Karhu, Finland’s performance running shoe specialist, is rolling out the new Karhu Flow Tri Fulcrum shoe. The shoe strives to meet the high standards and needs of endurance sports athletes – to help them run more efficiently and prevent injuries.
Karhu, which means ‘bear’ in Finnish, is specialized in running and skiwear, and is primarily distributed through the outdoor retailer channel. The brand was founded in 1916, originally focused on running and javelin, and was first used as a sporting goods brand by the Finnish company Ab Sport Artiklar. The brand’s key technology is called Fulcrum, launched in 2000, which claims to reduce energy wasted by superfluous bouncing.
Belgian run and tri shop inspires Karhu
Karhu got the inspiration for its new Flow Tri Fulcrum shoe from Runners Service Lab (RS Lab), a running and triathlon shop based in Belgium. “We heard about a shop that was adapting our Flow Trainer shoe for triathletes by putting a Velcro strap onto the shoe,” said Karhu CEO Huub Valkenburg.
The RS Lab store in Zwijndrecht, northern Belgium had been making the adapted shoes for anyone who brought their shoes in. The shop, since its inception in 1980, has been known for its application of leading-edge science in helping runners find the right pair of shoes, building custom footbeds and using high-tech equipment to keep athletes healthy.
“It’s a great idea so we thought we should probably make them ourselves,” added Karhu’s Valkenburg.
“To make the story complete, when I was working for Saucony we asked RS Lab in 1995 to rebuild shoes for Luc Van Lierde, also with a strap,” said Eddy D’Hondt, now General Manager of RS Lab. “And shortly after that he won Hawaii twice and still is record-holder. The strap is a winner!”
The Flow Tri shoe is modelled after Karhu’s lightweight, neutral-oriented Flow 4 Trainer Fulcrum training/racing flat with a one-piece airy mesh upper, moisture-wicking collar and Karhu’s patented fulcrum heel insert in the rear foot – designed to promote an efficient gait cycle with the responsive injection-moulded midsole foam.
The Flow Tri has a two-piece closure system designed for fast transitions out of T2 — a quick-pull stretch-cord lacing system to secure the front portion of the shoe and a Velcro strap that secures the medial arch and the lateral heel. Both versions of the shoe have an 8mm heel-toe offset (16mm in the heel, 8mm in the forefoot) and have sample size weights of 8.2 oz for men’s size 9 and 7.1 oz. for women’s size 7.
Karhu prioritizes product excellence and invests heavily in product research utilizing one of Europe’s leading bio-mechanical testing and research institutes, the Neuromuscular Research Center of University of Jyväskylä (UoJ). Independent testing compared Karhu’s patented fulcrum technology to the competition and test results indicated that ‘Karhu running shoes have less vertical oscillation, are more efficient and more balanced than the established competition.’
Change of ownership
The Karhu brand is currently owned by Karhu Holding, which purchased it in 2008, and it is used to market running shoes, sportswear, and skiing and other sports equipment in Finland and abroad. “The Karhu brand will celebrate its centennial mark in 2016,” said Karhu Holding CEO Huub Valkenburg, who announced last summer that the company had entered into a new agreement that makes the Arese family majority shareholder of the company.
“With this new investment, and management from Emanuele and Francesco Arese, the Karhu brand is properly capitalized to usher in its 100 year anniversary,” Valkenburg added.
The new challenge that Francesco Arese has set for himself: is to develop the Karhu brand. The former President of the Italian Athletics Federation, who was also President of Asics Europe until March 2013, took a majority stake in Karhu Holding in July 2014.
As part of its expansion plans, Karhu Holding will establish a European office in Amsterdam to coordinate its global activities and revitalize its European operations. The company’s North American office will remain in Beverly, Massachusetts. “Our first priority is to gear the Karhu brand up for its 100-year anniversary, invest in R&D, and focus on product creation and demand creation for the brand to maintain a Finnish premium image across the world,” said Francesco Arese.