We caught up with Chris Mahoney, the Sr. Footwear Designer for Saucony, to get a closer look at the latest updates and design strategy of the new Saucony Kinvara 3.
Q. The Kinvara 3 is on its third rendition for 2012; what have you learned with the first two Kinvaras that’s incorporated into the 3?
A. “One of the main things we’ve learned as the Kinvara franchise has grown is how passionate runners are about it. When we first started the Kinvara there were no expectations: it was carte blanche during the design and development process, but since the original launch it’s really taken on a life of its own. When we updated from the Kinvara 1 to the 2, we decided to do a subtle update for 2 reasons. First, we wanted all the people that missed out on the Kinvara 1 to be able to try the Kinvara 2 and experience all the great aspects of the first generation. And secondly, we wanted all the Kinvara 1 loyalists to take comfort in knowing we didn’t screw around too much with a good thing. But going into the Kinvara 3, we definitely had more feedback and testimonials that allowed us to really target and identify areas to improve and adjust.”
Q. The Kinvara has spanned a good stretch of a sea change in running footwear that’s been influenced by minimalism; where do you think things currently stand, and what do you foresee for the future?
A. “I think ‘minimalism’ or ‘natural movement’ is a very viable category, but it comes in shades of grey. There are some products that are extremely minimal and others that just embrace the minimal philosophy of ‘less is more’. Either way, there’s a great variety of product for runners to choose from. The Kinvara happens to be a shoe that embraces both. It has great cushioning to protect your feet from the pounding, but a soft and flexible upper that feels like a slipper on your foot. Combine that with our 4mm heel-to-toe geometry and you have a well-balanced product, which is why I think so many runners have become Kinvara fans.
I do think the future of running can be found in the philosophy of minimalism. The advancements in materials and foams have allowed us to create highly cushioned and supportive footwear, but do so with fewer layers and less weight. So whether you believe in barefoot running or pronation control, the products in the running market today have all benefited from the advancements in technology that came about because of the minimalist footwear movement.”
Q. The FLEXFILM on the upper gives it a very distinct look; can you talk about this technology and how it functions?
A. “FlexFilm™ is a material that we originally developed for our elite athletes. We initially used it on our high-end distance and middle distance spikes because it reduced weight, layers, and seams, but what we started to realize was how incredibly strong it was. It provided great lock-down and support for the foot while still allowing optimal flexibility. So naturally we started to experiment with it on our running prototypes, which led to using it on the Hattori and Kinvara 3.
For reference, traditional materials are usually 1.0 – 1.2mm thick, but our FlexFilm™ is only 0.3-0.5mm thick, so right away we’re cutting the weight and thickness in half. Also because of the way it’s bonded to the upper mesh we can create more precise designs that would not be possible using a traditional cut-n-sew technique.”
Q. What are the main features of the Kinvara you’ve kept relatively intact, and what are the major changes?
A. “We definitely wanted to maintain the great fit, feel, and ride of the Kinvara, but we realized the need to improve the shoe’s durability. So on the Kinvara 3 we addressed this issue in the upper by utilizing our FlexFilm™ material. It not only provides a thin, flexible, and supportive design, but it also helps protect the base layer mesh from abrasion. In the sole unit, we re-allocated the rubber to provide more durability along the lateral edge, which is where we saw the most wear on the Kinvara 1 and 2. Additionally, we beveled and decoupled the heel, to allow for a smoother transition from heel to toe.
BUT, even with all these improvements to the durability, we didn’t have to budge on the weight. So the Kinvara 3 weighs exactly the same as the 1 and 2, at 7.7 oz. (men’s size 9).”
Q. How has the success of the Kinvara influenced the rest of the product line, and vice versa?
A. “It made us do a complete audit of our product line. We looked into all of our existing franchise models to see how we could improve them. So starting with some of our key products like the Triumph 9, Guide 5, and Hurricane 14, we changed from the traditional 12mm heel-to-toe drop to an 8mm one. It was an aggressive move on our part, but through a lot of testing we realized it was the right move to make. We wanted to transition people from the traditional heights to something a little lower, and 8mm was a great halfway point between traditional footwear and products like the Kinvara. Additionally, we looked into improving our foams and compounds so that we could reduce stiffness/firmness and replace it with materials that were lighter, more cushioned, and more responsive. The results have been really positive so far.”
Q. There’s also a Trail version of the Kinvara due later in 2012; can you talk some to that style?
A. “The Kinvara Trail is a new product for us that’s based on the Kinvara 3. So we’ve applied our FlexFilm™ technology to the upper, and used a breathable mesh to help not only keep debris out, but still allow the shoe to dry properly between runs. So while we’ve mirrored the same great fit of the Kinvara 3 in the upper, we’ve also made the platform more trail specific by lowering the overall heights of the midsole to make it closer to the ground. We are also using a high traction rubber outsole to provide great grip, and a full forefoot rock plate to give more underfoot protection but still maintain ideal flexibility. So ultimately we created a lightweight and nimble trail shoe that serves as a great sidekick to the road version.”
Q. The Kinvara 3 has arrived…which can only mean the Kinvara 4 is on the drawing board at Saucony; can you give us any insight or hints as to the direction you’ll be heading for 2013?
A. “I wish I could, but that one’s under lock-n-key. There are a lot of people in our own building that haven’t seen it yet either. But good things are in the works, I promise!”
The Saucony Kinvara 3 is available at all City Sports store locations and online with Free Shipping. Shop Now.