Sport brand On drops recyclable running shoes available to subscribers only
The Cyclon concept may well prompt a fresh wind of change to blow through the sport equipment distribution landscape. The subscription model is not a novelty in the industry, after Nike introduced it last year for its children's range. It is now the turn of Swiss sport equipment brand On, founded in Zurich in 2010, to test the opportunities afforded by the subscription segment.
On is growing by leaps and bounds, and caught the public’s eye last year, when tennis legend Roger Federer linked up with the brand, both as ambassador and financial partner. On Tuesday, On introduced Cyclon, an innovative range of recycled products designed with circularity as their distinguishing feature.
The first product launched on the market is the Cyclon running shoe model, available for a monthly subscription fee of €29.95.
“It's a genuine challenge, and we don’t know whether customers will embrace it. In the industry, sustainability and performance are virtually regarded as polar opposites,” Caspar Coppetti, On’s co-founder with Olivier Bernhard and David Allemann, told FashionNetwork.com.
“We are based close to Switzerland's Alpine glaciers. They are part of our landscape. So we decided to fight against climate change. The sport equipment industry has been very slow in adopting new practices. We wanted to show it’s possible to create sustainable shoes that deliver on the performance front. The Cyclon model weighs less than 200 gr (7.05 oz), and has exceptional cushioning and energy return properties. It will be the model used by [Swiss] athletes at the Tokyo Olympic Games,” said Coppetti.
Shoes optimised for recycling
On’s declared objective is to drastically cut waste generation and the use of crude oil derivates. Accordingly, 50% of the materials used to produce Cyclon shoes are bio-based materials sourced from castor beans, developed with chemicals giant Arkema.
Above all, On is set on adopting a fully circular production model. “On’s standard shoes are made up of approximately 150 parts. In theory, it should be possible to recycle them, but in practice, it’s impossible,” said Coppetti. “With Cyclon, we are using two materials that are very similar. To recycle them, we simply need to mash them up and melt them, in order to be able to reuse them. We had to come up with a clever design concept, but in the end it takes us far fewer production steps to manufacture these shoes,” he added.
On isn’t the only brand developing sport shoes made with recycled materials, and circularity is on the agenda of other leading sport industry names. Salomon recently presented the Index 01 shoes, developed by Oliver Mouzin, in charge of the circularity team at Salomon Footwear. The model will be available next spring.
Three years ago, Adidas staked its claim by dropping the Loop shoes, made with a set of materials which can be reintroduced in the product's value chain.
“Having this kind of competition is stimulating,” said Coppetti, adding that “the point is that Cyclon isn’t just a concept, it’s a reality, ready for large-scale production. We’re expecting between 30,000 and 50,000 orders by the end of the year. We learned from the Adidas Loop experience. Adidas launched one version, but collectors held on to the shoes, which were never returned. The general consensus is that, once a pair of shoes is worn out, people either bin it or, more frequently, leave it in the cellar. Our idea is that, depending on how intensely subscribers utilise their shoes, they will receive a new, next-generation model in six to nine months, and they will send the used pair back for recycling.”
On is facing a significant challenge, but the brand has been growing at an astounding pace. Despite the impact of the Covid-19 crisis, sport practitioners have embraced running and, according to Coppetti, On’s revenue is rising at a rate of 60% compared to 2019. On is currently distributed in over 50 countries, via some 6,000 retailers. With Cyclon, despite having a loyal customer community, On will need to convince its fans to adopt the new subscription approach, making the notion of ownership of a pair of running shoes obsolete. Nevertheless, as the market is in the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic, sustainability remains a crucial concept, and On’s gamble may well be a winning one.
The goal is for the Cyclon shoes’ output to reach 150,000 pairs next year, about 5% of On’s total output of running shoes. On has also said it is able to utilise its recycled materials to produce t-shirts and tights, and announced that other categories will be introduced with a subscription model.
Coppetti indicated that On is willing to let others benefit from its technological innovations. “It makes no sense to keep it all for us. All brands ought to have access to this technology in future. Because we must solve the product utilisation problem together, as an industry,” he said.
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