Ten Things You Didn’t Know About On Running Shoes
The Swiss brand, known for its unique cushioning pods, has transcended running with its style and innovation
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In 2010, when minimalism had disrupted conventional running shoe design and innovation was blossoming throughout the shoe world, former Swiss multisport champion Olivier Bernhard founded On to introduce a new way of thinking about cushioning. The three-time world duathlon champion and five-time Ironman winner partnered friends David Allemann and Caspar Coppetti, who brought business and design expertise, to launch the new brand with funky-looking outsole loops underfoot. A few months after On was formed, its prototype shoe with CloudTec cushioning system won an ISPO Brandnew Award for innovation in athletic startups. Fast forward a dozen years later and On shoes—known for their clean design aesthetics and precise Swiss engineering—can be found in more than 6,500 retail stores in over 50 countries around the world and on the feet of the world’s top athletes as well as at your local coffee shop. Here are ten facts you may not know about the brand.
1. The Company’s Name is Simply On
The correct name of the brand is simply On—not On Running, ON or OnCloud. The name is meant to reflect the brand’s goal to create a sensation of running on clouds.
2. On’s Clouds are a Unique Mechanical Cushioning and Rebound System
Before founding On, Bernhard says he was dissatisfied with the options in running shoes, which all seemed the same. When he first started tinkering with designs, he glued cross-sectional loops of rubber tubing to the bottom of a pair of running shoes and found the pods seamlessly combined cushioning and propulsion in context with running’s dynamic forward motion. That led to On’s unique CloudTec, providing a soft landing and a firm, fast toe-off while adapting to an individual runner’s gait patterns.
On’s clouds have evolved from simple outsole loops to foam and rubber cushioning pods with varying densities and compression rates. Above the clouds, a flexible “Speedboard” plate provides stability and delivers a quick and smooth transition through the stride. The newest versions coming out in 2023 have more traditional-looking solid midsoles with cut-out holes providing the cushioning and rebound effect.
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3. On Started Fast and Added Breadth
On released its first shoe in 2012, the Cloudracer, a high-performance competition shoe that would be worn by Swiss triathlete and London 2012 Olympic gold medalist Nicola Spirig and 2014 Ironman world champion Frederik Van Lierde. Over the years, the brand has expanded the line to include a wide range of training shoes, trail running shoes, track spikes, lifestyle shoes, hiking shoes, travel shoes, and supershoes with carbon-fiber plates, as well as running and lifestyle apparel.
4. A Tennis Legend and Olympic Runners are Part of the On Team
In 2019, On teamed up with Swiss tennis legend Roger Federer, who is now among its investors and partners. That year, they unveiled the first of several shoes in “The Roger” line of lifestyle sneakers. In 2021, On launched the Roger Pro tennis shoe that Federer wore in his final two seasons of competition, during which he advanced to the Wimbledon quarterfinals.
In 2020, On started a professional track and field team in Boulder, Colorado coached by three-time Olympic runner Dathan Ritzenhein. The On Athletics Club, or OAC, includes athletes from the U.S. and around the world. It sent five athletes to the Tokyo Olympics in 2021—Joe Klecker and Alicia Monson of the U.S., Australians Ollie Hoare and Morgan McDonald, and Poland’s Alicja Konieczek. (On has since developed a separate OAC team in Europe and sponsored several elite-level triathletes, trail runners, and marathoners.)
5. On is on Track
Beginning in 2020, On’s footwear development team fast-tracked the development of elite-level track spikes. The new Cloudspike 1500m and Cloudspike 10000m were unveiled this year and helped Australian athlete Ollie Hoare win the 1,500-meter title at the Commonwealth Games in a meet record 3:30:12. They also guided Kenya’s Hellen Obiri to a silver medal in the 10,000-meter run at the World Athletics Championships, and were on the feet of American Alicia Monson as she placed sixth in the 5,000 at the Diamond League Finals in 14:31:11, the third-fastest time in U.S. history.
6. The Start-Up is Now a Publicly Traded Company
In September 2021, On Holding AG went public and raised $746 million with its initial public stock offering, selling 31.1 million shares for $24 apiece. It gained a market value of $7.3 billion after filing with the Securities Exchange Commission and began being traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol ONON.
7. On is Launching a Recyclable Shoe Subscription Service
On unveiled a new program in 2021 called Cyclon, which creates shoes with a circular life cycle tied to science-based reduction targets in greenhouse gas emissions. The Cyclon Cloudneo, a lightweight everyday trainer made from recycled and bio-based materials derived from castor beans, is now available via a monthly $30 subscription service. How does it work? On sends subscribers a new pair of Cloudneo shoes which they wear until ready to be replaced. The subscriber returns the shoes to On for recycling and receives a new pair to continue the cycle of sustainability.
8. On is on a Mission to Make Running More Accessible and Inclusive
Earlier this year, On launched Right to Run, a social impact partnership initiative that is part of the brand’s long-term commitment to supporting a diverse range of communities and promoting inclusiveness in running. Runners and running organizations it has supported include the Portland Frontrunners, an LGBTQ+ running club; Colour the Trails, a Canadian BIPOC running group; Ainsley’s Angels, a family advocating for special needs athletes; and trail runner Zachary Friedley, who was born without a right leg and several fingers on his right hand and who is growing off-road running access for adaptive individuals.
9. On Believes in the Flow State
On believes running can lead to great ideas outside of running. It has partnered with neuroscience experts at the Flow Research Collective human performance research organization with the hopes of using running to empower innovation and creativity in the music, food, and entertainment industries. The program challenges international creative artists like Sam Tompkins, Ming Ma, Cbvivi Wang, Becks, and Gaku to try running for 30 days and see what ideas blossom out of the flow state that running fosters.
10. On is Pushing the Limits of Legal Performance
Norway’s Gustav Iden won the 2022 Ironman World Championship on October 9 in Hawaii wearing a custom, prototype pair of On shoes with a high-stack maximalist midsole and a carbon-fiber propulsion plate. These shoes, with a reported 50-millimeter midsole, would be illegal in a marathon because they surpassed the World Athletics 40mm stack height regulation, but were allowed in Kona because triathlons aren’t governed by those regulations. Iden not only ran the fastest marathon split (2:36:15) in the race’s 43-year history, but he also set a new overall course record for the 140.6-mile swim-bike-run event (7:40:26).
A month later, at the first combined Trail World Championships and World Mountain Running Championships held November 4 to 6 in the mountains of Chiang Mai, Thailand, American trail runner Alli McLaughlin won the gold medal in the 8.5km Classic Uphill Race and earned bronze in the 10.5km Up/Down Mountain Race wearing a pair of prototype, elite-only racing version of the On CloudVenture Peak 3 that will launch in 2023.