looks the most like a conventional lace but with a series of bumps along its length that hold it in place, without the need for a knot or bow.
“You thread like normal but you can control tension per row throughout the whole shoe,” said Anthony Pong, managing partner at Caterpy. “You can make each row tighter or looser to match your foot shape, if you have certain foot pains or wide feet. They also make your shoes into slip-on shoes without breaking the heel, as the laces are elastic.”
The B2B company Boa Technology created a fit system specifically for the most challenging activities and environments in the world. A dial system controls laces that run throughout the shoe, which can be adjusted for tension as needed by the user. The product offering ranges from the high-powered H Series, which brands have incorporated into footwear for snowboarding and ski mountaineering, to the low-powered L Series that is used in trail running and golf shoes.
“Historically, if you looked at closure systems, you were trying to effectively close a product — you weren’t thinking of its performance features,” said Shawn Neville, CEO at Boa. “If you have a lace or Velcro, you have to stop and completely redo your product. With Boa, you can dial in your fit in seconds.”
Footwear innovators have largely targeted athletes first, due to the emphasis placed on performance and edging out the competition. At Boa, the company has designed its products with the elite athlete in mind and is planning to reduce its number of brand partners in order to focus on quality and innovation. The athletes who push the technology to the limit are showcased in Boa’s Pioneers campaign; among them are extreme alpinist Max Berger, who recently paraglided off the peak of mountain K-2.
For direct-to-consumer Caterpy, the decision to focus on the U.S. athletic market also provided an opportunity to rebrand. Originally founded in Japan, Caterpy swapped its colorful, cartoon-heavy messaging for a performance-based campaign that has been adopted in all its global markets. While the company still retains a strong customer base in the elderly and disabled, it is growing its sponsorship deals and is planning to expand its colorways to attract a younger, sports-focused market.
“Our inventor was an avid marathon runner,” said Pong. “In Japan, we have a partnership with Asics, we’re the official shoelace of Spartan — the same company as American Ninja Warrior — and we also sponsor the world record holder for Ironman right now, Matt Hanson.”
Not everyone is competing at the level of an Ironman participant, but alternatives to shoelaces are still growing in popularity for use in casualwear. While Hickies maintains that its users have worn the product for marathons and triathlons, it places an emphasis on aesthetics. In addition to the main and kids’ collections, Hickies launched a partnership collection with Swarovski that features crystals embedded in the strap. It also releases a limited-edition “color of the month” product; due to their popularity, the soft pink and translucent styles have since been made available year-round. Well-known wearers include Gigi Hadid and Jessica Alba.
“A lot of the stuff we see out there, it feels bulky, it looks bulky and intrusive,” said Keith Martine, marketing manager at Hickies. “What we want to provide is the option to put some innovation in your shoes, some customization, that can either blend in or stand out.”
Watch the video below for advice on how to take care of your sneakers in the summer months:
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