How do we even come up with these new shoes? HOKA Product Line Manager Sunny Margerum can answer that question; as an employee of HOKA since 2014 and a recent addition to the HOKA Performance Footwear team, Sunny’s experiences in the office and on the roads (she’s a 70.3 IRONMAN triathlete!) helped her reimagine the run in the all-new Kawana. We sat down with Sunny to learn more about the development of this versatile shoe, the research involved in its creation, and more.
HOKA: Introduce yourself! How did you end up working for HOKA, and what do you do now? What does your day-to-day look like?
Sunny: Hello! My name is Sunny Margerum, and I’m a Product Line Manager (PLM) for HOKA Performance Footwear. I first joined HOKA as an intern back in September 2014 while I was finishing up my undergrad at UC Berkeley. Like many, I distinctly remember where I was when I put on my first HOKA, the Bondi 3, and the awe I felt at the lightweight cushion. There was nothing like it! I proceeded to work on the Sports Marketing team for a few years, managing our all-star athletes, then moved over to the Product team to lead the launch of the HOKA apparel line. I recently transitioned to the Performance Footwear team.
As a PLM, one part of my job is to help determine what shoes we are going to build, which involves a lot of research: working closely with the insights team to learn about the consumers and discern what they need from a new shoe; scanning running industry reports and market research to get the lay of the competitive landscape; diving into biomechanics; and getting product feedback from our wear-testers, the HOKA field experience team, and media / consumer reviews, which helps us figure out what has and hasn’t worked about previous models.
Once we land on which shoes we are going to build or update (and how), the other part of my job is to usher that project along: I work closely with a designer, who determines what the shoe will look like, as well as a developer, who works directly with the factory to source parts, build early samples, and keep us within budget. Once we have a product finalized and ready for production, we hand it off to the marketing and sales teams to tell the story of that shoe and get it in front of the consumer.
HOKA: What goes into the creation of a brand new shoe? How long does the process take?
Sunny: When we are building a new shoe, it always starts with the WHO. Who is it for? What will it offer them that other, existing products don’t? How can it make their lives better?
If we do determine – from consumers, from the industry, and from our elite athletes — that there is a gap in our product offerings that is best filled by an entirely new product, the process of creating that shoe will take at least 18 months from conception to its introduction in the market. It starts with a detailed brief that outlines the idea behind the product and the consumer for whom it’s intended; next comes the design phase where the design team will work through several rounds of sketches; then we dial in compounds, upper material, last, and the other nitty-gritty details that will ensure the design can come to life as a premium performance shoe.
Once we feel good about all of this, it’s the development team’s time to work with the factories and build an initial sample. It’s a lot of fun to get that first sample back and sit with the triad (PLM, design and development) to scrutinize it. It won’t be the last sample, as we go through several sample rounds, while simultaneously putting the samples through the fit process, having athletes wear-test them and provide feedback, and determining the colorways.
Once we receive the final, colored samples…we still have to wait another 8 months until it debuts. This allows the sales and marketing teams time to sell it into their accounts and create the storytelling support, which are both crucial: we can make a perfect shoe but without those two teams, no one will ever hear about or see it.
HOKA: Tell us about the Kawana (weight, stack height, unique design elements, etc.)
Sunny: The Kawana is designed to be an all-around performer – it’s runnable at its core, but it should serve athletes well for walking, the gym, or everyday life. As with all HOKA products, it pushes the boundaries with new foam and geometries to provide a unique experience for all athletes. A lively new foam is designed to provide solid rebound for a well-balanced and long-living ride. The Kawana also has a modified crash pad with SwallowTail™ geometry and beveled heel that creates a broader, flatter surface for smoother heel strikes. Weight-wise, the women’s comes in at 8.4 oz, and men’s at 10oz.
HOKA: Where did the inspiration for the Kawana come from?
Sunny: The Kawana is a happy merging of the Hupana, our original multi-use athletic shoe, and the Clifton Edge, which brought the smooth heel strike of our extended heel geometry to the masses, and an additional kick of HOKA cushion added. Retaining HOKA’s unique cushion and ride experience, the style is run-first with new geometries that allows for a wide range of activities.
HOKA: Tell us about the colors included in this unique shoe?
Sunny: Our color team did an amazing job building up the Kawana colorways. We have a great every day black and white option, a beautiful tonal light blue for her, and my personal favorite: a soft and subtle white with some color pops — it’s fresh, fun, and looks great in any setting!
HOKA: Who is the shoe for?
Sunny: The Kawana is designed to provide maximal HOKA comfort for everyday running, athletes looking to bolster their fitness routine, or simply looking for the comfort of the HOKA experience in more day-to-day activities. The clean, bold aesthetic has great wearability and it’s a shoe that everyone will love when put on. And if it sounds like I didn’t provide a very specific answer, well, that’s the point — we designed this shoe to be a lot of things for a lot of athletes. Maybe it’s not for the serious marathoner (they should check out the Clifton or Arahi!) or for the dedicated weightlifter, but if you want one shoe that’s going to stand up to a lot of activity, the Kawana is designed for you.