Is the world changing? (1 of 2)

Last spring, I flew to Europe for two back-to-back teaching events. Both were in response to an invitation: the first allowed me to talk about running shoes to the biggest French sports equipment company, Décathlon, and the second led me to Switzerland for the 26th National Conference of Podology-Podiatry (Congrès national de Podologie). As the french expression sums it up so well: “Things got heated,” but this led to such constructive discussions! 





Swiss Podiatrist


The Swiss Society of Podologists-Podiatrist (Société Suisse des Podologues) (SSP) invited me to deliver two lectures. One of them was entitled “Orthotics, do they work?” Being very honest and without sugarcoating the message, I introduced them to the most up-to-date information and the 12 systematic reviews that had been conducted on the subject. For some of them, it was shocking! It was harsh and to the point! The presentation even proved overwhelming for many as science is far from supporting a number of current practices. Against all odds, nobody threw tomatoes at me, but no roses either! The discussions that ensued were constructive. In fact, I'm convinced that several podologists-podiatrists will redefine themselves as practitioners. I always state that my presentation only concerns one of their tools (orthotics / plantar orthoses) and that I do not question the usefulness of their profession, for which I have the utmost respect.


Décathlon and its Kalenji brand


I was also invited by the French company Décathlon, a major company in France whose yearly turnover is more than 10 billion euros. It produces and sells sports equipment distributed in 1,176 stores located in 28 countries. Its brand specific to running, developed 10 years ago, is Kalenji, which proposes a range of 74 shoe models. Its philosophy is to get people running and provide access to everyone by designing technical, attractive and simple products at the lowest price possible.


Simple? At a low price? With a real concern about injury prevention, from an early age? This piqued my curiosity and thus I agreed to go. To avoid any conflict of interest, I paid for all my expenses and asked them to donate 5,000 euros to The Running Clinic Philanthropic Fund.*


The meeting


So I went to Lille where its parent company is located and where the products are designed and tested in laboratory. Around 20 people directly related to the Kalenji brand and the Décathlon Sports Lab (R&D) were present: designers, R&D team, engineers, people from marketing, scientists and product managers. In short, everyone in the industry capable of really changing practices were present for this one-day discussion.


Adult and children’s running shoes were at the center of our discussions. We reviewed everything: the link with injuries, biomechanical influences, product design and the market’s response to certain ideas. Here again, we witnessed frank discussions that shook well-anchored practices, opinions and beliefs!


The design process


Not surprisingly, as is the case for all brands, the first objective is to stand out from the competition to sell more products. Nothing wrong with that. To that end, consumers are being asked questions and companies are the ones who guide the product design process. Above all, their goal is to meet consumers’ needs and give them what they want. Following this logic, color, new technologies or new cushioning trends always call for more. Needless to say, this ends up being a vicious cycle as none of the questions that would truly address what’s best for runners are actually considered. The marketing logic here is based on the lack of knowledge on the part of consumers, which in turn is exactly what allows increasing sales; i.e., consumers’ ignorance.


Changing practices?


Changing practices is never simple and the domino effect induced by this change is important for such a major company. The process must be calculated and implemented with great caution. The advantage of Décathlon is that it sells its own shoes. Therefore, the company can actually educate runners at the time of purchase, directly in its stores, both through customer advice and the ads displayed.


Next week, I'll share key advice I gave to the Kalenji/Décathlon team. A company filled with good intentions that seems to have a true interest in the production of equipment that contributes to the health of runners from all walks of life, regardless of age.


Is the world changing? Hummmm. It will certainly take a lot more than that! However, I'm still excited about the open-mindedness to scientific evidence; excited to know that in this “free market,” consciousness is slowly rising.



*The Running Clinic and its lecturers have no commercial bias, nor do they derive any kind of financial benefits or others from running shoe brands. They are totally independent intellectually. Their position reflect the best scientific practices currently available... nothing else!


Blaise Dubois