Hello Michael, how’s Boston?
Best time of the year right now. Sunny, some waves, and the sharks are smaller than in Australia...
Can you explain a little about your background and what you do at Reebok?
I’m the Senior Director for Directional Design, managing a team of people focused on our revitalised Pump technology and creating truly innovative lifestyle and performance directional product. Gene McCarthy (SVP of Global Footwear) put this team together a couple of months ago to foster a creative environment leading to brand image driving product initiatives. I’m from Austria and I have a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering with a focus on combustion engine engineering. After college I worked in Germany on a BMW concept motorcycle. Then I had the awesome opportunity to live and work in Tokyo, Japan, for 2 years. After Japan I moved to New York City and got a Fulbright Scholarship to obtain a Master’s degree in Industrial Design.
My passion for footwear started with a design position at Reebok after graduate school, then I worked for AND 1, followed by almost 3 years at PUMA. I recently came back to Reebok in June 2005.
Can you talk about some other large projects you’re working on?
The current projects won’t be at retail before the beginning of 2006. Our main focus has been to create a consistent look for all Pump projects and push the envelope in terms of innovative constructions. We are also making a huge effort to satisfy the needs of our most fashion forward consumers by creating limited product initiatives targeted at a very selective trade channel. Redefining what’s possible with footwear design and engineering to stand out as a brand at the forefront of innovation, challenging what you know of Reebok as it currently exists.
So did you work at NASA?
I’m not sure they would have let an Austrian in there... Then again, Arnold made it all the way to Governor of California. No, but we have a very talented crew of engineers, designers and marketing experts with very exciting backgrounds in our Advanced Concepts team. One of the key people on that team (Bill McInnis) used to work for NASA a while back.
How do you think about performance when it comes to footwear?
Performance used to be defined as ‘something visible under your heel’, which the consumer had to see what they spent money on. I think this approach has dramatically changed over the last couple of years and Reebok is leading this development with the new Pump fit system. It is a very seamless approach to how technology is integrated into product but at the same time delivers the ultimate benefits in terms of truly customizable fit. I am also very intrigued by truly unexpected combinations of technology elements with lifestyle and fashion attributes. I recently saw a very conventional, impeccably executed two-button suit coat from one of the major fashion houses with a full GoreTex shell incorporated internally. Knowing that your product has it when you need it elevates your confidence and broadens the possible usage scenarios for that item.
The new Pump system comes in a few different variations. Broadly speaking, how is the new Pump system different to the old one?
The main difference and huge advantage of the new system is that it pumps itself up automatically within a couple of steps. It feels absolutely amazing... You put the shoe on and after about 5-10 steps the bladder is inflated to your personal fit requirements and needs. The system also constantly re-evaluates the existing pressure and depending on the activity and your personal foot shape readjusts automatically. The new Pump system is currently available in two variations. AUTO-OFF automatically pumps up the bladder to 5 psi to give you the most comfortable fit. If you are just hanging out, just turn it off for a more relaxed fit. ADJUSTABLE, new for 2006, allows you to set the valve to your personal preference. You can dial it from 0 psi up to 7 psi, or anywhere in-between, to get the ultimate in support.
Did you spend much time looking at the original Pump system?
Our Advanced Concepts team did all the development and engineering on this new system. There were a lot of lessons learned with the original Pump system that helped to improve the performance and benefits of the new version. A lot of research in regards to testing and feedback from athletes contributed to the evolution.
How does the ‘smart valve’ work?
I might already have explained some of this before, but the valve (if turned on) sets the pressure in the bladder automatically to 5 psi. The beauty of this is that if your left and right foot are different in size and shape (which they most likely are), the valve automatically controls the airflow into and out of the bladder to make sure the fit feels the same for both feet. The adjustable valve will be even more user-friendly because it’s up to the consumer to decide how loose or tight you want the fit to be. And once you find your favourite setting, you never have to reset it since the valve ‘remembers’ your personal preference.
What sort of consumer is attracted to the Wrapshear? Is it just runners who are in too much of a hurry to do up their laces?
I would say a tech-savvy consumer that approaches innovation and technology with an open mind. The Wrapshear was specifically designed to visually communicate the opportunities created by this new fit technology, that’s why you don’t see any laces on this product. Also, with the added benefits of the Pump system, laces are not really necessary anymore. There are obviously considerable time savings as well when you don’t have to lace up or stop to re-lace your shoes during a run. In the future we will offer a broader spectrum of Pump product in various categories to satisfy the needs and wants of various kinds of consumers.
Do you see it solely as a performance running shoe?
The current Pump product was designed with the ultimate in performance training in mind but definitely also appeals to the lifestyle consumer because of its unique aesthetic. Because of the better comfort and fit the Pump system provides, the athlete can train for a longer period without fatiguing. In the future we will expand our Pump technology into various parts of the business for both performance and lifestyle usage. And the possibilities are endless... Just think about the opportunities for this technology in apparel and accessories.
To what extent was the external design of the Wrapshear dictated by the integration of the new Smart Valve Pump system?
I didn’t personally design the shoe but the biggest impact the Pump system had on the Wrapshear design was definitely the ability to create a laceless performance running shoe. Not having to put laces into the shoe allowed for a very different aesthetic approach and also solves some issues with current lace-up designs. Compared to traditional laces which only create pressure across the instep of your foot, Pump provides a 3D fit all around. The Wrapshear bladder is internal and connects from the lateral quarter across your instep to the medial side.That means where you would normally have to put the tongue and the laces you now have a very well fitting, seamless internal support structure that makes wearing the shoe so much more comfortable.
What does it cost in financial terms to develop a shoe as complex as the new range of Pumps?
It is not cheap... Besides the incredible internal R&D effort to create this revolutionary fit system, all the parts for production have to be very precisely manufactured. This is definitely not your traditional approach to shoe making anymore.
Do you see this new Pump system being used in other Reebok proddy? Wouldn’t it also be good for football boots for example?
Yes, get ready for some really cool stuff hitting the market soon...
And will Stevie Williams have his own Pump model?
Without going into too much detail, this technology was designed with performance usage in mind and we are looking into many opportunities on how to create better-performing product for a variety of different activities.
We also heard about a new Reebok project called the Romulus, an interesting story behind a name for a shoe: two brothers thrown out by their parents and raised by wolves... Sounds more like adidas and PUMA! Should we read anything into that?
Get ready! The Romulus Run will be out in a couple of months with the ultimate in fit technology, the launch of our new Adjustable Pump technology. We are just getting started, prepare yourself for a redefinition of the words ‘custom fit’.