Tony Post, a 30-year footwear veteran of Rockport and Vibram USA, is Topo Athletic founder and CEO. Post first gained notoriety in the footwear business when he ran the 1990 New York marathon in a pair of Rockport’s dress shoes - reposted by my NRC colleague Bill Katovsky at Zero Drop.
Topo Athletic believes that products should innately amplify, not modify, the body’s natural biomechanics. We decided to ask Post to expand on this and about his visions for the company. Topo Athletic is preparing for its first public appearance at the Winter Outdoor Retailer Show in Salt Lake City (Utah) January 23-26.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. I know how busy you are with the upcoming Outdoor Retailer show and the launch of Topo Athletic's first product!
These lightweight running and Cross Fit shoes are not supposed to change or fix the way you run or train. Is this just another spin on Natural Running?
Natural running and functional training certainly inspire Topo’s shoe design, which is why we engineered footwear that feels inherently connected to your body as you move. This is an important theme in the industry, but we believe our footwear delivers a unique experience and fit sensation, with meaningful features and benefits for athletes who wish to train this way.
You've coined the term "innate amplification". What exactly does the new footwear technology do for the athlete?
We strongly believe that the body is more powerful, agile, and efficient when it can move naturally. However, there is always an opportunity for technical gear to enhance the athletic experience, whether that is through safety, comfort, or performance features.
Athletes who wear Topo Athletic footwear will experience the benefits of a remarkably lightweight, zero-drop, and anatomically shaped shoe that features our unique split toe anchor point in the forefoot. This feature is critical in preventing the foot from shifting or moving inside the anatomically engineered toebox, it provides the athlete with a stronger connection to their shoe, almost as though it were part of their body. Many brands have created shoes with a generous forefoot that allows the toes to extend, splay, or spread, certainly our shoes do that as well, but our unique anchor point at the base of the first and second toe provides a different fit sensation, one that allows the athlete to feel more connected to their footwear and their environment. Ultimately, this is more likely to create a natural feeling of security, balance, agility, and power transfer that athletes need to optimize their performance.
Who is your target customer? Early adopters and minimalist runners? Do you need to include a disclaimer or warning label warning that the athlete can get injured with these new shoes if not used correctly?
The product is unique looking which typically attracts early adopters and trend-setters. Ultimately, we seek a consumer who is active, of course, but also curious—about health, nutrition, technology, and design. These are the people who are out in the world influencing their peers and shaping our industry. In regards to disclaimers and warning labels, we plan to provide a sufficient amount of education in order for our consumers to feel informed and confident in their decision to wear Topo Athletic footwear.
Vibram Five Fingers and other minimalist shoes for the past two years have greased the public's reception. Do you need to educate athletes on how to use these new Topo Athletic shoes so they don't get injured?
I think it’s important to note these are not really minimalist shoes – we have taken several of the best characteristics of minimalism, but added a little more underfoot protection and comfort. Topo shoes are designed for midfoot running and functional training. However, there are several design elements that will be forgiving to an athlete who is new to this type of activity. Through our website and other communication we will offer helpful tips and information, but we also know that there are hundreds of wonderful resources through journals, blogs, and publications that can help an athlete adjust to a lightweight, zero-drop shoe.
Tell us a little bit more about Topo Athletic as a company. You've used outside designers, engineers, and other personnel initially. How many full-time employees do you have now? By end of 2013?
All great companies start with the great people, but it’s their ability to collaborate that can be the difference between success and failure. Currently, we’re a small team of experienced, passionate and active individuals who are dedicated to bringing Topo Athletic’s mission to life: to create a brand for and by athletes with a mission to develop athletic gear made with humble innovation. We have an amazing network of third party partners in everything from product design to sales and operations. This allows us to remain nimble, close to the consumer, and continually expose ourselves to new, fresh ideas.
With lightweight running shoes growing the fastest last year and projected 50% growth this year, what percentage of the over $1.5 billion footwear market do you hope to capture?
We aren’t really focused on size. Certainly you need some scale to invest in best business practices, product development, and the like, but we are more focused on making great products for our user (who also happens to be a lot like us!). The size will find itself naturally. Being consumed with size and market share can take you away from the consumer and making good business decisions. We just want to build a sustainable business, create and innovate new ideas, and continue to learn and grow.
Reebok is a Cross Fit powerhouse with the Cross Fit Games and TESHUB claims their footwear works with the natural physiology of the foot, helping to strengthen the foot, amplifying the performance of the athlete. Are they your direct competitors?
We have many great competitors; the athletic footwear industry is a formidable one. But we believe today’s athlete has a portfolio of shoes to accommodate different workouts or achieve specific results. Fortunately, there are a variety of great products to choose from when shopping for footwear. Our job is to stay focused and create products that deliver a remarkable experience with the commitment to constantly improve.
Topo Athletic running shoes are lightweight and does not change your running form. Are they technically minimalist running shoes?
Frankly it has become pretty difficult to identify what is and isn’t minimal. In our minds, a minimal shoe is very close to barefoot, which we admittedly are not. However, our product design is informed by some characteristics that would fall into the minimal category: zero drop, lightweight, and allowing the toes to spread. That said, we have a little more protection under foot, and other features, such as the forefoot anchor point aren’t necessarily “minimal” but are instead a new way of thinking about how footwear should connect and interact with the body.
Will there be women-specific models (not just shrink-and-pink-it)? How about bold colorways?
All women’s models are made on a woman’s-specific last and we already offer color options for both genders that appeal to both the conservative and the risk-taker.
Can you tell us what the price point is for Topo Athletic running and Cross Fit shoes?
The current Topo Footwear line for S’13 deliver has a suggested retail between $100-$130
Thank you again for your time and we look forward to seeing and testing out these products in the near future!