Breaking into the CrossFit market is one way for footwear companies to profit from the ever-growing fitness craze.
For many companies, specific consumer requests spurred the creation of a new line. That was the case for Inov-8 and ZEMGear. SNEWS caught up with the trend at last week's Outdoor Retailer Winter Market.
Among the footwear companies we chatted with, we often heard the word “natural” used to describe the way a shoe supports an athlete’s foot.
“Our product line offers a natural fit and a performance fit,” said Inov-8’s Joshua Phelps. “All of our products are both scientifically and technically precise; the outsole is designed in such a way to mimic the natural, anatomical design of the user’s foot.”
According to The Box Magazine, which targets CrossFit gym owners and athletes, the sport is designed to maximize overall fitness, including improving strength, speed and cardiovascular endurance. The workouts involve a blend of high-intensity lifting, running, jump roping and other types of explosive movements.
“Everyone is trying to find ways to differentiate their line,” said Christina Bracken, president and co-founder of ZEMGear. “There are different training types out there — adventure racing, CrossFit, P90X — and a I think a lot of people are capitalizing on the success of some of these training methods.”
In the case of ZEMGear (ZEM stands for “zone of endless motion”), offering a minimalist shoe for functional training is a way to introduce people to minimal shoes that promote the natural motion of the foot in a nonthreatening or not-so-intimidating way.
The 2 Cinch (MSRP $80) from ZEMGear has that lightweight sock feeling, but is constructed with a sturdy synthetic leather side panel. It’s a slip-on, so no time is wasted on laces. It’s a bit beefier than the ZEMGear 360 Ninja (MSRP $60) that The Box recommended in its recent shoe round-up. Plus, Bracken said, the company recently partnered with Poron Cushioning to include antimicrobial linings inside its shoes.
Of course ,a major player in this category is Reebok, the title sponsor of the CrossFit Games, which take place in the spring. Though Reebok didn’t debut anything specifically in the CrossFit line, it did launch two new trainers.
The Reebok Trainer 1.0 (MSRP $85) is a lightweight trainer that provides durability, comfort and breathability. It has a removable Ortholite sock liner and a carbon rubber heel that provides traction. The forefront flex grooves provide increased flexibility.
The Realflex Strength TR 2.0 (MSRP $90) combines Natural Motion Technology with style, independent flex notes on the sole to promote natural motion, a synthetic minimal mesh upper for added comfort, molded counter cradles the heel for a secure fit and the beveled heel and crowned midsole enhance natural feel.
Newcomer Topo Athletic, founded by Vibram USA’s former CEO Tony Post, has a functional training shoe within its first three-shoe line. The RX (MSRP $110), along with its two other counterparts, is modeled after the split-toe Japanese Tabi sandal (ZEMgear also has several split-toe models) and has both a strap and a lace system. It has three anchor points that keep users secure in the shoe and provide stability during powerful, lateral movements.
Inov-8 has its roots in minimalist trail running, but has been getting rave reviews for the functional training products in the Inov-8 F-Lite CrossFit series. The latest product to be launched in that category is the Natural Fit series, which has the Rope-Tec feature that allows users to climb ropes without fear of their shoes shredding. Within that series are the F-Lite 262, F-Lite 252, the Bare-XF 260 (MSRP $140). Within the weight-lifting category, Inov-8 has its FastLifet 335 and FastLift 315, both MSRP $150.