March 2, 2020

Why your Hokas might be the trendiest thing you own

text by Ellen Pennock

What do Kayne West and ultramarathons have in common?

Hoka running shoes.

I think we can all agree that Hokas don’t make for the most attractive footwear. You could go as far as saying they’re ugly. And for this precise reason, I think they could become a fashion trend.

Founded in 2009 by Nicolas Mermoud and Jean-Luc Diard, Hoka was acquired by Deckers in 2013, a company that has a complete monopoly on the ugly shoe business. Decker also owns UGG and Teva, two iconically ugly shoe brands. These brands made a name for themselves in fashion because they are ugly, not despite it.

I was introduced to Hoka last year when I had a second metatarsal stress fracture. My doctor had been trying to get me in a pair of Hokas a few years prior for chronic plantar fasciitis, but I resisted. It was 100% vanity. I didn’t want to wear them because of their appearance.

But buying a pair of Hokas for my metatarsal stress fracture meant getting out of that unsightly moon boot sooner, so I caved. I sucked up my pride and bought a pair of purple and pink Bondis.

The injury was stubborn and I had arthritic-like joint pain for five months. The only reason I was able to maintain consistent running was because of the Hokas.

Gradually, I developed a soft spot for these platform running shoes. I’ve downsized in cushion to a nice, modest pair of black Cliftons. I also have a pair of grey, blue and yellow Cliftons for walking. I’m officially a fan.

Then one day, with some dismay and a mild sense of horror, I saw someone in street clothes strutting along in none other than a pair of Hokas. It appeared that this individual had zero intentions of going for a run. And this was when I first developed my Hoka-entering-the-fashion-world theory.

Let me be clear: this is not a sponsor ad. Hoka does not sponsor Live Feisty Media (though we are accepting offers). This is merely a prediction from someone who likes to be the first person to notice something. If you aren’t convinced though, let me enlighten you further.

Reason #1: Celebrities are wearing them.

A number of celebrities have discovered Hoka’s dreamlike cushioning and appear to not mind the clunky design. Check out how Whitney Port hyped them up on the ‘Gram:

Apparently Reece Witherspoon even “wears [Hoka] running shoes when she’s not running”.

And here is photo evidence of Kayne West sporting a pair of Ultra Hi hiking boots. Yes, even Yeezy is into it.

It does appear however, that these celebrities are primarily wearing Hokas for their intended purpose: to exercise. Or run errands. They aren’t exactly trying to make a fashion statement. So admittedly, this isn’t the strongest argument for Hoka’s arrival into the fashion world. Moving on.

Reason #2: Hoka has partnered with some big brands

Some big brands have noticed Hoka’s potential. In particular, Outdoor Voices, Engineered Garments and Opening Ceremony are capitalizing on Hoka’s ugly.

I am personally pretty obsessed with Outdoor Voices, a recreation-focused athleisure company from Austin, Texas. So when Hoka teamed up with Outdoor Voices in 2018 to make these playful Cliftons, Hoka as a brand definitely grew on me. Athleisure isn’t exactly high fashion though.

Hoka’s other collaborations- Engineered Garments and Opening Ceremony- are both fashion labels. Engineered Garments has Japanese influence from designer/CEO Daiki Suzuki and is based in New York. The label released a line of multi-coloured, black and white Bondis in September for both men and women.

Opening Ceremony is another fashion label based in New York City. The company’s IG bio describes them as “an innovative retail environment and global fashion brand bridging the worlds of style, travel and culture” (and it has 1.3 millions might I add). Earlier in February Open Ceremony released a Clifton dad-shoe. Now this is giving me a fashion vibe.

Reason #3: My parents wear them.

Ok, hear me out. My parents dress nicely but are by no means concerned with the latest fashions. They have, however, been ahead of the fashion curve when it comes to shoes.

My parents wore Birkenstocks before they were cool and Bundstones before they were cool. They tried to get me to wear both types of shoes (because they were “good for your feet”) before they were cool but, of course, I refused. So when my parents started wearing Hokas, I thought I should keep an eye on this trend.

Reason #4: Hokas are already on the runway.

So I thought I was ahead of this trend, but it appears that Hoka IS ALREADY FASHIONABLE. Hoka made its runway debut at London Fashion Week in 2018 when designer Nicola Formichetti chose the Ultra Hi hiking boot for his show.  Designer Sandy Liang included Hokas into her line-up for New York Fashion Week this past September. Most recently, Hilary Taymour of Collina Strada painted and bedazzled speciality Hokas for her colorful show last January. So I guess fashionable Hokas are already a thing.

My research raises the question: what is fashion? Is it what appears on the runaway, or is what we consider popular for everyday wear? Is it what everyone is wearing, or just what fashionable people wear?

I think there is a clear distinction between style and fashion. Style is timeless; fashion is fleeting. I don’t think Hokas will ever be stylish. But they could work their way into fashion’s ever fickle rotation of fads and re-surface with each passing dad-shoe phase. 

So what to make of this: buy Hokas if you want to make a statement or want your feet to feel good. And who knows, you may even be lauded as a trendsetter.

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Ellen Pennock does a bunch of things behind-the-scenes for Live Feisty, including occasionally writing (and making TikToks). She has competed at the Commonwealth Games and Pan American Games in triathlon. She calls Victoria, BC home.

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