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Project Clean Run was launched in 2018. Boosted by the ISPO ecosystem, it relies on collaboration and believes in tracing and sharing best practices in the footwear industry, with a focus on trail running. After the completion of its first phase, where is it heading? The key actors fill us in.

Footwear is dirty and complex,” acknowledges David Ekelund, CEO of the Swedish company Icebug.

“We are a small brand, and you need to produce big quantities to make a difference on the market and obtain leverage with suppliers. Open innovation and collaboration is just the best way for us to achieve satisfying results in a limited time frame.”

And that is the motivation behind the Clean Run project in a nutshell.

“When we made the decision to start the project, we plunged into the unknown. We didn’t know if it would cost 20 cents or 20 euros per shoe, but we just felt that we had to do it,” concludes David Ekelund, whose company recently became the first climate positive brand in the outdoor footwear industry.

The first steps were taken together with Joel Svedlund, sustainability advisor at the Swedish research and development center Peak Innovation. The next step was to go international.

David Badalec, responsible for all innovation platforms at ISPO, recalls:

“We were approached by Icebug and Peak Innovation for this project. The idea was for them to tap into our network and use our platform to reach and connect the right people.”

Open for innovation

The ISPO Innovation platform was launched back in 2014 with the mission to accelerate change. Today, it now boasts 6000 registered users and more than 30 ongoing projects.

“Outdoor brands find it difficult to connect with their customers and people outside of their usual circle of influence. Our role is to bring stakeholders and experts together and create new dynamics,” explains David Badelec.

Project Clean Run were then joined by Dynafit, with its headquarters in Munich, and the Swiss running shoe company On. Dynafit stands out as being a bigger brand. However, Alexander Nehls, its marketing director, argues that Dynafit is historically considered a winter season company.

“We want to develop summer offer in a sensible way, and trail running is the ideal way to achieve this.” Nils Altrogge, Innovation engineer at On, sees the project mission as one main reason to join:

“We want to initiate, drive and be part of a big necessary industry change in the still conservative footwear industry.”

Insights from runners around Europe

As a first step in realizing this goal, Project Clean Run created a consumer survey which was answered by nearly 1800 people.

“The survey provided us with precious information about the interest of people in the topic of sustainability, and how to develop a shoe which is performance oriented and sustainable at the same time,” reveals Svedlund.

The first results were presented at the ISPO CSR hub in February 2019, and the full report was made available to all the actors of the project.

“As On is a data driven company, the evaluative approach of phase one suited our philosophy perfectly. Knowing customers’ needs and opinions is crucial to choose the right ‘points of attack’ and build the right strategy for future products,” comments Nils Altrogge.

One conclusion from the survey was that shoe care is still a neglected aspect of shoe making, says Svedlund.

“People do not receive enough information about it and this reduces the durability of the products. Generally speaking, running shoes are not made to enable easy care.”

From insights to action

Now that the expectations and interest of consumers in the project has been confirmed, it is time for the participants to move to the next level. Phase two of Project Clean Run will commence shortly after summer:

“We’ll be doing a technology scan,” explains Svedlund, and continues: “The shoe industry is indeed very closely related to the textile industry. However, it faces other challenges with sole and mid-sole materials, glues, etc. The idea is to gather the best available technologies for performance footwear and then to assess them independently.”

Just like with the first phase, a report will be made available after this crucial stage.

“Phase one just confirmed our intuitions. However, from phase two we will tackle technical matters and hopefully find a solution that’s not on the market yet. Doing it together is the smart way. The results can only be better and benefit everyone,” claims Nehls from Dynafit.

Building a template for future projects

Phase three will then be the prototyping phase tested by customers. Finally, the launch of the eco-conceived, open source running shoe is scheduled for 2021. Are there any obstacles? And should brands be wary of open innovation approaches?

“We are designing a methodology and new ways of working together. It takes time as it is the beginning of a new trend. The main questions are: How to collaborate efficiently? What to share?” says Svedlund, who sees that busy schedules and limited resources can slow down the project.

“A couple of other brands would make the project easier from a financial point of view.”

However, time is not the main issue. “It is necessary to do things right. Moreover, this project is an occasion for us to build a template for future challenges,” explains Badalec from ISPO, who continues:

“Open innovation doesn’t mean you are giving away all your secrets. It means accepting input from outsiders. Moreover, we sometimes make the brands anonymous in order for the input to remain objective.”

From the initiating brand’s perspective, Ekelund is so far very positive.

“It’s important for brands to participate in this kind of open collaboration projects. Everybody will win.”

Samuel Dixneuf
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