How the Swiss brand is doing things its own way
Editor's Note: The following content is part of a partnership between TEMPO and On Running, but done in our own way. Like a lot of you, I have a deep curiousity about the brands in our space, and I didn't know as much as I should about On Running until recently. So I sat down with Jean Guney, who runs the marketing function in Australia, and asked a bunch of questions. What came out of it is this dive into the past, present, and future of On Running.
You’ve heard of Swiss running brand On, but what do you really know about the brand with the distinctive silhouettes? There’s a lot to unpack about this young brand, including a couple of Aussie connections. Over the coming months we're going to be getting into their products and presence a little deeper, but we wanted to start by catching you up on their past and present.
On was born in Zurich, Switzerland in 2010, after IRONMAN champ Olivier Bernhard went on a personal quest to reimagine running footwear. There’s talk (and I don’t know how true it is) that Bernhard was a major tinkerer back then - he started out on his quest for better footwear by cutting up garden hoses and glueing pieces to existing outsoles.
Long story short, Bernhard linked up with Caspar Coppetti and David Allemann and the three formally founded On Running.
The brand has come a long way in a short period of time. On is now one of the biggest running brands in the world, ubiquitous across Europe, and establishing a meaningful presence in North America, Asia, and here in Australia. Their footwear models span all categories of running - from comfort, to trail, to speed shoes, they're driving innovation in the industry - especially in sustainability (which we'll get to), and they even have their own professional team.
(Editor's Note - find me a brand with better imagery than On!)
Today, the brand is known for creating premium performance footwear and apparel for runners of all abilities, with the sort of styling you would expect from a European brand. It’s less about flashy colours and big logos, and more about style and sophistication.
Personally, I think the ethos of the brand shines through in its apparel - technically it’s probably the best running apparel I’ve worn, and you can tell from the moment you pick it up that every element is considered and practical. There’s nothing ‘average’ about it.
I sat down with Jean Guney, the Australian Marketing Lead for On, to try and understand how a brand goes from start up to a global presence in a decade.
“When we launched 10 years ago, the technology was really different. There was nothing like this in the market - the silhouette was disruptive and people were curious.
A lot of runners are searching for something different, and we offer something different. The lightweight proposition of our shoes are strong in this area, but also the fact that our technology is visible on the outsole. You can see how the cushioning is working while someone runs or walks.”
I mentioned a couple of Australian connections at the top of this feature. The most exciting one for the hardcore track fans is the brand signing super talented Aussie 1500m runner Olli Hoare to the On Athletics Club, based in Boulder, Colorado. Olli is very likely to make his first Olympic team this year in Tokyo (Olli has hit the Olympic standard 3 times now for the 1500m and seems an absolute lock to be picked by selectors), coming out of the University of Wisconsin where he was an 8 time All-American and the NCAA 1500m Champion in 2018.
Olli is one of only 8 athletes representing the On Athletics Club and a name Australian running fans will be hearing a lot more of as his career blossoms.
The OAC also boasts names like Joe Klecker and Alicia Monson, among others. I asked Guney about the motivations for launching the OAC and what it meant for the brand.
“Recruiting elite athletes is key to being an authentic and credible run brand. Everything we do as a brand needs to link back to our performance DNA and to have the OAC running fast and, hopefully, breaking records in our product assortment is pivotal to our growth.
Naturally, innovation is a fundamental part of this dynamic — so these runners are very much involved in helping On design better running shoes and spikes.”
On’s presence in Australia has grown steadily since they opened their Melbourne office in 2018. For a brand that still doesn’t have offices in many other markets, I’m interested in why they chose Australia for an office - while some of the big brands have large workforces here, some brands work through distributorships - which doesn’t necessarily translate into meaningful investment in grassroots running communities, events, and other elements vital to the health of our running communities. On, however, has a team of staff based in Melbourne and has actively sought out partnerships with different groups and local events.
The rationale for an Australian office is probably the main question I had for my conversation with Jean - did the team @ On HQ in Zurich see something special in Australian running?
“Founder Olivier Bernhard had competed in Australia on a number of occasions during his professional triathlon career. So there was an early read that Australia was an enthusiastic sports and outdoor driven country, and especially here in Melbourne - sport is part of the DNA of Melburnians.”
Something we’re all becoming more aware of and educated on is sustainability, and it's something that will come to the fore for On later this year with the introduction of Cyclon; a revolutionary program that will allow runners to subscribe to receive footwear from On, use it, and return it at the end of its life cycle so it can be recycled into another pair of shoes. While a couple of other brands are also dabbling in this space, it is believed On’s Cyclon program is the most ‘complete’ version of a truly circular economy.
Without going right into it (we’ll do that in another article because I am so hyped on this concept), the Cyclon footwear is made from castor beans; a bean that grows well in arid climates with little water needs. The beans are broken down, turned into oil, and replace fossil fuels in the manufacturing process. The cool part is the circularity of the project - the entire shoe can be recycled without needing to be pulled apart or separated - when On receive the shoes back from runners, they re-enter the process - being broken down and then eventually forming another pair of shoes. You can do a heap of reading on this project but I found this page super interesting.
If you really love the idea of Cyclon and want to support it, it’s now open for pre-registration in Australia. Go here and scroll down to the bottom to be part of it. Also stay locked to TEMPO because I have the shoe on my desk right now and will be giving you a comprehensive look at it in the coming weeks.
We’ve barely scratched the surface of the brand, and haven't even spoken about the innovations that make On products so sought after. While the Cloud elements on the midsole are what's noticeable, there's much more to the brand. One cool element is the Speedboard - a board runs the length of the shoe, sitting in the midsole and helping tune each On model to perform just right.
We could talk product all day, so stay tuned to TEMPO as we delve deep into the Cyclon program and bring you more info on what the Swiss brand is up to. We might even get to do something fun with Olli Hoare if we’re lucky.