With the 2019 TCS New York City Marathon days away, the running company opened its first-ever pop-up store in the Big Apple, foregoing the expo at the Javits Center to offer a full brand experience at 93 Mercer Street. (The pop-up opened Oct. 31 and will remain open until Nov. 4.) Included in the performance product range on sale at the location is a fresh collaborative lineup with Opening Ceremony.
With the pop-up open and the collab available for purchase, Hoka One One VP of marketing Lee Cox spoke with FN about the brand venturing into new territory and addressed more pressing issues such as sustainability and diversity and inclusion.
Footwear News: Why use the NYC Marathon as the launch point for your pop-up debut?
Lee Cox: “I’ve been coming to New York for 20-something years and you know what you get. The entire city is hyper aware of what happens this weekend so it allows you to tap into something that’s organic and then you amplify with activations, it will drive traffic and awareness to what you’re doing. Every New Yorker is going, ‘Oh, it’s New York City Marathon week, I can’t drive that way or go to that neighborhood or if I want to watch it I can go experience it.’”
What are your goals with this pop-up?
LC: “Just to do something different. Most running brands show up at the Javits Center and do the traditional expo. Last year we did a lot of research, we did some homework, and there’s a lot of small vertical brands doing pop-ups. We won’t bank on revenue for Javits, it’s about branding, so we wanted to approach New York differently. It’s a test and learn.”
Do you have a presence at the Javits Center for the marathon?
LC: “No, we just said we need to completely walk away and do something fresh and learn versus just a little bit of a dabble test.”
Given the energy pop-ups create will they be part of Hoka’s strategy moving forward?
LC: “Pop-ups will be a test and learn, it won’t be a baked in [thing]. It’s about providing unique experiences, this allows us to do something different. I walked in here and I’ve never seen Hoka presented this way — I saw the schematics and plans, but didn’t see this physically. It’s giving consumers a way to see Hoka in a different light and see the entire brand, not just seeing six shoes on a wall. When you go to an expo you have a reality of space, so being able to present the brand in its entirety is cool.”
Why did you choose to launch the Opening Ceremony collab here? Is Hoka taking cues from the streetwear world and using a collab to generate more excitement?
LC: “Launching it here is about buzz, for sure, but it’s also just showing the brand differently and showing how it fits with the entire collection. [The Opening Ceremony collab] is one of the many components that’s fueling the brand, but it isn’t just about that one launch. It’s about showing how it fits in and seeing it packaged with things you typically wouldn’t see it packaged with, presented on the table with all the products you wouldn’t [normally] see it sitting around to show how it all fits together. [And] we don’t segment the brand. We’re like, ‘Hey. this is the brand, we’re not going to force someone in or out with different products. At the end of the day, psychographically, if someone is running a marathon or just wants something [stylish and] unique, they’re actually looking for something very similar, and it’s that unique experience.”
What are the big initiatives for the rest of 2019 and into early 2020?
LC: “Being consistent, doing what we’re doing, keeping the unexpected aspect like a pop-up, like a collaboration. We love collaborations because it brings a new consumer, brings a different viewpoint and style to the brand. You can be very protective of your brand but also be very open about someone else’s interpretation as a benefit, not a negative. The stronger the brand partner is the stronger we are. We’ve got Opening Ceremony, Outdoor Voices, those are the big drivers. And we’ve got stuff on the burner — there’s never not a conversation going on.”
How is Hoka faring with the China tariff situation?
LC: “We have very little manufacturing in China, and in fact at Deckers it’s less than 18%. Deckers made some calls early on, saw some of these signals a while ago. Hoka is almost 0%, so we’re not impacted at all.”
There’s a lot of talk in the industry surrounding sustainability. What is Hoka doing to take this on?
LC: “Deckers kicked off a couple years ago sustainability as part of our corporate responsibilities and all of the brands have thresholds that we’re going after each year to start building more sustainable, more recycled materials into the uppers — like the Sky products in 2020 will start using more upper materials that are recycled. The harsh reality about the footwear industry is foam. Some brands have done a really good job moving out of foam, but foam is not the most environmentally conscious material. But we have an innovation team that’s hyper-focused on these types of solutions. We have a long way to go before we start bragging about what we’re doing, we’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”
Diversity and inclusion is another pressing issue. How is Hoka addressing it?
LC: “There’s an industry problem. When I came into the industry, the running space was pretty much white male distance runners that got jobs at brands. Our industry is, ‘Hey, I know [this person], he’d be a great fit for this role.’ That’s not good hiring. This is a big topic on the [Hoka] team: how do you hire, where do you hire, how do you recruit, where do you recruit and also how you show the brand. You need to own it internally and externally, showing representation through your communications but also backing it up internally. Ultimately it’s always about hiring the best candidate but the industry has failed up to this point in how they recruit, how they hire, and it’s something we’ve taken seriously. We’re taking the brand to places where brands typically wouldn’t recruit, we have an HR department and a recruiting department that are challenging how we would typically recruit.”