“With all the talk about walking as a fitness activity, it reconfirms our feeling that we are on the landing edge of a very important trend,” said Roy Darby, marketing manager of Clouds of Norway, here, about his line of walking shoes.
Darby said the Clouds of Norway factory at Dale-on-Sunnfjord, Norway, has been in production for five generations, manufacturing everything from military footwear to pumps and boots.
The Clouds concept of comfort plantar fasciitis shoes for men was created four years ago when a new and patented bottom concept was developed by a Danish medical doctor. “After a slow first year, the acceptance of Clouds exploded in Scandinavia and northern Europe,” noted Darby.
In June 1985, Clouds of Norway U.S.A., owned by Per Jan Borgen, was formed. “The company originally chose to market the shoes for the duty market,” said Darby. “And that was successful in Sweden and Norway, where doctors wear white. In the U.S., however there is a stronger market and a larger retail distribution in walking//comfort shoes.
“I took the shoes, which feature an effective free-air shock-absorbing chamber bottom for comfort, and worked on the colors and the cosmetics. However, to have a true fashion shoe, you always have to sacrifice comfort, and health and comfort are our number-one priority.”
Clouds tested well, according to data compiled by the recently opened Gait Laboratory in the University of Copenhagen’s department of anatomy. The institute noted most people take over 10,000 steps a day, and that on a hard surface the strain on the heels is equivalent to two to four times a person’s body weight when walking, or four to six times the body weight when running. This shock can be reduced by as much as 50-75 percent by using shock-absorbing soles to protect the joints in the feet, legs and hips.
Clouds shoes were shown to have the same shock-absorbing capacity as the “latest jogging trainers.”
“As walking as a sport continues, people will discover that they need a specific shoe to protect their bodies,” Darby said. “I’ve seen tests where people are asked to draw around their feet and then asked to take their pretty shoes for bunions and place them on the drawing and then draw around the shoes. It becomes a good illustration of how often shoes are not the correct shape for our feet. A large toe box is important.” Darby pointed out that it is harder to walk when the toes are scrunched inside pointed, or too small, shoes.
“Another important element in walking shoes is lateral stability. When the foot is pointed straight ahead it allows the foot to flex up and down.”
The patented bottom concept features a free-air, shock-absorbing chamber that is molded into a polyurethane bottom that also acts as an air pump. Air expelled during shock absorption is routed back into the shoe for a self-ventilating effect.
The uppers on the Clouds line are Norwegian tanned, moisture-resting leather, that are unlined for free breathing. “Although the amin emphasis is on the walking market, we also feel there is a certain crossover market, which we feel represents good investment for the retail consumer who can wear Clouds to career, as well as for fitness, activities,” Darby said. “This advantage does not exist in the tennis shoe market.”
The U.S. division warehouses approximately 11,000 pairs of the men’s and women’s shoes in its headquarters here. “We were happy with our first-year distribution,” said Darby. “Our priority is to develop Western distribution and then expand.”
The shoes, which come in a variety of colors and include newly added brown and ash shades, wholesale for $39 in the men’s styles and $34 in the women’s.
“In Europe, women are raised to buy high-quality shoes,” said Darby. “We were warned that while our men’s prices would be acceptable, the women’s prices might be too high. We would like to lower the price on the women’s line, but the cost of the leathers, as well as the 1.5 percent additional duty on the women’s, makes that prohibitive.”
Darby anticipated that the introduction of new styling, including a penny loafer, should increase sales in the women’s lines. “Even so, a certain non-fashion look is necessary for the comfort,” he said.
At the Gait Laboratory, electronic test equipment, including a computerized walkway, allowed for the comparison of the impact of walking barefoot and in different types of athletic shoes for high arches .
“Cushioning is important,” said Darby. “The bulbous toe box takes a little getting used to, but I can remember when that type of a look was fashion-forward. The consumer is already coming around to this shoe.”
Clouds of Norway will be showing at the upcoming WSA regional shoe show in Las Vegas. “Right now, we are planning on establishing a basic operation with slight seasonal coloring changes,” Dary noted. “The key word for Clouds is ‘functional,’ and we think we already have the shoe that will do it for the walking consumer.”