Introducing the Hattori: Interview with Saucony’s Chris Mahoney

Minimalism became a mainstream phenomenon in the fitness world in early 2010.  While the general footwear industry was focused on the benefits of more cushioning and stability, minimalism stressed the opposite for running shoes.  Compared to most of their traditional counterparts, Minimalist running shoes are typically built lighter, lower to the ground, and with less material.  Enter the Saucony Hattori.

The Hattori is Saucony’s most minimal and lightweight shoe ever.  Unlike other very minimal shoes, the Hattori’s mitten-like toe box gives your toes room to naturally arch, grip and push off.  For an inside scoop on the inspiration and strategy behind the shoe, we caught up with Chris Mahoney, Senior Footwear Designer for Saucony.

1.)  What was the design inspiration for the Hattori?  Can you explain the significance of the name?

Our design was inspired by the Japanese culture, which embraces the fusion between the modern and traditional way of life. During the creation process we had made some image boards to really outline and define the tone of the season, and the one image I got stuck on was of a Samurai sword.

It’s light and incredibly thin, but super sharp and amazingly strong. It can do just about anything that another sword can, which I thought perfectly embodied this shoe.  After doing some research I came across a historic Samurai warrior with the name Hattori and thought it was unique and would be a fun name to use. It really started as just a working name but in the end it stuck.

2.)  Saucony has already established some renowned Minimalist styles with the Kinvara and Mirage; where does the Hattori fit into the mix?

The Hattori is even more minimally constructed than either the Kinvara or the Mirage. Additionally the Hattori is made on a different last that has a zero millimeter heel-toe drop and a more anatomical toe shape.  It’s geared for the runner looking for the barefoot running experience but with some added cushioning for those long runs.

3.)  Can you talk about Saucony’s design philosophy for running in general and, more specifically, with Minimalist footwear?

Saucony’s design philosophy has always been rooted in biomechanics and feedback. As designers we have instincts and theories about how to innovate and improve the running experience, but we rely very heavily on testing and feedback to validate these ideas.

With minimal footwear it’s the same thing. From working with our athletes, we started to see a common trend in their feedback.  Essentially they were telling us they didn’t need as much lift or cushioning in the heel, so we started developing special prototypes for their needs.  After making these prototypes (which eventually became the Kinvara), we started debating if this kind of product would appeal to the broader running community. We really had some strong debates as to whether this information from our Elites was biased. They are such gifted runners that hammer out high mileage easily, so their wants/needs can be very skewed compared to the average runner.  So our focus with products like the Kinvara and Mirage was do minimalism responsibly.

Rather than jumping runners from the jacquzzi to the pool, we wanted to give them a different approach to a minimal shoe. We wanted to provide a product that had has less layers and is lighter weight, but at the same time had great cushioning and protection from the pounding. Ultimately we created a shoe that had huge mass appeal, and as more runners became accustomed to the stance and ride of a Kinvara or Mirage, we realized they were ready for the next step, which was the Hattori.

We want runners to be well rounded. So our philosophy with running footwear, centers around the idea that there isn’t necessary one shoe for you. We believe that the combination of a Ride, Kinvara, and Hattori (or Guide, Mirage, Hattori) is a great way for runners to keep their body and feet adapting. This will help runners develop stronger feet and legs; making them stronger runners.  What will be different between all runners is how often they rotate between these shoes. Initially some might do 75% of their runs in a Ride, and only 25% in the Kinvara or Hattori, but over time those ratios might change as they become more accustomed to a different feel.


 

4.)  How has the surge in popularity for Minimalist footwear effected the rest of Saucony’s footwear line?  Has this changed how you approach updating, say, a Hurricane or Guide?

The rise in the popularity of Minimalist footwear has created a huge spark of energy throughout the footwear industry. It’s caused every running company to do an audit of their lines and reevaluate their ‘best practices’.  About 4 years ago, even before minimalism was being discussed so heavily, we had started putting together some advanced prototypes that were the beginning steps of the Kinvara. Once the Kinvara was ready for wear testing, we decided to send our samples to a wide variety of runners… elite athletes, barefoot enthusiasts, and even more conservative/traditional runners.  Across the board everybody loved the feel and ride of the shoe.  Admittedly it took us by surprise because I think we believed it would appeal to some, but not all of them.  So it really made us do a deeper dive into what attributes people were responding to most positively.  It was these attributes, such as ‘lightweight’, ‘less material layers’, ‘bold and fun colors’ that we wanted to apply to our core styles going forward.

5.)  The Hattori has a zero drop—can you explain what this means in terms of running form and the distinction it draws from more ‘traditional’ running shoes?

The Hattori having a zero millimeter heel-toe drop essentially means that your foot is flat to the ground. So even though the Hattori has a midsole it still maintains a flat stance, as there is no lift or angle to the sole unit.

Our motto at the outset of design and development of the Hattori was ‘no correction, just protection’. We realize that runners have a lot of footwear options that mimic the barefoot experience, however, our mindset was to allow the foot to move and torque and pronate just the way it does naturally, BUT do it in a way that provides exceptional comfort.  So what I think is unique about the Hattori is the fact that, in its class, it has one of the most cushioned sole units at the lightest weights.

6.) There’s plenty of new products and vendors entering the Minimalist silo—where do you see the direction of this category heading, and what has Saucony learned since they first launched the Kinvara in 2010?

I think the future direction of minimalism is really mixed. No two runners are the same, so it’s hard to predict what their likes and dislikes will be. Personally, I believe the running community is very impressionable. There are a lot of strong advocates on both sides of the minimalist movement, and both sides make some pretty compelling arguments. But I think a majority of runners fall into the ‘curious’ category. They want to try new and exciting products, philosophies, and innovations, but don’t know if it will be right for them. Also they don’t want to get injured or mess up their routine. I think most runners are looking for someone to give them a definitive answer, but that’s really tricky.

Let me give you an example. I’m a big guy…6’ 6” 280 lbs. I was a collegiate football player and my running was usually on the field doing drills. But now that career is over and my running today is to keep fit and stay healthy. A couple of years ago if I had walked into a running store, the immediate bias would have been to put me in a motion control shoe. Would it surprise you to know that I’m a midfoot/forefoot striker that tends to supinate? Would it also surprise you to know that even thought I’m a big guy, I love running in my Hattori’s and Kinvara’s? So when runners ask, “Will the Hattori or Kinvara or Mirage work for me?”, it’s really difficult to answer because it’s so subjective.

What we’ve learned from our Kinvara experience is to just be very clear on what the attributes of the shoe are and its intended use…like whether it’s intended for a neutral gait or some someone that needs a little support. And because these products are new and different, we’ve had our team out at stores doing clinics and fun runs to allow people to experience some of the product.  This really helps them come to their own conclusions about which product works best for them.

The Saucony Hattori is available at select City Sports store locations and online.

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