Last week, we took to the House of Saucony at Paris Fashion Week to sit down with Robert Griffiths, creative leader and Global Brand President of Saucony. Diving into all things innovation, footwear trends and of course, the longstanding athletic brand itself, the conversation hinted at what’s to come for future collaborations and performance tech.
Working in the industry for over 30 years, Rob has witnessed first hand the progression of footwear and apparel, whilst keeping sustainability, heritage and development at the forefront of his motivations. Accumulating global experience within his work, Griffiths is widely recognised for building and leading highly collaborative teams, grounded from his career as an elite soccer player.
Taking on his most recent role of Global Brand President, it’s safe to say Saucony is in safe hands. Read on for the full interview…
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today. So, you’ve worked in the branded footwear industry for over 30 years – which is a crazy amount of time. What was it about Saucony that drew you to the brand and made you want to work for them?
Well, I’ve been part of the Portfolio Group for over 10 years. I originally came in from the sports trade, many, many years ago, but first started in retail, actually, for JD Sports. I opened their number five store, so it gives you an idea of how long ago it was. Sports has always been in my blood. And, as part of the Wolverine group, you know, I ran Merrell for a number of years because of my performance background.
Then I was made M. D. Europe, Middle East and Africa. Yeah. So I got closer to the Saucony brand. Got to know the people, got to know the brand better when I was MD. I’d always been a fan of the brand. I’d always worn their product, and so when I was asked by Chris Hufnagel, the chief executive, whether I’d be interested in running the brand from the US, I didn’t hesitate.
Yeah. No brainer! And with all your experience, it kind of just makes sense, doesn’t it?
It was that, but also, it’s one of those brands where I just love working with the people. Working with the product. And the culture is so good because it’s all about, and has been throughout our history, about innovation.
So, you know, whether that’s innovation in terms of moving our products forward for our competitive runner and producing super shoes that rival, you know, the best in the industry. Or whether it’s innovation, you know, working on our collaborations, working on our original side as you see here, and working with the likes of Jae Tips.
Yeah, some really incredible collaborations, for sure!
Yeah, so it’s just a very exciting time.
Well, on that note of innovation, there’s a lot of competition in the industry, which you’re more than accustomed to in the roles that you’ve had in industry and also in your sports background. How do you feel that Saucony, specifically, really differentiates itself from competitors?
Well, we’re a challenger brand, so we’re not the biggest brand in the industry. And so, we use that as our strength. You know, we have a very accomplished, very experienced industry standard team in Boston where on the performance side of things, we’re inventing technology. So the guys have been hard at work improving our foams on our running shoes. We now have what we call our core four, Ride – which we’ve just launched this month. Ride 17, Guide 17, Triumph and Hurricane, we’ve got PEBAX Foams, which are really industry standard.
Best of the best stuff!
Yeah for sure. But then also, because we’ve got a lab, we test with our Olympic athletes and we have a team of doctors and podiatrists and technicians, we’re inventing and developing new foams. One of which is very top secret at the moment, but it’s coming out in 2025.
Okay. Very exciting stuff.
We’re using that base of innovation to constantly move forward. And now, we’ve now started to really make the product more relevant from an aesthetic and colour perspective. And we’ve started to blur the lines between performance and lifestyle.
Yeah, for sure. That’s what I was going to touch on actually. There’s been a massive shift in trends over the last few years and people that maybe aren’t actually athletes or runners want to wear a nice sporty shoe because it’s trendy. And you guys have been doing that for so long, so it’s kind of perfect timing.
We’ve done it for a long time, but I think that we’ve got ourselves down the track of focusing on the very small part of the market which was super shoes, faster through our endorphin series, and we did very very well. We gained notoriety, and got a lot of credibility in the industry. But what we were recognising was that shift as quickly as some others. And so we’ve now worked tremendously hard to make sure that whilst we’ve got the best in class in terms of performance products, they look really good.
Yes. I mean, even with the Jae Tips collaboration, for example, they’re just so different. They feel really refreshing and also utilise your silhouettes. It just feels like a match made in heaven.
What we hadn’t connected before was the link between the fashion side and the performance side. It was siloed to a degree. And so we’ve broken down all those barriers now. Hey, listen, I don’t know, it might not be long before we ask Jae Tips to start working on some performance products.
I mean, you’ve definitely got your finger on the pulse in that sense, but do you think this is going to continue for a while, or can you see trends, maybe, not sticking to that? I mean performance lifestyle shoes, this hybrid. Do you think we’re going to be seeing that quite a lot in the upcoming years?
I do, but I think it’ll adapt. So, at the moment, you know, there’s a lot of brands that are working on what we call maximal cushioning. And so, you know, we’ve done the same thing ourselves with our new range of products. You’ll see higher midsoles and trickier shoes. Extremely comfortable. Yeah, because you know it’s cushioning and comfort that is critical. But that maximal cushioning changes the aesthetic of the shoe. They do look quite funky. Very much ‘Vogue’. That’s what we’re doing at the moment. But who’s to say it doesn’t shift again to a lower profile?
This is true, yeah. I feel like we see a big contrast. It’s either very chunky, very enlarged, or it’s super, super sleek. I guess we’ll have to see. I love it!
And I think because of our back catalogue, we’ve got the opportunity to take learnings from the past. We’re over 125 years old, so throughout that period of the innovation that we spoke about, we’ve been developing products that are the envy of the industry. We’ve only just really started going back and looking at those and saying, they’re so relevant for today. And then looking at them and reimagining through a modern contemporary lifestyle lens.
You guys really do have your finger on the pulse because we are seeing all of these trends come back in real time. I was actually at the 125th anniversary showcase, and it was really nice to have the opportunity to see the heritage in front of me, through the archives. In terms of innovation and going forward, what do you think is the most crucial element to ensuring that it just keeps going and progressing?
I think the most crucial element is, don’t rest, you know? Don’t pat yourself on the back and say yeah, job done. My father played football professionally and he always said to me when I was playing, you’re only as good as your last game. Yeah, 100%. That always stayed with me. And so, you are only as good as your last shoe, or your last range, or your last launch. Our team is really focused on that, and very passionate about moving forward. I mean, it really translates through all of the silhouettes and all of the newer stuff. So yeah, I’m really excited for what else is to come.
Thank you very much for your time, Rob. Lovely to meet you!
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