Innovation through problem solving – Interview with the material manager at On
When shutting down the world and working from home became the norm, so did training. We have a no shoes rules in our house and constantly standing on hardwood was killing my feet. I was initially wearing Nikes inside to help me with support until my friend introduced me Ona performance running shoe and apparel brand born in the Swiss Alps over a decade ago.
Once you see On shoes, you can’t see them anymore. And once you wear them, you can’t forget how they feel. We’re based on the radical idea that while racing, soft landings should be followed by explosive takeoffs, or what they call running on clouds.
“I knew On as shoes with holes in them,” said James Thompson, On’s global materials manager.
We were founded by former professional athlete Olivier Bernhard and his friends David Allemann and Caspar Coppetti.
“We’re not necessarily trying to compete with anybody. Olivier was a world-class athlete who saw a problem and tried to solve it. It’s an attitude we have about all of our products. We’re less concerned with what Nike releases and more concerned with fixing a problem that hasn’t been fixed,” James explained during our interview.
Make no mistake, We’re making a high-performance shoe founded by a multiple Ironman winner (in Olivier) and invested in by arguably the greatest tennis champion of all time, in Roger Federer. Federer’s title is co-entrepreneur and his unique background lends itself to product development.
In addition to Nikes, I have also worn several Allbirds and Brooks. On fast cloud model has found the balance between support and performance without smothering my feet. Besides wearing them indoors on hardwood, I also use them for high-intensity workouts in the garage and short-distance runs on the sidewalk.
I was explaining to James how I also wore them for running errands with these unique running pants that look like layers of material.
“They are literally called The running pants. There are no frills, these are the ultimate running pants. You will notice the different mesh inserts and inserts for breathability. We have inserted panels to have different material compositions where you need them. It’s a real centerpiece for us to build on and everything we do with the apparel is in conjunction with our sports science team who are focused on biometric data and athlete feedback to help inform how we should design our products,” he explained.
After graduating from the London College of Fashion, James got an internship in New York at what he coined the king of fabrics, Marc Jacobs. Since he couldn’t afford to move, he wrote a handwritten letter to his grandmother telling her about the opportunity which turned out to be a great lesson.
“The internship allowed me to observe the functioning of the design and production teams. It wasn’t that I necessarily learned to sew there, I got to learn how a business really works and that was invaluable. Imagine if I didn’t apply for the internship because I didn’t have the money? The best advice I can give is that you can find money anywhere. Have a vision for yourself and don’t say no.
James then worked for brands like Hunter and Puma. More recently, he has put his experience at Jaguar Land Rover to good use. His friends thought he was crazy because he had no automotive experience.
“A car is just a four-wheeled shoe,” he explained.
Hearing about James’ background and his enthusiasm for the future of On was truly inspiring, as was the work they’ve done with world-class athletes like Tim Don (documentary below). Although I’m not getting into an Ironman anytime soon, the Cloudswifts have been one of the most comfortable shoes I’ve worn and I’m thrilled to be able to wear them all day. As the future of work and life continues to fade, this is a tool I can include in my “work from home” essentials.