We use a vast array of products every day but what do we really know about them? How are they made? What materials do they require? Who actually creates everything?
Consider, for example, car tires, AC units, couches. What about the phone or computer you’re using to read this?
There’s something inherently captivating about investigating and understanding why an engine turns over or how a lithium battery and titanium can keep a heart beating in rhythm.
Sometimes, even the most basic items can tell an interesting story. Like a pair of shoes.
Last year, the Inesis spikeless shoe was named a best-value in “Most Wanted” testing and took the throne as the most comfortable shoe we’ve ever tested.
Not bad for $79 but how did it come to be? Consumers are conditioned to equate price with quality, to some degree. So, it’s reasonable to question if a shoe at this price point can actually go toe-to-toe (bad dad joke) with brands like adidas and FootJoy. Without access to internal financial documents, it’s speculative as to the specific numbers but Inesis has a unique situation.
Typically, hard goods (golf clubs) work off tighter margins than soft goods (shoes/apparel). Part of Inesis’ lower price is simply that it accepts smaller margins and as the golf-specific brand of the $13-billion retailer, Decathlon, there isn’t an entire network of retail stores and staff to support. Also, given Decathlon’s volume sales approach, smaller profit margins on individual items are balanced by the number of items sold throughout the world.
Additionally, Decathlon’s 40-plus brands contribute to a communal pool of resources each can leverage as needed. This includes access to material sourcing, intellectual property, lab testing and R&D findings.
Products don’t exist in a vacuum. Budgets, release cycles and corporate initiatives can all drive or dissuade a company from moving forward with a project. Also, brands have identities and products often need to fit the personality of the company. Because Inesis is the golf brand of mega-retailer Decathlon, everything it creates needs to align with the company goal to “bring the power to sport to everyone, everywhere.” Another way to read that: Inesis is going to try and make the highest quality product it can without sacrificing its primary differentiator – price.
A shoe can do almost anything but a single design can’t do everything. With that in mind, the design team at Inesis built this shoe for a recreational golfer who prefers to walk the course and isn’t likely to own multiple pairs and/or styles of shoes. Therefore, Inesis believed the target golfer would benefit from a lightweight spikeless design with a more flexible sole.
The next step was to reach out to Erik Arlen, co-founder of ARRO Studio design firm. Arlen’s team is well known in the shoe world, devising kicks for a number of clients including the current No. 2 tennis player in the world, Rafael Nadal.
As a bit of an aside: outside firms often play a critical role in helping companies construct and execute the design of a product. In fact, as much as consumers identify with the brand name, it’s often a largely unknown company working behind the scenes that helps to craft a signature look. For example, during the eight years in which TaylorMade went from a $300-million company to a $1-billion one, an Ohio-based industrial design firm called Priority Designs helped create a new signature aesthetic. For those of you who remember M.O.A.D (Mother Of All Drivers), TaylorMade’s concept driver it showcased at the 2014 PGA Show, Priority Designs worked on that as well. The company helped design many of Nike Golf’s offerings.
The challenge in designing the sole for this shoe was overcoming some of the limitations of spikeless designs while maintaining the typical advantages. Experiencing traction issues with spikeless designs isn’t uncommon and, in point of fact, very few shoe companies prioritize golf performance over transitional appeal in spikeless offerings. So-called “lifestyle shoes” often accentuate comfort at the cost of stability and traction. If a company has an extensive line with multiple options, this might be OK, but for Inesis, this shoe needed to be more of a one-ski quiver.
After consultation with several of Decathlon’s other brands (e.g., running, hiking, cross-training) and multiple rounds of prototype testing, Inesis ended up with a sole design that didn’t compromise on comfort and offered 10-per-cent more grip than its spiked 500-series shoe. Designs evolve over time and this particular sole configuration represents an evolutionary step for Inesis in overcoming the primary shortcoming of spikeless shoes. Inesis tested this specific model in a broad range of conditions (dry, wet, damp, slippery) and multiple surfaces (grass, sand, gravel, mud).
Specifically, Inesis used a combination of TPU, rubber and EVA foam to generate the final product.
TPU is a more rigid plastic, which is better able to dig into the ground during the swing. A single piece of TPU features six spikes and a colored section.
Softer and more flexible rubber is used alongside the TPU to provide better traction when walking. Two horizontal grooves under the sole allow it to bend and flex. The front portion is asymmetrical and wraps around the outside of the EVA foam to increase reinforcement and prevent spillover.
Finally, the EVA foam cushion runs the entire length of the shoe and serves the same purpose as it does in running shoes – comfort.
If there’s a signature feature, it’s the Y-shape upper, so named for the combination of ankle support and high-density foam lining surrounding the forefoot. The Y-shape isn’t a patented feature, but it is a constant design element in all of Inesis shoes. Beyond that, it’s the attention to seemingly small details, particularly for a shoe at this price point.
The waterproof membrane, which Inesis has tested to be the equal of Gore-Tex, includes the tongue. An extra gusset prevents water from working around the tongue and into the shoe cavity.
A TPU footbed features mini-ridges that adjust to the foot’s anatomy and another micro-fiber lining goes a long way to explaining why testers frequently use the term “soft” to describe the fit.
Because Inesis is able to leverage the intellectual, supply-chain, design and testing resources of Decathlon, the Inesis shoe isn’t strictly a golf shoe. It’s more of a running, hiking, cross-training shoe made for golfers. Beyond that, we understand not every golfer is looking to pay top dollar for the latest technology – be it apparel or equipment. The problem is that less expensive options tend to offer less comfort, less technology and less performance. Finding a combination of value and performance can be an onerous task as the line between cheap and inexpensive can be thin.
Beyond the entertainment or novelty factor of taking an inside look at products, there’s a pragmatic angle for consumers. While too much information can lead to paralyzing analysis, understanding the basics of how materials, design and production work together can be beneficial in understanding why some products perform better than others and which might perform better for you.
If there’s a universal message we can take from our 2019 ball test and ensuing #finditcutit movement, it’s that you can’t bake quality into a process. Moreover, labels and a good marketing department can hide a long list of shortcomings. Bottom line – outward appearances can be deceiving.
What else would you like us to peel back?
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