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International brands tap U.S. offices for trail running footwear

SNEWS talks to two international outdoor footwear brands, Scarpa and Treksta, who launched trail running initiatives — not at home in Italy and South Korea, but right here in the United States.

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The sport of trail running may haven gotten its start overseas, but its growth potential is in the United States.

That’s the theory for two international outdoor footwear brands, Italy-based Scarpa and South Korea-based Treksta, both of which launched their first trail running footwear initiatives here, instead of at home, tapping U.S. design and category expertise.

“Trail running wasn’t born here — I think Europe makes a strong case for that — but I do think the category is being reborn here and it’s going through an evolution,” Scarpa North America CEO Kim Miller said.

In 2006, soon after being brought on board to run Scarpa North America, Miller’s U.S. team in Boulder, Colo. started pushing their Italian parent for trail running-specific footwear.

Scarpa Spark GTX

“It’s not that we were wanting to push the category on our customers, it was that our customers were demanding it,” Miller said. The minimalist footwear trend was just starting to get its footing back then, with consumers choosing to slim down by hiking in lighter weight outdoor running or multi-sport shoes. Admittedly, Miller said fellow brands like Salomon were doing very well in the category.

For Scarpa, there were some legitimate hurdles and hesitation from back home in Italy, Miller said. The largest being that the manufacturing expertise in building a more running-oriented shoe lay in Asia, not Europe. Scarpa, which made most of its footwear in Europe, was concerned about quality and attaching the Scarpa name to what would be Asian-made trail runners, Miller said.

Yet here laid an opportunity — the company could test Asian manufacturing and dip more into trail running with a trial run in the United Sates. The Italians gave the Americans the green light, with some conditions. Scarpa officials themselves went to Asia to choose a manufacturer, buy the equipment and train the employees, Miller said.

Scarpa’s U.S.-driven trail runners launched in 2008, going through several iterations during subsequent years as the minimalist trends quickly evolved. Shoes such as the Scarpa Spark (MSRP $115) and next season’s Spark GTX (MSRP $149) have begun to carve themselves a nice niche in the domestic market, Miller said. In 2011, trail running accounted for 3 percent of total Scarpa units sold in the United States. That figure is expected to grow to 5 percent by the end of this year Miller said. Sales by dollar have grown by about 20 percent each year.

Back home in Italy, the parent company took notice.

“Our foray really helped Scarpa get their heads around developing a global line of trail running footwear,” Miller said. The Spark will be available in Europe in 2013.

A similar story played itself out at South Korea-based Treksta, said U.S. Sales Manager Mike Barker.

“Treksta’s roots are in the hiking and trekking category,” known for its anatomical NestFit last, he said. “Customers kept coming to us saying ‘can you make something lighter and faster than this?”

Barker and his U.S. team in Moscow, Idaho pressed their South Korean parent company, but trail running isn’t very big in Asia, he said. Still, the bosses saw an opportunity, as did Scarpa, to conduct a test in North America.

Treksta Sync

Working closely with the U.S. office for design input, Treksta debuted its first trail runner, the Edict (MSRP $135), in 2012 and plans to debut the Edict GTX (MSRP $160) and Sync (MSRP $125) in spring 2013.

“Essentially, you have a three-product line from a South Korean brand that’s North American exclusive,” Barker said. That won’t be the case for long. Treksta has seen good enough numbers from the shoes that it plans to bring the Sync to Asia and Europe soon.

Barker said the United States is quickly becoming the largest trail running market in the world.

“Europe might be the leader when it comes to professional trail runners, but from our perspective the average daily use is bigger in the United States.”

–David Clucas