How Brands and Running Stores Will Be Impacted if Nike’s Controversial Vaporfly Shoes Are Banned

Several reports surfaced today that World Athletics may potentially ban Nike’s Vaporfly shoes, which are equipped with a controversial carbon-fiber plate technology that marathoners are shattering records in. If the ban goes through, industry insiders believe it could adversely impact performance running brands that are experimenting with similar innovations.

The tech used in the Nike sneakers employs responsive cushioning and a carbon-fiber plate to provide a propulsion sensation, allowing runners to exert less energy and make the most of the energy they’re expending, all of which enables them to run faster.

Given the success the Swoosh has experienced with the tech, The NPD Group senior sports industry adviser Matt Powell said other industry insiders have told him there’s an “arms race around carbon plates” and that “everyone is trying to develop one.” And with chatter of what’s to come — and what’s already in the market — from running’s top players, they may be on to something.

Hoka One One has a shoe in stores now, the Carbon X, which features a carbon-fiber plate to offer the runner a smooth transition. And Naperville Running Co. owner Kris Hartner said he’s seen upcoming collections featuring similar technology from brands such as Brooks, Saucony, Asics and New Balance.

Although there are several brands entering the mix, Powell told FN that Nike could fare far better financially than smaller companies if a shoe is banned at the highest level of the sport.

“It costs a lot of money to develop a new product in footwear, the [research and development] expenses are very high, and a brand like Nike could absorb those costs and nobody would ever see it,” Powell said. “But a smaller brand [that has] sunk a lot of money into R&D on a product that now may not be as [commercially] viable as expected, that’s a big hit for them.”

Although the sneaker may not perform as well in stores because of the ban at the professional level, Powell said that, if the brand has the shoes in the pipeline, they should still try to get them on retail shelves.

“I think brands will still go through with [making them], but I think they’ll revise how many pairs they make,” Powell said. “If I’m a brand [and] I’ve got a sunk cost in this, I’ve got to put some shoes in the market and see how they do. But if my expectation was X two weeks ago, it’s much less today.”

Regardless of whether there’s a ban or not, Hartner doesn’t think it will deter brands from pushing the tech envelope.

“It would put some wrenches in their plans in how many they’re going to sell, how many they’re forecasting and planning,” Hartner said. “But I don’t think it’s going to stop them from making them.”

Genie Beaver, owner of Atlanta-based West Stride, isn’t so sure.

“There’s stuff in the pipeline, so I’m sure there are shoes that will go through as they are,” Beaver said. “But if they’re banned, I’m guessing [that] longer-term it will impact how shoes are designed. [Runners] like to see technology and innovation in footwear. I have a feeling that banning it would put the kibosh on some other really cool things that are happening out there, from Nike and other brands. I’d hate to see that all end.”

Although brands may be adversely impacted by a ban, storeowners don’t believe they’ll be too hurt by it.

The Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next% that’s on the market now retails for $250 and the Hoka One One Carbon X isn’t too far behind with a $180 price point. Given the elevated price of shoes with top-tier tech, it’s a safe assumption that the models from other companies will be in the same ballpark. Because of this, they’re not the most purchased looks in specialty retail, and not what stores are stocking most.

Hartner admitted that the Nike Vaporfly shoes account for just 5% or 10% of what he orders from Nike.

“If they go away, we’ll just put those dollars into other shoes,” Hartner said.

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