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SNEWS Qs, Manufacturer Edition: Rich Zartman, Brooks Running

The subject of this week's SNEWS Qs is Rich Zartman, product design director for Brooks Running.

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SNEWS got the opportunity to chat in person with the man who designed one of our favorite running shoes to date – the Brooks PureConnects. Here’s what he had to say about his history at the company and his inspirations for shoe designs.

Rich Zartman, product design director

Brooks Running

How long have you been with Brooks?

I’ve been there 15 years in June of this year. It’s been a while.

How did you get your start?

I worked for a licensee company on the East Coast, so more or less my job was to knock off Nike product for Kmart and Walmart. On the side they did products for Brooks Canada and I think that’s essentially how my name got tossed around and corporate called me and said, “Hey how would you like to come and do product for us,” and I said, “This is a great chance to learn hyper technical and true running.” It’s been a great opportunity.

What is one of your proudest accomplishments at Brooks?

I’ve been designing the Adrenaline GTX for Brooks for well over 12 years now and that’s become the No. 1 shoe in specialty running. So that’s a pretty big accomplishment because there are so many huge brands out there and to be able to get to that point where it’s the leader in the specialty business is really great.

But this Pure Project was a whole new outlet for me from a design standpoint, to really get out there and try new things in running and reinvent running is probably my second, if not first, greatest achievement in terms of being able to try something new and actually be successful at it. Core running is one thing because it’s kind of like making a very good ship, but coming out with something that is completely new and more or less revolutionary out there in the industry is a really cool achievement. We put it out there and we weren’t sure how successful we’d be but obviously the market really embraced it.

Which Pure Project shoes did you design?

I designed two out of four of the original shoes and I designed two out of the five for Spring ’13. I did the Cadence and the Connect.

[The Connect] was actually the most fun shoe because it was so out of the realm of core running.

What was your inspiration when you were designing the Cadence and the Connect?

The Connect I was super-inspired by the question: How can I make a training track spike? I was really trying to make this glove-like fit that just moved with your foot that you almost didn’t know there was something there. It was super fun, super light and super fast.

The Cadence is at the opposite end of the spectrum. Stability-wise (in the first line of products) the Connect was at the bottom end of the spectrum and the Cadence was at the top end of the spectrum — so I designed the book ends. So the Cadence was everything that I wanted to try to do with the Adrenaline … There were a lot of things over the years I was backburnering, saying, “I’d really like to try this and if I had the opportunity and no rules.” The Cadence was everything the GTX couldn’t be based on the rules and expectations of the industry and the Connect was just how to make a racing spike that was a training shoe.

How did you get into designing shoes in the first place?

I wish I had a really cool answer for you. I have an industrial design degree and I was designing laboratory equipment in Allentown, Pa. A recruiter called me and asked if I would like to get into footwear and I said, “I’ll do anything as long as I’m out of here.”

I was a high school and college athlete and to be able to work with athletes and get is what’s really been fulfilling to me. It’s amazing the stories we get from average athletes. We transform lives here and it’s really kind of a cool feeling.

We might say we’re in the running shoe business, but I like to say we’re in the dream business. Running transforms you.

–Compiled by Ana Trujillo