Today norda™, who have been conquering the toughest trails and best feet of the globe, launches their new product – 001 G+® Spike for trail running in AW season.
The name says it all: these are an even more improved version of the world's first trail runners with a seamless Dyneema® upper. norda™ 001 now uses a G+® graphene membrane – the same one found in Vollebak's Graphene Jacket – and 20 carbide-steel spikes, implemented in the outsole.
The graphene composite on its own is not the only upgrade for this unique trail running shoe. We found out about the history of norda™, the inspiration from a car tyre, the benefits of graphene and the future of the company in an interview with Head of Product Design at norda™ – Louis-Martin Tremblay.
We also prepared our THM Macroshots editorial, exploring the new model and illustrated this interview.
[Can you tell us more about the idea behind norda™? Despite the relatively recent release of the very first 001, not all the readers have had time to familiarise themselves with your product.]
The starting point was that Nick and Willa – norda™'s founders – felt that none of the trail shoes they would run with had the perfect combination of fit, cushion, grip, weight, breathability and material innovation. We also felt we needed to produce a shoe that was sustainable by using bio-based components that were sustainably sourced, but also focus on durability over disposability to create the lightest footprint possible. The 001 norda™ trail running shoe has been created with these targets in mind using some of the most cutting edge materials, like the bio-based Dyneema®, and working with the sole-manufacturer Vibram® for their quality and durability. The experience both on trail and on the road is very unique. Its dynamic fit allows your foot to expand during its active phase while the lock system cradles the foot to secure the run on any trail environment.
[The first thing that catches your eye when you hold both versions of the 001 is an almost uncompromising use of materials to keep the weight of the pair below the nowadays standard of 300 grams; Dyneema® for example. How did you come to use material from DSM®?]
Dyneema® was at the root of this project, we knew we needed a material with strength in order to produce a light shoe (247g / 8.71 ounces for a Men's size 8.5 US ) that would also meet our durability standard. Dyneema® being the strongest fibre on earth was allowing us to reduce any overlays or extra pieces that are usually added to reduce abrasion. Simplifying the upper helps reduce a lot of weight on the final product and also helps create a unique design identity.
[Were there many pre-production iterations of the 001 before you specifically chose woven Dyneema®? Given the popularity of DCF® in recent years, there have been many variations of the material.]
Creating a seamless shoe using Dyneema® had not been achieved before, plus the 3D nature of a shoe and its lasting process is very different from building a backpack, a coat or a tent that lays flat. Entering these uncharted territories in manufacturing, we had to pick a wider selection of Dyneema® fabric to start the R&D. The woven Dyneema® version offered a balance between its technicality, performance and aesthetics. Woven fabric has warmth that we felt would balance well with the technical nature of the norda™ 001. But to answer the question, we have a few prototypes of the norda™ 001 using very different Dyneema® fabric that looks great, but either wouldn't pass the testing process or still needs work to become commercialized.
[How did you end up with a seamless upper?]
Two factors came into play to create a seamless upper: comfort and durability. Comfort plays a key role in creating an environment where a runner can reach their flow state. We wanted to achieve this seamless fit and reduce any hot spot possibilities so the athlete could concentrate on their run. I mean our advisor - Ray Zahab - even runs barefoot in the norda™ 001. When it came to durability we wanted to achieve a seamless upper to reduce any chance or wear and tear. The result is the world's first seamless, lightest, trail running shoe made with Dyneema®.
[Graphene is like the Holy Grail of the industry – so eager is everyone to use it in their products. However, not all manufacturers have come to increase the efficiency of their products, despite the high cost of using graphene. How did you come to the G+® in the winter 001? Did the use of the graphene membrane impose any limitations?]
Our G+® graphene membrane featured in the winter version of the norda™ 001 was among the first technologies we considered along with Dyneema®. We wanted a membrane that would act on the whole foot, not by trapping the heat inside but by distributing it evenly during the active phase. The advantage of using the G+® graphene membrane is adding waterproofness up to 10,000mm & breathability but not adding bulk to the shoe or changing the fit and sizing.
[How did you manage to combine Dyneema® and graphene? And what can it put forward as a duet?]
The magic happened with one of our partners that used a fairly new approach to combine both. As mentioned above the advantages have been numerous. Not changing the fit is definitely a great one when it comes to membranes, so often we need to size up. The membrane is also bacteriostatic, inhibiting the growth or reproduction of bacteria. Last but not least, it is natural and sustainably produced without the use of chemicals which is part of norda™'s goal in leaving the lightest footprint possible.
[Turning our attention to the bottom of the shoe, both versions of the 001 – summer and winter – use custom solutions from Vibram® as their Litebase® sole platform. How did the process of selecting a manufacturer and R&D take place?]
When it comes to trail running, the terrain is unpredictable and so is the weather, thus the outsole plays a crucial role in controlling these elements. We explored the lugs amount, shape and placement but we knew we needed to go beyond the role they play and add grip and control at other levels. The design of the soleplate base board was an early direction we took. Simultaneously we had been in talk with Vibram®, knowing they could provide the best component to enhance grip, reduce weight and increase durability. Vibram® Litebase® technology conserves energy and enhances your performance with a 30% reduction in overall sole weight. Vibram® Mega Grip® rubber delivers superior durability, traction and the strongest grip on both wet and dry surfaces.
[In the winter version of the 001 the outsole changed. I can't avoid analogies with car tyre technology: a two-tier deep tread and spikes – all for the best traction at minimum weight. As with car tyres, the question arises: why lugs and not the more modern sticky rubber? For example, Vibram® has the Arctic Grip®, which uses a construction with polymer inserts.]
I love car analogies, as they were a part of the norda™ 001 design process. Grip functions with a multi-level figuration. Mud, rocks, roots or water all sit at different levels and need a specific traction to be conquered. By adding the carbide-tipped steel spikes for the winter iteration of the 001 outsole we knew we would cover the ice factor in sub zero condition in a trail running environment. As mentioned above, using the Mega Grip® rubber from Vibram® adds a tremendous level of grip on both wet and dry environments. Arctic Grip® is a specific technology that needs a larger flat area on the outsole plate to perform on flat ice terrain and it wasn't an option or compatible with the intricate design of the 001 outsole.
[Most trail sneakers look colourful and have lots of design elements. norda™, on the other hand, tries to show the utilitarian nature of its design. How did you come by this?]
The focus has always been to create a tool. A piece of equipment that runners of all kinds would be able to use and trust to achieve any goals. Every detail was questioned, revised or removed, leaving little room for superfluous elements. Trusting this process, allowing it to take place during the product development, my work as a designer was to refine the details that serve a function and to ensure that they flow together. In taking this approach and trusting the process I felt the norda™ 001 would become a very unique shoe aesthetically.
[What interesting solutions will the new norda™ versions bring us? Perhaps an adaptive laceless fit design? A furoshiki design? Or, for example, an improvement in midsole technology that returns even more energy to athletes?]
I like all the suggestions above, taking some notes! At norda™ we decided from the start to take an essentialist approach both on the brand level and with product development. What that means is to always question if what we are bringing is needed, in tune with the brand and the running community. In that spirit we are being very focused on what is next and allowing organic growth. I can tell you the team has been busy on the design side in collaboration with our product development team. We definitely have some exciting projects in the pipeline and one of them will soon start being tested with our ambassador, which means it will bring us a step closer to commercializing it!
[Most interesting trail?]
The Abénakis-Maçonique trail at Owl's Head in Québec is probably one of my favourites to go up and run down. It is very steep and very technical. The view on top is so rewarding!
[Best trail shoes of the past?]
1995 Zion ACG hemp shoe.
[Right now you are answering questions in a pair of...?]
norda™ 001 White & Gum!
[Dyneema is well known as a backpack material – have you thought about creating a line of trailrunning accessories?]