Other shoe brands follow in Oregon footsteps of Nike, Adidas

Other shoe brands follow in Oregon footsteps of Nike, Adidas

Nike established Oregon’s role as a footwear hotbed.

But it was Adidas, arguably, that made the region a footwear-industry destination.

It’s been two decades since Rob Strasser, a former Nike executive, convinced Germany-based Adidas to pick up and move its North American headquarters from New Jersey to Portland. Since then, a number of shoe and sports apparel brands have followed suit — most recently and notably, Under Armour. Also this year, the fledgling Swiss running shoe brand On set up shop in Portland.

But the list is long of other shoe brands that have started in Portland or relocated here. Among them: Mizuno Running USA; Hi-Tec; Keen; Bogs Footwear; RYZ; Skora; Sseko Design; and Chinese brands Anta and Li Ning.

Sean Beers, chief executive of Portland boot maker Korkers, cited three reasons for the industry migration.

Most importantly, Beers said, “There’s a base of design and development talent here in Portland unlike any other market in the country.”

On top of that, the marketing community “is really well plugged into the footwear business,” perhaps best exemplified by Nike’s long-term relationship with ad agency Wieden+Kennedy.

And Portland has easier and more affordable access than many U.S. cities to Asia, the region where more shoes than anywhere else are manufactured.

Baltimore-based Under Armour confirmed earlier this month that it has opened an office in Portland. The company, which has declined to discuss its Portland plans with reporters, was rumored to be looking to hire footwear-design talent at least since last August. The Portland Business Journal was first to report on Under Armour’s Portland office, in April.

“We’ll probably have over 20 people by the end of 2014” in Portland, Kip J. Fulks, chief operating officer, told stock analysts June 5.

It’s understandable that Under Armour — or any footwear brand — would want to set up shop in Portland, said D’Wayne Edwards, a former designer with Nike and the Jordan Brand.

“Those companies are coming here for the possibility of luring talent from a big company,” either Nike or Adidas America, said Edwards, founder of the Pensole Footwear Design Academy. “That’s been the history of a lot of the sports brands.”

On top of the brands themselves, Edwards estimated the metro area includes at least 10 independent design studios, such as IDW in Southeast Portland, also known as ID Workshop. IDW’s website says the company has designed footwear for more than 50 brands, all over the world.

On chose Portland to open a sales and customer service office because “Portland is a mecca to attract talent in the sporting goods industry,” said Ted Goodlake, a former Puma executive who is On’s director of sales in North America.

The office has four employees. Goodlake said that number is likely to grow as runners and other consumers become aware of the shoe’s quirky appearance and, what company officials say, is the shoe’s comfortable feel.

The East Coast still claims a significant number of shoe brands, including Puma North America, Saucony, Adidas-owned Reebok and Nike-owned Converse, which will soon move to new headquarters in Boston. However, Edwards said, the East Coast’s day has passed as a footwear power.

“Every year it seems like more and more companies are moving away,” Edwards said. “We probably have the most design talent per square mile of any city in the world.”

— Allan Brettman

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