Why These Athletic Industry Vets Left Some Very Big Brands to Launch a $375 Trail Running Shoe On Their Own

Dave Dombrow and Kevin Fallon have worked alongside each other for more than 20 years, crossing paths at industry giants Nike, Puma, and most recently, Under Armour. Now, the industry veterans are working on a joint venture, Speedland, with a focus on the booming outdoor market.

“This is our opportunity to create our own system and our own set of values. That’s very different than working within a company,” Fallon told FN. “We wanted to do things differently in all aspects. Our approach to footwear and problem-solving are very difficult to do within a big brand.”

Unable to work elsewhere for a year due to a noncompete, with Dombrow and Fallon leaving Under Armour in March and April 2019, respectively, the two finetuned a plan for Speedland. Its focus is on outdoor adventurers, specifically people who are intimately familiar with 50Ks and 100-mile races, and not foreign to spending five to 15 hours a day in nature.

Also during the year, Dombrow and Fallon worked on Speedland’s debut shoe, the SL:PDX, which is a tech-loaded trail runner built with premium materials that comes with a $375 price tag.

The Speedland SL:PDX comes equipped with knit uppers made using lightweight and strong Dyneema material, what the execs call the most advanced BOA Fit System to date — and lightweight and soft Pebax midsoles. Also, to make the shoe custom to the wearer, it is built with PerformFit Wrap for a dialed in fit, a removable Carbitex carbon fiber plate and Michelin outsoles with cuttable lugs to offer a customizable ride.

“There’s a lot of ways you can customize this platform. It’s more like equipment. You can do a lot with this one silhouette,” Dombrow told FN. “The build can be customized pretty dramatically for different runners, different regions, different terrains. The shoe will run great right out of the gate, but if you want to tune it, you have that ability. This shoe is just not out there right now.”

Also, the shoe was built with sustainability in mind. Speedland explained that the SL:PDX can be deconstructed simply, and each layer can be separated and distributed to its specific recycling facility at the end of its lifespan.

Speedland SL:PDX
The components of the Speedland SL:PDX.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Speedland

Although the plan was in place, executing on it amid a pandemic was not ideal for a starting company. For starters, Dombrow and Fallon said being unable to travel to Asia to accelerate the development and production process was challenging, and opting for Zoom meetings, calls, detailed emails and PDFs was cumbersome. And getting product to the athletes who would be testing it proved to be difficult.

Although labor-intensive, it was a must to deliver on their no compromise approach to trail. It also made their relationships with the athletes who were testing the shoe stronger.

“We failed a lot in the process, there was a lot of breaking stuff to make it work. If you talk to some of our athletes, you would see mounds of testing shoes to get to a good spot,” Dombrow said. “But we’ve been at a few different companies, and this is probably the closest relationship between designer and athletes than I’ve ever seen. We would travel to the athletes, we’d get shoes made in their size and go visit them to have them try them on.”

The pre-order for the Speedland SL:PDX is available to U.S. customers via Runspeedland.com. The shoes will be delivered mid-August. Although the shoe will release solely via direct-to-consumer now, Dombrow confirmed he and Fallon are open to selling in run specialty shops that can showcase the product in the right way.

Sales of the Speedland SL:PDX will also has a charitable component. Ten percent of all profits from the shoe will go to its partners’ respected outdoor and trail foundations.

Looking ahead, Dombrow said consumers should not expect a broad product range from Speedland without catering to the specific needs of athletes.

“Every time we release something, it will be very targeted,” Dombrow said. “It could almost be a different customized version of this shoe, maybe it will be altered with every drop. But we will only make additions when the athlete is asking for additions. If they say, ‘I need a recovery shoe,’ then we’ll talk about that, and if there’s a reason to do it, then we’ll do it.”

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