ECCO started out as a modest Danish footwear brand almost 60 years ago before growing up to become a manufacturing behemoth. Still fuelled by the founder’s tenacious spirit, the brand is currently connecting city-slickers and trail-treaders alike with the Great Outdoors. Time to enter the ECCO chamber and find out how one man (literally) grew too big for his boots!
The Stuff of Dreams
Karl Toosbuy was born ready. Blessed from birth with dexterous Danish spirit, he moved to Copenhagen in the late 1950s to take up a role as the manager of a shoe factory. Over time, a single-minded yearning to build his own global footwear business took hold as Toosbuy’s curious mind pondered myriad ways to upscale his fastidious approach to manufacturing.
In 1963, that entrepreneurial wanderlust proved impossible to resist. After selling the last of his possessions to fund his new venture, Toosbuy immediately moved to the village of Bredebro, which was home to a cottage shoemaking industry. The Venus company was officially founded on the first day of April that year.
Throughout the 1960s, Toosbuy’s relentless door-to-door spruiking and frequent trips throughout Europe made Venus a household name among women who appreciated comfortable Danish footwear. By the 1970s, Venus was burning like a silver flame, attracting the ire of an identically-named company in Germany. As a result of that legal kerfuffle, Toosbuy rebranded Venus as ECCO, figuring the name would resonate with an international audience. Not for the first time, a Karl Toosbuy hunch would be vindicated.
Joke’s On You
While stylish designs like the LongLegs got things wriggling, ECCO’s methodical European expansion exploded in 1978 when chief designer Ejnar Truelsen reimagined the classic moccasin.
Fusing form-fitting design with premium materials, the ECCO Joke was anything but. The right shoe at the right price at the right time is a highly prized unicorn and sales duly skyrocketed. This unicorn’s footprints were stamped ECCO, as Toosbuy had the ingenious and industry-first idea of advertising his trademark on the outsoles. Two more product sequels subsequently arrived in the form of the ECCO Life and ECCO Free, further refining the hybrid-moc-comf template.,
The brand entered the 80s in the big leagues after selling more than a million pairs of the Ecco Joke (which was, seriously… no joke!). Toosbuy once again had to double-down on his investment to ramp up production. He immediately looked south to his German neighbours at DESMA, whose shoe-making machines used an efficient process known as direct injection.
The revolutionary technology sprayed the soles directly onto the leather uppers, producing a super strong bond and a softer and more flexible ride.
The first DESMA unit was imported to Denmark in 1980. ECCO’s output immediately exploded and Karl Toosbuy once again had the last laugh. The following year, the ECCO Soft debuted. The flexible and lightweight sole was a boon for the young brand, cracking the hard target of eclipsing the Joke’s already impressive sales figures. In time, it too would become one of ECCO’s all-time greatest hits.
As the early 1990s arrived, the Great Outdoors inspired another ‘golden age’ of product development as urban adventurers headed off the beaten path to test their pro-level gear and sense of direction. ECCO were among the era’s premier outfitters of hiking and trail-oriented footwear, utilising all their Scandinavian experience to launch the alpine-enhanced Track 2 model in 1992. The moccasin toe, heavy-duty leather, GORE-TEX lining and direct-injected sole was ECCO DNA personified. The Track 2 was yet another commercial winner and still resides proudly in unadulterated form in the retro line-up today.
Simultaneously, the brand cultivated international design and development talent in manufacturing hubs and leather tanneries across Europe and Asia. Located just south in their Bredebro headquarters, development of the brand’s formidable facilities culminated in the launch of the FUTURA research and design centre. Behind doors marked ‘Top Secret’ (or ‘Top Hemmeligt’ in Danish), ECCO redefined direct injection techniques to create FluidForm tech, which allowed them to fabricate everything from performance runners to golf shoes and even high heels.
High-profile collaborations with the likes of Stone Island, Alyx and Mihara Yasuhiro etched the ECCO name deep in the hype world. In conjunction with the German Sports Institute of Cologne, another ECCO breakthrough arrived in 2009 when a near-barefoot running experience was scientifically replicated. Known as BIOM Natural Motion, the concept was initially rolled out in ECCO’s running department before it was applied across all categories. More than a decade since it launched, ECCO still puts BIOM Natural Motion to the ultimate test in their Outdoor range.
The BIOM C-TRAIL is the latest peak in the ECCO Outdoor assortment. Equally at home mountainside or pavement-bound, the BIOM C-TRAIL is a hiking shoe with a sneaker soul at its well designed heart. Built to perform unlike any comparable off-roader, the BIOM C-TRAIL’s chopped-and-dropped BIOM contours convert that AWD stance into a lowrider for improved traction control.
Underfoot, slabs of new-gen direct-inject ECCO PHORENE add more bounce to the outdoor ounce, while sludge-shedding rubber cleats provide gorilla grip on gravel. With in-house tanneries at their disposal, ECCO specified classic combos of suede and mesh in custom colours that are indicative of a rebellious streak. This season features their top-end ECCO YAK leather in rock-and-rave-ready combos. Go for broke in a 90s-throwback grey and teal with neon, or dine out on an ultra-luxe rose gold ‘Cashmere’ edition.
If the low-cut BIOM C-TRAIL isn’t spicy enough for off-kilter off-roaders (which seems unlikely), the gloriously over-engineered tactical boot version boasts a full six inches of yak-wrapped ankle protection. This boosted bootie will add girth to any hardcore GORPcore sneakerhead! Like its Track 2 predecessor, GORE-TEX membranes line the innards to keep water out and let sweat vapour pass through, all while brandishing that GT diamond flex.
Having spent 60 years mastering the art of product innovation and mass manufacturing, ECCO’s thirst for expansion shows no signs of being extinguished. As their confident new Outdoors range ascends to even greater heights, the ECCO name is once again writ large around the world.
You’ve just heard the good word – now get it out there!
This feature was originally published in Sneaker Freaker Issue 44. You can get your copy here.