Why French brand Hoka ONE ONE is the original dad sneaker

Long before Justin Bieber, rappers and supermodels made the dad shoe cool, thick midsole silhouettes were being worn by comfort-seeking dads all over the world. 

The original gangster dad sneaker, the New Balance 990 dropped in 1982 and featured a grey suede upper, a chunky midsole and the over-sized NB logo. Today, most footwear brands, as well as many luxury brands like Balengiaga and Gucci are trying their hand at the dad shoe.

In the running world, dad sneakers or turbo trainers have been around for decades, and the brand most synonymous with chunky sneakers is HOKA ONE ONE.

Originating in France, HOKA ONE ONE first gained attention in the running industry for its oversized outsoles - dubbed maximalist shoes due to extra cushion - which was in contrast to the minimalist shoe trend that was all the rage at the time of the company's founding in 2009. 

A return to form

Today, HOKA ONE ONE'S products span trail, ultra and road running, and almost every shoe in the range features large stack heights and thick rubber outsoles that scream cushion and comfort.

HOKA ONE ONE Director of Design Dr. Matthew Head says the dad shoe trend has made the brand quite popular. 

"In fashion circles our shoes have become sought-after," says Head. "It's not something we've gone after, and I think it happens to be right place at the right time.

"At one point minimalism was on trend and right now maximalism is having its day. I don't think Balenciaga or Louis Vuitton are looking at HOKA and thinking let's do what those guys are doing, but they are doing some cool stuff.

"The most important thing to us is that we stay authentic to solving our customers' problems. Some brands will try to copy us and others will make big shoes because that's the trend, but we'll make shoes that help runners achieve their goals," says Head. 

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The secret's in the sauce

While many running shoe brands are now making larger stack height shoes to provide comfort and cushioning over any distance, Head says it's HOKA ONE ONE's secret sauce that keeps runners coming back for more. 

"When a runner walks into a shoe store and they get recommended to take a look at HOKAs and they think the shoe is pretty crazy looking," explains Head. 

"But then they pick it up and it's shockingly light. So then they put it on and it has a great step in and first feel. When they start moving in it they realise the shoe rolls smoothly." 

"It sounds cheesy - but it's the combination of all these factors that keeps our customers coming back. They can log loads of easy miles in our shoes," says Head. 

Cushion for pushin'

The brand's range of ultra-cushioned, on-trend dad running shoes is extensive, and all styles feature the unmistakable HOKA trademarks of endless cushioning, inherent stability and the signature Meta-Rocker, which creates a rocking effect to support a runner's natural form, while promoting an efficient, smooth roll from initial impact to toe-off. 

Head says HOKA's Bondi 6 is the brand's classic maximalist experience running shoe and a best-seller. 

"The Bondi 6 is the most cushioned shoe in our road-shoe lineup. It offers a smooth, balanced ride delivered over all distances," says Head. "For people wanting to move a little faster, the Clifton is a great next choice. It delivers the perfect combination of soft and light." 

Stacks of comfort

He says that most of HOKA ONE ONE's shoe designs celebrate the hallmark high stack heights and visible foam, including the recently released Carbon X. 

"Most of our core shoes have a great, high stack and even the Carbon X has 32mm of cushioning in the heel," says Head. "How we present the shoe is slightly different for each product. Sometimes we like to celebrate the foam and other times we design it to say 'you can move fast in this'. That's what we did with Carbon X. Retained the cushioning but put it in a fast package."

While trends in the running shoe industry are ever changing, maximalist sneakers seem to be here to stay. Even if you're not a fan of the dad shoe vibe, it's easy to understand their appeal. Afterall, who doesn't want plush cushioning, a floaty ride and some protection from the impact forces of running?

The high of crossing the finish line inspires running fanatic Laura Hill to clock up the kilometres each week. Whether you're a newbie to the running scene or a seasoned athlete, Laura brings the latest running trends and gear to readers across Australia. With a day job in the corporate world and a busy toddler, Laura loves nothing more than lacing up her runners and hitting the pavement to sharpen her mind and challenge her body.

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