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38// How Hoka Uses Collaborations to Become a Lifestyle Brand
On Hoka & Satisfy’s Clifton Collaboration
Before we begin, a bit of housekeeping.
You may notice few changes around here.
I’ve been doing a lot of work and thinking in the background on how I can take Trailmix to the next level. To become a bit more professional, if you will.
This starts with working on the brand. I worked with a great friend and brilliant designer Ben Sewell (who doesn’t have a website yet) on redesigning the Trailmix logo. I’ve also started an Instagram and LinkedIn to spread the word more and develop the visual side to the newsletter.
It is just me making these visuals, so they’re unlikely to be consistent, nor necessarily nice looking, but I’m excited to give this a go. As always, I would really appreciate any following, sharing, liking - you know the drill :)
Secondly, that last post really struck on something. It was either my mention of Gilmore Girls or a growing appreciation of writing in trail running that goes beyond the storyline and delves into the analysis.
Some of you regular readers made some insightful additions in the comments:
Outstanding UTMB fracas summary!
A strongly supporting example would be World Pro Tour in cycling, whereby the big events that drive the sport, including the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia, and Vuelta a España, are privately owned (mostly by the same company that owns the Tour). They sign massive TV contracts then mostly keep the revenue, so quite surprisingly, the famous cycling teams including the star riders we all have heard of rely on corporate sponsorship for revenue. Neither Vingegaard and Pogacar, nor Walmsley and Dauwalter, can support themselves from the famous races they win; corporations make it happen, creating an odd dynamic that leads to the fray being discussed.
"Sponsorship" is what we take for granted in MUT running, while it actually is a very uncommon revenue stream. Another topic.
Jeff Calvert (Co-Founder of Eastern States 100)
"These arguments quickly go into a ‘who said what and when’ discussion, but regardless UTMB steamed on ahead knowing full well that it would be seen as displacing Gary’s race"
This idea was part of the debate we had within our race board on Saturday morning as we were deciding whether Eastern States 100 was going to continue its (admittedly tiny) relationship with UTMB. We wanted to be fair and hear the other side of the story, but we ultimately decided that exactly what you say here: there really was nothing that would make the situation defensible, regardless of the technical details. We ended up cutting ties.
For more on Jeff’s side of the story read his excellent post here:
“On a US level, where does the American Trail Running Association come into this?
Taken from their website:
"The American Trail Running Association, ATRA, was formed in mid-1996 as a Colorado not for profit corporation to serve the mountain, ultra & trail (MUT) running community. Our mission is to represent and promote mountain, ultra & trail running."”
The story evolved over the course of the past two weeks, with UTMB releasing a statement and IRunFar writing a detailed piece that received over 79 comments. Whilst we have more of an insight into UTMB’s side of the story there is still an inconsistency in the timeline of events that gives an unsatisfactory end to what actually went down in Whistler.
This week we explore why Hoka has been collaborating with Satisfy and other brands that sit at the intersection of lifestyle, fashion and running and what goes into their decision making.
Currently, the common comment amongst running brands in investor calls is that they’re moving into ‘lifestyle’ or ‘streetwear’. It’s a soothing balm for investors concerned that their investment isn’t reaching into younger or more general audiences.
How this claim gets translated into a marketing tactic is through collaborations with a variety of if-you-know-you-know brands. I say IYKYK, although often these brands are so deep in a niche that it’s hard to find anyone who actually knows them (Opening Ceremony or thisisneverthat, anyone?). But my lack of street cred is beside the point, this is a tactic that’s such a well-worn groove that there are Instagram handles dedicated to showcasing the intersection of fashion, streetwear and running.
Enter this week’s collaboration du jour – Satisfy and Hoka’s collaboration on the Clifton 9s. For the full hypebeast experience and wavy descriptions of the shoes, I’d recommend this article. They look nice.
The reality is these drops will make a marginal dent in both of their income, but the long-term benefits for both parties are why this model has become so prevalent across the running industry. For both brands collaborations are an experiment in narrative building, innovation and market expansion (alongside the opportunity for the uncool brand to look slightly cooler). That is if they work.
For Satisfy, as a relatively new brand with a smaller but no less avid fan base than Hoka, the partnership is a goldmine for them. Importantly, collaborating with HOKA provides exposure to a wider audience. HOKA's loyal customer base becomes aware of Satisfy, leading to increased visibility. The ensuing social media hype cycle, press releases, and joint marketing efforts amplify the brand's reach beyond what they could traditionally afford through paid media. Suddenly, a niche label gains global attention.
For many newer brands collaboration is one of the biggest drivers of exposure after paid media costs have skyrocketed since the pandemic, shrinking already tight margins. For smaller brands, collaborations work seamlessly with the dopamine highs of social media - tease, create exclusivity, drop a small batch, ride the temporary attention spike before moving on the next campaign - without spending much on advertising.
For a brand like Hoka, who whilst are bigger than Satisfy, are still relatively young compared to Nike, awareness is still part of the reason they collaborate. “For us, they are are about building awareness, surprising, delighting. The piece that is the most exciting is when somebody comes across it can bring a smile, it’s going to create some intrigue, maybe it’s going to get them to search out the brand and ultimately become an aficionado,” explained Steve Doolan, Hoka VP of global commercial strategy.
However, Hoka has specifically been partnering with up to 6 brands per year recently to enter the lifestyle market. In an article earlier this year, Travis Wiseman, Hoka’s director of lifestyle product, mentioned that some of their partnerships have been ‘conservative efforts to enter the lifestyle space’ but are all founded on an innate connection between the brands and audiences. Separately Wiseman elaborated that “from a product standpoint, I think it's really big as the category grows that we continue to show the brand in a different light. Both the Hopara from Brain Dead and the Tors from Bodega very much stayed true to the original silhouettes, but we found different materials and colors to lean both of those projects into the streetwear space. Many consumers are aware of us as a running brand, as a trail brand, but we're also a lifestyle brand.”
Hoka have been able to ride the popularity that chunky functional footwear have had in fashion / Gorpcore circles (Gorpcore for those that don’t know stands for Good old raisins and peanuts… don’t worry, we’ll cover it some other time) so lifestyle and fashion brands have been more willing to partner with Hoka. Yet as Wiseman mentioned above, collaborations allow Hoka to infuse fresh ideas and innovative design elements into their footwear. By partnering with other brands, they can explore new materials, technologies, and aesthetics that might not be part of their core expertise.
This freshness not only keeps Hoka culturally relevant and in the news cycle, but allows them to tell their brand story in a different light. Doolan emphasised that there’s a mutual benefit for both brands and consumers. “The consumer benefits as they get a product that’s better thought through than an in-line offering and executed with a greater sense of detail and storytelling. The product has a sense of ‘special,’ and loyal supporters of both brands feel rewarded.”
In this case, the partnership with Satisfy elevates the Cliftons from functional footwear to shoes with a backstory. The exclusivity transforms Hoka’s standard issue everyday trainers into cultural artefacts that connect with different sub-cultures and trends.
Don’t get me wrong, this singular drop is unlikely to change the trajectory of Hoka, just like all of their other drops before. However, the story that Hoka has been carefully crafting over time, along with their expanding range of lifestyle products, will be what really propels the company's expansion. The drops are just another way to enter into the world of Hoka.
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