Pearl Izumi product manager Michael Thompson answers the questions you wanted to know about the design of a running shoe.  

Transitions: What is Pearl Izumi's history in running shoes?

MT: Pearl Izumi has been making performance running footwear for 11 years now. It was born out of the natural extension of the ride side of our brand, as over 40% of riders also run as part of their active lifestyle. Our footwear has evolved and changed over the that time period, but we have always had a distinctive look and feel to our shoes, due to our revolutionary Seamless Upper technology.

The focal point of our all of our footwear is to create the smoothest running experience possible, regardless of the runner’s pace, ability level or terrain they are running on. This focus on the consumer experience led us to the Dynamic Offset midsole shape that is in each and every style in our footwear line since Spring 2013. We went through dozens of iterations of midsole shapes until we found one that delivered the smooth running experience we were seeking. It was a very organic and iterative process of testing, refining, and testing again to get to the final midsole shape.


Transitions: What sets Pearl Izumi apart from the competition?

MT: Some of the earliest shoes had a very distinctively clean look to them vs the competition, and that was due to the innovative Seamless Upper technology we incorporated into the shoes from the beginning. As we fast forward to our current Project E:Motion line, the (2) main areas of focus on our shoes:
o Seamless Upper Technology: We are one of the only brands I know of that uses modern, sew free upper technology on every style in our line across road, trail and triathlon categories. The goal is to Create smooth interface to the foot to deliver out of the box, add day comfort
o Dynamic Offset Midsole: Our platform is based on a unique midsole shape that delivers an incredibly smooth running experience. This technology is present across every one of our styles in road/trail/tri in order to deliver a consistently, smooth running experience for the end consumer.

Transitions: Do you think the tech in the shoes today is substantially better today than 20 years ago and does this equate to better shoes or just more tech for the sake of it?

MT: Technology is much better today than it was 20 years ago. The industry has made substantial advances in modern, sew free upper technology vs traditional cut and sew uppers of the past. Midsole materials have made tremendous advances in that time as well. EVA materials are much lighter weight, more resilient (resist taking a compression set) and more tunable for the desired under the foot feel that a runner would want. You are now seeing very low durometer (softer) EVA materials in modern midsole constructions that offer incredible cushioning and impact properties and are durable enough to last 300-500 miles with degrading. At Pearl Izumi, we do not try to add technology or ‘stuff’ to our products without having a true consumer benefit. Function drives form and less is more when it comes to footwear design.

Transitions: Does PI consult/have on staff physios/podiatrists/etc during the design process?

MT: We consult and use a bio-mechanist to test and validate all of our new products to ensure they are bio-mechanically sound for the end user as well as work with the Colorado State University, Human Performance Center, for testing, validation and advanced development of new product concepts.


Mike at Pearl Izumi HQ. 

Transitions: It used to be pronation, neutral, or supination; now there is heel strike, mid foot strike and forefoot strike on top of these, have shoes adapted to suit these trends if at all and how?

MT: Shoes and shoe construction has changed with these trends over time. Heel/forefoot drops have been lowered and the traditional 12mm offset is no longer the standard. Consumers now have a variety of choices with stack heights of midsoles and drops to align with their preferred running style and form. These trends have caused confusion for the consumer in the marketplace as runners are always looking for the ‘perfect’ solution for their footwear needs.

Transitions: Heel-Toe drop is a new parameter for shoes how does PI address this if at all?

MT: All of our footwear has a heel-toe drop of 4mm – 8mm. Because of the uniqueness of our midsole shape, all of our shoes, regardless of their drop have an incredibly smooth running experience. We obsess over the consumer’s experience and let that drive the stack heights and drops of our styles. We feel the range of drops we offer cover all of the running forms and styles that are present in the marketplace today.

Transitions: The cycle of shoe fads eg maximum or minimum cushioning is this customer, market research or company driven, and do you believe shoes could be better made if you were to ignore trends or fads?

MT: The pendulum has swung pretty far and really fast from barefoot/minimal to maximum cushioning over the past few years. I believe that this swing from one extreme to the other creates confusion for the end consumer ultimately and is driven more from the industry than true consumer demand. We feel very comfortable staying our course and offering a range of midsole cushioning experiences that are more in the middle, but still offer a range from more minimal, race day performance experiences (EM Road N0) to maximum plush cushioned ride (new F15 EM Road N3) and everything in between. The beauty of our product is that we can still deliver a smooth running experience with our Dynamic Offset midsole regardless of the stack height. This is the true power of our technology and ultimately an experience that all runners want, regardless of their running style or running form.

Transitions: Anecdotally do you believe runners are tempted into the wrong shoes by trends and fads?

MT: Absolutely. Runners are looking for the ‘silver bullet’ with running shoes. The wild swings from barefoot to maximum cushioning have caused confusion for the end consumer as to what is the ‘right’ solution in footwear for their needs. The answer is that there is no ‘silver bullet’ with run shoes and a shoe that is perfect for me, might not be the right shoe for you. Offering a range of footwear choices is a good thing for the end consumer thing and properly educating them on their footwear choices is paramount for the industry – this includes editorial, brand and retail to align here.

Transitions: What's the next big fad in running shoes?

MT: I really think that when the dust settles with these wild swings from minimalism/barefoot to maximum cushioning, we will land somewhere in the middle – the ‘sweet spot’ I call it. We offer a robust range of footwear in terms of cushioning under foot and neutral and stability offerings in this sweet spot that don’t chase trends or fads.

Transitions: Do you track injuries on the various type of running shoes? If so what does the data indicate?

MT: I watch and read all of the reports that have surfaced on running shoes and injury rates and I feel you can find strong cases/data to support either side of the argument and nothing is really conclusive here. The positive takeaway here is that I see customers thinking about their running form more and how using multiple types of shoes is a good thing for a runner in general.

Transitions: Helmets can come in a Euro shape and an Asian shape, is there such a standard for shoe shapes?

MT: There are no standards in forefoot or toe shape, but more and more footwear brands are coming out with more anatomical/wider shaped forefoots to allow proper toe splay.

Transitions: How much impact does fashion have on shoe design?

MT: Fashion has a big impact on footwear design. Shoes have to function properly in performance running, but how the shoe makes you look/feel when you where them is incredibly important to the end consumer.

Transitions: Have any athletes used your shoes when sponsored by other brands?

MT: Yes, we have had several athletes sponsored by other brands use and race in our shoes in some of the biggest races in the world. A true testament to our product.

Transitions: In 50 words or less, why should people buy/use PI shoes?

MT: Our answer is SMOOTH
Our goal: Create the smoothest running experience possible in everything we do

Transitions: How do you balance the need to keep costs down with the need to provide good conditions for workers?

MT: Our run footwear is in one of the best footwear factory groups in the world. They are very conscious of being socially responsible and have safe working conditions for all employees.

Transitions: In what other ways is PI socially responsible?

MT: Having Shimano as our parent company allows us the opportunity to be a socially responsible company. The Shimano Mission Statement is to promote health and happiness through the enjoyment of nature and the world around us.
I am actually sitting in one of the best examples of this,  Pearl Izumi being a socially responsible company - our new NA corporate headquarters. Our new North American headquarters is a 55,000-gross-square-foot “Design Barn” in Louisville, CO, just outside of Boulder. Three architectural agencies worked together to create an environmentally friendly design for the new headquarters, offering abundant natural lighting, high ceilings, ideal solar orientation, natural ventilation and views of the Rocky Mountains. The new building incorporates many environmental features that reduce overall energy consumption. In order to keep site water drainage from going into the city storm drain system, there are 11 rain gardens that retain water on-site and allow water to filter into the natural underground aquifer. Additionally the metal on the outside of the structure is made from recycled cars (there are 60 miles of metal panels in total), and the wood on the front the building is recycled snow fence from Wyoming.

Roxii: Thanks Mike and we look forward to checking out some new models and reporting on them to the Aussie triathlon market.


Text: Transitions and Michael Thompson. Images Pearl Izumi.