The past two years have forced everyone to stay inside. When people want what they can’t have, something as simple as going outside, it can conjure fantasies of doing the opposite. For the sneaker industry, and clothing industry, too, that meant a piqued interest in products made for the outdoors. Hiking shoes with chunky soles, or just sneakers that could take a beating, became popular once again. This opened the lane for Salomon, the brand founded in 1947 by Georges Salomon in the French Alps, which focused on skiing and became the world’s leading manufacturer of bindings.
Salomon began making ski boots in 1979 and didn’t venture into hiking footwear until 1992. Its early foray into hiking produced models that were technical and resembled something that looked like it should have a ski attached to it, rather than footwear that could be worn for other endeavors. The brand, however, was acquired by Adidas in 1997 and started to make more modern outdoor sneakers in the early 2000s, an archive that it is now starting to unearth, although Salomon is no longer owned by Adidas.
Although it might seem like Salomon has gotten popular out of nowhere, at least among niche fashion circles or mood board vibists on Instagram, the brand’s upward ascent can be traced back to 2015. Its adoption by a fellow French retailer, The Broken Arm, which started to stock the company in its forward-thinking boutique, would later result in collaboration that’s ongoing to this day.
Salomon’s growing success among sneaker enthusiasts has spawned in an era where the public has become disenchanted by the perceived lack of fairness around acquiring Nike sneakers, which has become increasingly more difficult thanks to supply chain woes during the ongoing pandemic. Brands such as Salomon, New Balance, Hoka, Crocs, Merrell, and On have seen an uptick in popularity over the past few years, thanks in part to cool projects and the public’s willingness to try something different.
The Salomon XT-4, XT-6, and Snowcross sneakers have started to have their moments and are popping up on the feet of trusted tastemakers more than ever. This past December also saw the launch of the ACS Pro Advanced sneaker, which is based off of the GCS model from the 2000s. It sold out instantly and let people know that Salomon was much more than a one-trick pony with its fleet of similar-looking sneakers.
The brand has also had collaborations with Palace, Comme des Garçons, a rumored upcoming project with Hidden NY, and has won in part due to its unique color palette and blocking on its shoes that have enticed an older group of seasoned sneaker nerds.
But what’s behind the Salomon hype train? Is it all buzz, smoke and mirrors, and internet marketing, or something thoughtful that can be sustained?
To find out, we spoke to a few figures from the company, Alex van Oostrum, the brand’s sportstyle global marketing manager, based in France; George Egan, North America’s director of sportstyle; and Bryan Diaz, a marketing specialist, who are both based in Utah.
The conversation has been edited for clarity and condensed.
How did Salomon get into the lifestyle space?
Alex van Oostrum: We launched the program after we got feedback from The Broken Arm, which is a fashion boutique in Paris. They had customers going into the store asking for Salomon and then specifically a model of the Snowcross. That was the first realization that Salomon had relevancy with that kind of consumer. That’s where it started, and we’re talking 2015.
We developed the relationship with The Broken Arm and eventually we launched Snowcross with them in a specific colorway. That really was where Salomon, as a lifestyle proposition, started. And really the whole thing was ingrained in the dream of what Salomon offers its consumer, which is access to the French Alps. We’re a brand from the mountains, we were born in Annecy, France, in 1947. We have a long standing connection with winter sport and athletic outdoor and mountain sports. And so it gave a fashion consumer a glimpse into that world, but the product functionality and what we offered in the Snowcross was also one of the main reasons why the products gained traction.
Then shortly after that, we collaborated with the designer called Boris Bidjan Saberi, who saw the opportunity in customizing some of the footwear that Salomon was producing in its inline range. And he customized that footwear and introduced it into his own fashion line. And then that still goes today in 11 BBS.
The first specific range arrived in 2018. Salomon Advanced was a collection of footwear that delved into Salomon’s footwear archive. We selected styles which we felt would resonate with a different audience.
How much do you think the recent outdoor trend has played in Salomon’s popularity in the sneaker world?
AV: The outdoor trend has definitely played a part, but in the same way, it is about outdoor, but it’s as much about the product. And I think the reason why Salomon has succeeded, in the same way as you take Japanese outerwear and technical, outdoor Japanese brands and how they’ve done really, really well in the West because they have this premium functionality to them. And I think that’s as much a driver and a purchasing decision for the person who’s looking for a pair of Salomons. The fact that we have all of that technical benefit coupled with some really strong colorways and the team here does an amazing job in terms of colors and materialization.
Salomon has gotten noticed lately for its colorways. How does the colorway ideation happen on the lifestyle shoes?
AV: I don’t know how much I can give away, but in the original Advanced line, I mean we talk about color, but the other side of that is the original Advanced line was launched. We did, I think it was one shoe originally. And then it evolved into three shoes each season, which are pure black, and it’s called Black Edition, which is where we took inline performance models from Salomon franchises, be it running or outdoor. And we made them black basically, which did amazingly well.
And still, if you look at a triple black XT-6, it’s basically our top seller and then you do a triple white XT-6 and people go crazy for that, because they can style it with anything. And then we have a team here who work on a seasonal color palette, which very much draws inspiration from the outdoors and from organic colors and textures and we try and have a seasonal color palette, which we draw from.
How much do all you guys pay attention to the trends of sneaker culture and injecting that into Salomon?
AV: We do packs for example, and we put packs out. We obviously have an extensive collaboration portfolio. We release anywhere between 10 and 20 collaborations a season now. And it’s really important with who we partner with in terms of collab. But outside of that, I wouldn’t say we follow it too closely because again, we want to make sure that we stick, we’re quite true to what Salomon is in its heritage.
We’re not a sneaker brand, for want of a better word, we’re an athletic sports brand, which is born in the mountains. And I think if we can keep to that narrative, we have more chance of not falling into this… I mean, just a trend, but being something which is longstanding and resonating, because we have our own brand values. And I think it’s really important that we keep true to that rather than just looking at what everyone else is doing and trying to replicate what happens outside of Salomon.
Bryan Diaz: I think here in the US, it’s definitely a little more tricky, because from what we’ve seen recently, a lot of our consumers are sneakerheads or sneaker connoisseurs or whatever you want to call them. Recently, they’ve been adapting Salomon into their daily lifestyle. We are a brand that’s rooted in outdoor and sometimes that message doesn’t always relate to people, because they just want to get fly and get fresh and put on things that have good colors and match with their outfits.
AV: I think the other thing which is really important here is, and this is something which we’ve always said that we do that Salomon is very much like… We have a gut feeling around why our product is really well and why our footwear is interesting and why everyone should have a pair. But then in terms of how people want to work it into their own wardrobe or how they want to use it, where they’re based. Because we are not a brand which is relying on a massive volume, we can take some risks and say this is the XT-6 or the ACS Pro which has just launched. We can say, “We think it’s going to do really well and we’re going to put pairs out on the market.” And then sometimes the shoe will just become adopted by certain cultures with different clothes. And we’ll just wait, we won’t try and predict that.
I know you want to just stay rooted in outdoor, but if you’re doing tie-dye sneakers and collaborations with Palace, that there’s some intent to corner the lifestyle market or streetwear.
AV: Palace came to us and actually a lot of our collaborators who we work with, they come to Salomon first and foremost. Very seldom do we approach a partner with a view to reaching a different audience or jumping again, like jumping on the trend. We wait for someone to approach us because they have an interesting project and can see how Salomon could fit into a different cultural space than both brands already appear in.
So you guys don’t sit down in marketing meetings, being like, ’We want to work with so and so,’ or ‘we’d love to do a shoe with so and so’?
AV: The Broken Arm, Boris Bidjan Saberi, Rei Kawakubo, they come to Salomon because we can produce something which is going to be unique. We don’t sit down in marketing meetings and go, “Do you know who we should do a shoe with this brand because we need to jump in that chain and it’s super popular at the moment?” It’s more of a case of, if there’s a really interesting creative intention and we can create a moment around it, then we’d entertain collaboration. I don’t think the brand has any intention, for example, of doing something with Lego or The Simpsons anytime soon. It’s just not really what we stand for and what we want to do. We’re not going to jump on something just because we’re going to sell 100,000 pairs.
BD: We are a Sportstyle category. The brand is rooted in the outdoors, but because of this category being built, we are very focused on catering to the local style and fashion consumer. I don’t want it to feel like not intentionally trying do that, but we’re also staying true to our roots, you can’t escape your roots.
George Egan: We’re not conforming to any mold. We’re paving a new way within the sneaker space. We’re staying very true to who we are. But when you think about the XT-6 in particular, that’s a shoe that was designed for somebody to go run 100 miles non-stop around Mont Blanc. You take that, and how does that translate to an everyday lifestyle customer? That means it’s an extremely comfortable shoe under foot.
With the ACS shoe coming out, what was the intention of bringing that shoe out as a Sportsyle sneaker?
AV: ACS stands for Advanced Chassis System and the shoe was born late ‘90s in terms of design, early 2000s. And generally again, there’s a comfort story around that shoe, but we think that it taps into this period of footwear design that we really wanted to showcase and we thought it would do really well because the shape is super interesting. The construction is super interesting, but again, you have the comfort benefit in that model.
Aesthetically, we took the original GCS sneaker from our archive and reworked it and thought that was definitely something which would be a progression of Salomon product language that would really resonate amongst that audience, amongst that crowd. And also the shoe, it’s amazing, comfort as well, which is also really important. We have a lot of footwear which is quite bulky. It does have a true hiking background, but that silhouette, it looks amazing. So that was the reason why we thought we’d bring it to market. So we did that first initial drop in December. It’s an early intro in spring, summer, and then we have four more colorways coming next year. First in February.
GE: The launch was awesome. It was really good and kudos to Brian and team for making sure everything executed flawlessly. But that one was a hard one to sit on for a long time, because we saw a lot of Sportstyle, faithful pulling archive pieces and posting them online. And people just kept being like, “Man, when’s this coming? When’s this coming?” And we had already had it in the queue. And so it was really hard to sit on that one because we knew a lot of people were expecting it––or I shouldn’t say expecting it, they were wanting it.
Do you see that a lot then? I know you guys did the collaboration with the Organiclab.zip, and the whole outdoor mood board, Instagram accounts I guess are a big trend at the moment. Do you see that as one of the things that’s helped boost Salomon up in the market as of late?
GE: Yeah, I think it’s definitely helped. It’s not hurt us in any sense by any means. I think going back to the very first question on the timeline, it’s like where things really kicked off for us was when the XT-6 won GQ sneaker of the year in 2019. I think that was the tipping point. Up until that it really had just been in very elite fashion circles. If you weren’t really walking the streets during Paris Fashion, you didn’t really know who we were.
And I know that a lot of people say that, especially with the Sportstyle stuff, it’s been harder and harder to get sizes on the website. So I’m assuming that it’s selling out a lot faster, like how much have sales boosted since in the past like year or two with the reinterest in the brand?
GE: Yeah. I think it’s twofold, right? It’s a category that’s booming for us, not just in the North American market, but globally. And then it’s also compounded by a global pandemic where the one thing everybody can do is get outside. So inventory has definitely been hard to come by because as soon as it hits shelves, it’s gone. It’s something that the teams here are actively working on. I would say probably throughout 2020, the biggest feedback we had was, “Hey, we’re getting a lot of ladies in the store who are trying to rock these shoes or they can’t find their size.”
In 2021, that’s when we fully expanded. So now we run it all the way down to a men’s four, inclusive with half sizing. So that’s definitely something we had introduced. So now hopefully an inventory is, even though it’s still hard to get when somebody does see it, they can hopefully pick up their size.
Salomon’s not really a company that’s had to pay attention to drop date protocol on shoes and doing actual sneaker releases online and making sure that your backend of the website can handle people trying to buy it at a clip. How difficult was that to deal with and is the brand paying more attention to that?
AV: I don’t want to say we’re a victim of our own success because it’s not really bragging, but for sure, when you have Rihanna wear the shoes, we see an uptick in sales and they disappear which has never been our MO. What we want to do in terms of drop dates and looking at calendars, et cetera, I think it’s something we’re going to have to think more about because it’s never really been our intention to make Salomon products unattainable.
But we don’t operate with this idea of, we’re only going to do a super limited number so that they sell out. We try and make shoes as available as possible. We don’t employ strategies to try and drive hype. The hype just happens organically. And then the shoes will sell out. But the ACS was a really good test for us, because we thought that the model was going to do really, really well. And it was just making sure that there were enough pairs to satisfy that initial demand.
GE: When you’re an iconic hiking boot, there’s not one person for every pair in the warehouse waiting to click add to cart on the website. It is a different environment, but operationally we are working on it. If anything, it’s good for all of Salomon. It’s just upgrading systems and making sure that we’re staying in touch with where the market’s headed, but also how retail is done in the 21st century. Everything is a digital transaction over the course of the pandemic. And thankfully we’re seeing people flock back into stores.
You mentioned The Broken Arm wanting to stock the shoes earlier on, but now that the shoes are being sold a lot more at lifestyle retail accounts, what’s it been like working with that and trying to supply all those stores within this whole global supply chain crisis and all that stuff?
GE: There’s no way of sugarcoating it. The global supply crisis has been a pain point for us as it has been for everybody. We have teams that are dedicated to working through it and we’re trying to be as openly communicative to our accounts as possible. But the unfortunate, I guess, takeaway of all of this is just that the process is so fluid. Nobody could have predicted that factories would’ve been closed in Asia for over three months. And I think the footwear industry as a whole is feeling that, and obviously most supply rooted industries are. But in terms of dealing with our accounts and distribution, we have a lot of amazing partners and the relationships they’ve really grown over the last two years in particular.
Bryan, is there anything that you want to say then about what you’ve done in lifestyle marketing and your approach to it?
BD: I think the approach has been super organic. I mean, it’s really just been like building relationships and putting Salomon on people’s feet, people who I have good relationships with and who I think really influence a new audience of the brand. Even like yesterday, Frank Cooke, I met him leaving TSA after ComplexCon, we connected there. And seeing him post a pair of Salomon on foot, that to me was the coolest thing, because I mean, we know Frank and what he’s done in the sneaker industry for many years and him wearing a pair of Salomons… It just shows where the brand is going and what the brand’s able to do.