You had probably never heard of them until they were seen on the feet of a certain Kanye West, but Finnish trainer brand Karhu are definitely worth keeping an eye out for. With a rapidly growing following, we caught up with Karhu's global lifestyle manager, Remko Nouws, to find out what else the brand has got in store.
What’s the first thing you do when you get to work?
First thing we do as a team is getting a coffee or a tea, talk a bit and start planning the day.
Where can we find you most of the day?
Most of the day you can find me at Karhu’s European main office in Amsterdam, which is by the way the city where I was born and raised.
How did you first get into your role?
I worked at ASICS Europe with Emanuele Arese, the son of the old owner of ASICS Italy, Francesco Arese. At ASICS we became very good friends. While working there I had also a good friend working for Karhu and to make a long story short, in the end I connected the Arese family to Karhu. The rest is history, the Arese family became co-owners in Karhu and then they asked me to join.
Emanuele knew about my interest in brand and product marketing so in the end I was offered a role to be globally responsible for the lifestyle category, which includes product and brand management. It also included opening a network of global top tier retailers, which would be the base from where we started building the brand on. It felt really like a dream that came true!
How important do you think a college / university education is for designers?
Depends on what kind of designer you are. If you are designing shoes or apparel, for sure a college or university education is key. When it comes to colour design, I don’t think this is necessarily needed. The colour and material team I work with is just a very experienced team but without a university education. They are also experienced on the retail side, so they have a good understanding of what a consumer wants or looks for in Karhu. Most of all, I think they have exceptional taste and understanding of what Karhu was and where we need to go to.
What made you want to work with Karhu?
Of course the people I work with on a daily basis! But also the rich history and the extensive Karhu archive. The brand is more than 100 years old (established in 1916), so even though we might be small, it has the history of well-known key players in the market. This to me is super exciting. You should see the catalogues we have, going back as far as 1920. Amazing stuff, really!
What inspired the latest collection?
Finland is mostly known for its nature, design and sports history. For this collection we were inspired by both nature and city life and connected activities like trail and city running. Since we also want people to get to know Finland more, we decided that our main inspiration would be a famous hiking trail close to Russia’s border, which is called the Karhunkierros Trail, “Bear’s Trail or Bear’s Ring”. Karhu has also been known for their hiking, walking and trail running collections. Our back catalogue has a lot of amazing product, which inspired this collection as well. Hopefully you will be seeing more of this in the future.
Do you have any interesting facts about Karhu?
Being around for 100+ years there are a couple for sure.
- Did you know that Karhu means Bear?
- Karhu was the first sports brand with a patent on an Air Cushion system (1976).
- Karhu used to produce a big part of the Olympic equipment (discus discs, javelins, etc.). This happened in the first half of the 20th century.
- Did you know that Paavo Nurmi, Finland’s legendary runner still owns the Olympic Gold medal Track & Field record, leaving Carl Lewis and Usain Bolt behind him? Paavo ran a lot of his important races on Karhu, so in a way we feel that we own this record together with him.
- Another one is that the king of Spain used to wear Karhu in his childhood. You can find a photo of him on Google wearing the ChampionAir. Check it out!
What’s your favourite piece from the current collection?
My favourite model is the Synchron Classic. My favourite piece of the FW17 collection is the Synchron Classic in the colour way Joia / Alluminio. I love this colour combination, such a great fall trainer. The green heel protector works well with the Joia colour and the reflective M logo is a nice detail.
The other one is the ChampionAir, which we launched this season. A lot of effort went into developing the silhouette, but that doesn't matter when the outcome is great. Even the Air unit was built in the way they did it back in the day. Hopefully Karhu's most iconic shoe will be here to stay!
What are your aims for next season?
The aim is making beautiful products; receive global recognition and appeal to great retail partners worldwide, who want to grow together with us and secure Karhu’s next 100 years as a sports brand.
Who, if anyone, inspires most of your collection? Any particular muse?
For now there is only one muse and that is FINLAND! As I mentioned before, Finland has so much to offer and Finland’s DNA is deeply rooted in Karhu.