An interview with Mr. Shigeru Aoe, Performance Category Footwear Manager of Mizuno in Europe!

Από 07 Νοε 2022

For over 110 years the Japanese company Mizuno designs and produces sports equipment products for a great variety of sports and of course for running and mountain running. Mzn Hellas S.A., the official distributor of the company for Greece and Cyprus, has been a partner of Advendure for years. In this context, we were invited to participate in one of the biggest running events in Europe, the Amsterdam Marathon, whose main sponsor is Mizuno - and to meet Mr. Shigeru Aoe, “Performance Category Footwear Manager of Mizuno EMEA”. This resulted in an in-depth exclusive interview with him, which helps us to get to know a lot of interesting things about the popular Japanese company, its philosophy, design, production and features of its products and the running equipment market in general.

 

 

[Advendure]: Mizuno is one of the largest and oldest manufacturers of sports equipment products. It would be very interesting if you could tell us a few words about the design and production process of your products. How important for you is the feedback from the company's athletes and from ordinary athletes? Which points and decisions are considered key to the company's development in recent years?

[Shigeru Aoe]: Our corporate philosophy of “Contributing to society through the advancement of sporting goods and the promotion of sport” is crucial to everything we bring to our customers and athletes.  We find the best way to deliver products that can truly contribute to society is to really listen to the wants and needs of not only our top athletes, but also passionate athletes of all levels, genders, ages.  This method has served us well to be in the sporting goods business for over 110 years.  What we particularly pay attention to is the WHY behind the comments and questions we receive.

 

                                                             Mr. Shigeru Aoe during the Amsterdam Marathon

 

[Advendure]: Mujin, Daichi, Ibuki ... particularly in the names of Mizuno's trail running models we see a variation in naming, where Japanese words are used that if you look for it, they indicate some philosophical concepts, such as balance and others. How do you choose your names? Do they emphasize something that distinguishes each model properties and the idea of its design? Why do we see it mainly in the trail running models and not so much in the running models?

[Shigeru Aoe]: When creating the current trail model lineup, we wanted to distinguish it as something unique within our running collection.  We felt a strong link between our Japanese brand DNA and the natural environment trail runners run through and so decided to create the collection with names that were Japanese and highlighted a specific characteristic of the model itself.  For example, Wave Daichi; Daichi (大地) means “ vast terrain”.  This fit perfectly with the model as we wanted to instill the meaning that this trail model was for any trail runner of any level to enjoy running on any terrain.

 

                Daich, Mujin etc...Japanese names that emphasize certain characteristics as Mr. Shigeru Aoe explains.

 

[Advendure]: Recently we were in Amsterdam – as guests of Mzn Hellas - where we participated and watched the marathon and the other running events, one of the biggest sporting events in Europe of which Mizuno is a main sponsor. What are your impressions about the event, in relation to the fact that we came out of a difficult period due to the pandemic? Is Mizuno a main sponsor of a similar trail running event or are you thinking of doing something like that in the future?

[Shigeru Aoe]: The Amsterdam Marathon is truly one of, if not the biggest highlight of the year for us!  The event personifies everything that is great about working for a sporting brand like Mizuno.  The crowds, the runners, the drama, the excitement.  Truly an event that uplifts not only those that participate, but our whole team that work so hard to make it a success.  We are always open for new opportunities to sponsor events.  Whether it is a road race or trail event, doesn’t matter to us!

 

                                                   Advendure & MZN Hellas in Amsterdam Marathon 2022!

 

[Advendure]: Getting to some technical issues and looking at the outsole of Mizuno shoes we see that in the running models you use mainly your own rubber (X10), while in the trail running models you use Michelin rubber. Why this differentiation?

[Shigeru Aoe]: We utilize the X10 rubber in high contact areas of the outsole.  For running models, we find that most runners tend to land on their heels thus the X10 rubber is placed there to maximize the durability of our shoes.  Trail runners tend to land in many different areas, depending on the terrain they are running on.  This fact, plus the emphasis on grip that is needed in trail running lead us to find a partner that could deliver on a unique grip experience that only an expert in rubber would be able to provide.  For us, that partner was Michelin.

 

[Advendure]: "Driven by Performance, Inspired by Nature" is one of Mizuno's key mottos and we know how much emphasis is placed on sustainability and the use of environmentally friendly materials. Tell us a little bit about this philosophy of your company.

[Shigeru Aoe]: As mentioned in my answer to your first question, our philosophy is deeply rooted in contributing to society.  We at Mizuno feel that this also entails that we must be eco conscious of the impact our products make to society.  Therefore, we have set out to lower our carbon imprint by utilizing recyclable and bio-based materials for short term changes and look to lower our total CO2 output by 50% by 2030 and be complete carbon neutral (without offset) by 2050.

 

[Advendure]: In recent years, the minimalist fashion of very lightweight shoes that had been introduced was followed by shoes with a very high profile and cushioning, especially for distances over Marathon. Mizuno is following a more conservative and classic model with an intermediate profile and drop, although you have recently lowered it (the drop) in some of your models. How do you see the evolution in the design of your running shoes? What design trends do you see prevailing in the near future?

[Shigeru Aoe]: We believe that the root of all trends and needs for running shoes and runners is the pursuit of comfort.  The interpretation of what comfort means for each person differs; thus, products will differ.  In recent years, the ability to make shoes that are more comfortable than what was possible in the past, has led to a real push to create more comfortable shoes for not only the everyday runner, but also those that can be worn by elite athletes as well.  This pursuit of comfort is no longer a trend, but now a category norm and we believe we must learn to innovate with this new standard in place.

 

Collector's edition Wave Rider 26 for the 2022 Amsterdam Marathon, for which Mizuno has been an official sponsor for 23 years!

 

[Advendure]: Wave, Dynamotion Fit, Enerzy, U4iCX and other Mizuno technologies are considered classical to almost all your running models. On the other hand, innovation plays a big role in the design and creation process of your shoes. How much important is blending innovation with traditional materials in the design and production of a new product?

[Shigeru Aoe]: Our belief is to hold on to the essence of what experience our running models deliver and to elevate this experience with each update we bring.  The materials and technology that we develop are created with the goal of improving this running experience.  If we feel that a new material or technology does not improve the experience, we then do not utilize it.  We are a product first brand, and this decision making allows us to be fully confident that the new material or technology we bring out to the market.

 

[Advendure]: What are the key elements that distinguish a running shoe in the performance series for elite athletes from models aimed at people who just want to run every day for their health and fitness?

[Shigeru Aoe]: The speed and efficiency at which elite athletes can run at for an extended period is something quite remarkable.  Their bodies are built to sustain prolonged periods of high intensity activity and we focus to create products that enable the athlete to sustain and further improve their level of output for this level of athlete.  While there are certain similarities between the two types of runners, every day runners are perhaps more focused on having an enjoyable running experience that will provide them with the motivation to go a little further or go for another run the next day.  The shoes we develop for this market is catered more towards a cushioned comfort direction and less about maximizing on speed output.

 

[Advendure]: Based on your experience, do you see differences in the models preferred on different continents in terms of sales volume? Does Mizuno launch the same models in all regions of the world or are there variations? How different is European running culture compared to the Asian or American ones?

[Shigeru Aoe]: The core products we provide are globally distributed amongst the regions throughout the world.  From there, the models that are ranged varies on running environment and market presence.  The main difference we see between the European market and others is the strong trail market presence.  We offer a larger range of trail models in Europe than any other region.

 

[Advendure]: Running is now one of the most widespread sports on the planet, with a lot of competition between brands that make running products. But a product is not only the shoe, but also the marketing, service, sales and the whole chain until it reaches the buyer. How do you get a store owner or even the customer themselves to pay attention to your models?

[Shigeru Aoe]: This has been a great challenge as we’ve seen a growth of competitors enter the market in the past few years.  Our primary direction from day one has always been to let our products do the talking.  It’s a strategy that doesn’t yield the fastest return, but one that works well to create trustworthy follows.  The main intent is to have as many people try on and experience our products.  We are confident that if a runner gets their foot into our shoes, we are second to none in the experience they will have.  From there, we can divulge into the details of the product and the background of our brand, but it all starts with getting the product into the hand of the runner and store owner.  Therefore, we emphasize activation to get our shoes on runners, as our products are “For Every Run”.

 

[Advendure]: We will close the interview with our country. Since 2009 Mzn Hellas A.E  is the official distributor for Greece and Cyprus, contributing to the awareness of Mizuno brand. I’m wondering if you are thinking of sponsoring a big running event in Greece, such as the Authentic Athens Marathon or Olympus Marathon in mountain running.

[Shigeru Aoe]: We are of course open to sponsoring events all over the world and heard many great things about the Authentic Athens Marathon and Olympus Marathon.  If the opportunity comes up to sponsor either event, I am sure we will have some great discussions with Hellas to make this happen!

 

Dimitrios Troupis

Δημήτρης Τρουπής

Κατάγεται από το Ξυλόκαστρο Κορινθίας και ζει μόνιμα στην Πάτρα. Συμμετείχε στην συντακτική ομάδα του Adventure Zone από το 2009, ενώ μαζί με τον Τάκη Τσογκαράκη ίδρυσαν και "τρέχουν" το Advendure.  Το τρέξιμο στα μονοπάτια των βουνών και η μεταφορά εικόνων και συναισθημάτων μέσα από τα άρθρα του αποτελεί αναπόσπαστο κομμάτι της ζωής του. Παθιάζεται με τους αγώνες ορεινού τρεξίματος, υπεραντοχής και  περιπέτειας. Έχει πολλές συμμετοχές και διακρίσεις σε αγώνες ορεινού τρεξίματος όλων των αποστάσεων, με έμφαση στους αγώνες ultra trail.  Θεωρεί ότι το τρέξιμο και η πεζοπορία στη φύση είναι μια εσωτερική ανάγκη του ανθρώπου, μας φέρνει πιο κοντά σε αυτήν και μας κάνει να αγαπήσουμε περισσότερο το περιβάλλον.

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