For a decade, footwear industry veterans Nick Martire and Willa Leus-Martire — avid trail runners who grew dissatisfied with the shoes on the market — discussed creating a premium off-road-ready brand of their own.
“We’ve bounced the idea for 10 years but every time I would say, ‘What’s our technology? What’s our thing going to be?’” Nick recalled.
Those ideas began to take shape when Nick, accompanied by design vet Louis Tremblay, went to international trade show MICAM Milano in February 2020. At the event, the two became enamored with Dyneema, maker of a high-strength and ultralight fiber.
Less than a month later, with COVID-19 forcing people indoors, the husband-and-wife duo — whose industry experience includes stints at Aldo, Authentic Brands Group, Pretty Ballerinas and more — decided to create Norda. Their team now also includes Tremblay as head of design and Gerard Cleal in the brand and creative director roles.
For many startups, the pandemic forced heavy delays. But for Norda, it actually contributed to big strides in product development.
“It slowed everything down,” recalled Nick. “I couldn’t get through to all these people, and then suddenly people are sitting at home in their living rooms looking for stuff to do. The head of Dyneema was calling me weekly from his house. Prior to that, I was filling out forms online and I wasn’t getting through to anyone.”
Willa added, “The same with Vibram. We forged a personal relationship with that company because at that moment in time, people had more time to connect with people like us. Otherwise, they’d be too busy with their big brands and companies.”
In July 2021, Norda released its first shoe, the 001, a trail-ready style built with premium components for the off-road runner seeking superior quality. The 001 features seamless uppers made with sustainable, biobased Dyneema Fibers, which are both Bluesign and ISCC approved. Dyneema is also used on the laces, which Norda said are four times stronger than traditional laces and offer higher abrasion resistance. The uppers sit atop lightweight and durable Vibram SLE midsoles and Vibram Megagrip outsoles made for all terrains that use the company’s Litebase tech that reduces the outsole weight by 30%.
The 001 retails for $285 and the winterized 001 G+ Spike version comes with a $355 price tag.
This year, Norda will expand its footwear offering with two new silhouettes — 002 and 003.
Arriving first is the 002, a shoe that Nick described as a complement to the 001. It will feature a lower stack height and a lighter weight than its predecessor, as well as a closer ground feel. Also, the Vibram outsoles on the 002 feature the topographical map of Montreal on the tread. In terms of sustainability, Nick said both the uppers and laces are biobased recycled.
The brand is currently sold in roughly 150 doors globally. According to Nick, over half of Norda’s business is outside the U.S. and Canada, and its strongest region is Asia, which accounts for 30% of sales.
The brand’s strategy, he explained, is to secure the best running store in each market first. Some of its top accounts so far include Distance in Paris, Runaway in Milano and Achilles Heel in Glasgow, U.K. It also is working with several highly influential fashion and sneaker retailers such as Ssense, Mr Porter, Beams, Extra Butter and Lane Crawford. And in January, it will debut at both Kith and Dover Street Market.
“The people who like the latest materials jumped all over us at the beginning and we got picked up by some of the most premium lifestyle shops around the world,” Nick said.
Norda, however, will not sell to larger chains.
“Independent stores, they have a loyal clientele and they’re excellent at educating their customers. That’s key for us,” Nick said.
Ankur Amin, CEO of Extra Butter parent company TGS, said the store brought in Norda after seeing its community show interest in the outdoor and trail experience. “We wanted to offer an elevated assortment in that category,” he said. “Our consumers also take a keen interest in supporting environmentally responsible brands. Norda is focused on leaving a lighter footprint, and they are obsessed with durability and performance, and that aligns with us and our consumers alike.”