From Nike to On: How Roger Federer’s Shoe Collection Reveals His Passion for Fashion

From Nike to On: How Roger Federer’s Shoe Collection Reveals His Passion for Fashion

How Roger Federer Influences the Footwear Industry with His Personal Brand – On

The renowned 20-time Grand Slam victor, Roger Federer, embarks on a venture that may shape his post-tennis life. He’s aligning with On, a burgeoning Swiss running shoe company boasting a niche admirer base and international aspirations.

Roger Federer, stationed in London, acquaints himself with his fresh investment, the Swiss footwear brand On.

Roger Federer in London acquaints himself with his latest investment, the Swiss footwear brand On.

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If you cross paths with Roger Federer while embarking on a flight, don’t be startled if his gaze lingers downwards. Federer harbors an intriguing predilection for sneakers.

The Swiss tennis legend dismisses the label of "fanatic," an assertion somewhat dubious for a person who boasts 20 Grand Slam victories. Nevertheless, he confesses to an unyielding curiosity about passengers’ footwear in airports.

A while back, Federer, while in London for the ATP Finals, disclosed his possession of a staggering 250 pairs of sneakers. Slipping on a burnt-orange pair, adorned with terra-cotta laces and peculiar hollow pods stretching along the soles, he admitted this figure might underestimate his true collection, considering his match-worn shoes.

Could the actual count be twice as much? Federer posited, flashing a playful smile.

At 41, Federer’s ATP semifinals journey ended against the ultimate champion, Stefanos Tsitsipas, a 21-year-old contemporary, born in the year Federer embarked on his professional tennis journey.

Speculation regarding Federer’s retirement has been brewing for nearly a decade, and he has consistently thwarted these conjectures for almost as long. Recently, Federer, while maintaining his commitment to the sport, has begun to contemplate his future prospects more openly.

This is where the company known as On enters the picture.

Switzerland, the cradle of both Federer and On, is typically linked with gourmet chocolates, opulent watches, and private banking. As Caspar Coppetti, a founder of On, articulates, Switzerland is renowned for its affluence and fervor but not particularly for its innovation, often considered a conservative nation.

Federer is not merely an investor but a valued contributor to product design and brand representation for On, which took root in Zurich in 2010.

The brand may not ring a bell instantly, but you might be familiar with their niche lineup of Cloud shoes, flaunting an "On" light switch logo, a petite Swiss flag, and a quirky, multi-globular, cushioned rubber sole. Their proprietary technology, dubbed CloudTec, delivers a soft landing and springy takeoff for runners.

Initially propelled by word-of-mouth among endurance athletes and Olympians and in specialized running stores, On is now gaining momentum, presenting a formidable challenge to industry behemoths like Nike and Adidas in the performance sports shoe segment.

Olivier Bernhard, an accomplished duathlon and Ironman champion and one of On’s founders,

The name might not immediately ring a bell, and a Google search might present its own challenges, but you’re likely to recognize their trademark range of Cloud shoes, adorned with an "On" light switch logo, a small Swiss flag, and a unique cushioned rubber sole made up of multiple globules. This unique sole, equipped with patented CloudTec technology, offers runners a soft landing with a buoyant takeoff.

Initially gaining momentum through word-of-mouth among endurance athletes and Olympians and via specialty running stores, On is gradually becoming a promising contender to behemoths like Nike and Adidas in the performance sports footwear segment.

"We’re often viewed as a closely guarded secret among athletes," said Olivier Bernhard, a duathlon and Ironman champion and one of the three founders of On, while at the company’s bustling Zurich headquarters. Interestingly, the Cloud has emerged as the second-best selling sneaker in Germany, next to Nike’s Air Max 270, according to research firm NPD. In the United States, On’s largest market to date, the shoes are increasingly becoming a staple in gyms across the East and West coasts.

Notable figures in fashion, such as J.W. Anderson, and Hollywood personalities like Will Smith, John Malkovich, and Emma Stone, are known to wear Clouds, and the company insists it doesn’t pay people to wear its products.

When Bernhard and his co-founders, Mr. Coppetti and David Allemann, pondered over the next steps and considered bringing a new partner on board, they naturally turned to the most famous Swiss person in the world.

The distinctive logo and CloudTec sole make On products stand out.

The distinctive logo and CloudTec sole make On products stand out.Credit…Alexander Coggin for The New York Times

On + Roger Federer: A Sneaker Tycoon in the Making?

"Sure, Switzerland is known for its chocolates and watches, but Roger is one of the most significant Swiss exports ever and has tremendously uplifted Switzerland’s image overseas," Mr. Coppetti commented.

Most people, when they think of Federer, widely regarded as one of the greatest sportsmen of his generation, likely don’t envision him as a fashion pioneer. Instead, they’re probably reminded of his championships, his career spanning over two decades, and his extensive global fan base.

Nonetheless, a close bond with Anna Wintour, Vogue’s editor-in-chief, has nurtured his interest in fashion. Federer has made numerous appearances on Met Gala red carpets, graced magazine covers, and been a fixture in runway front rows.

"I learned to embrace personal style a while back, both on and off the court," Federer shared, pointing out that sneakers are increasingly a significant part of men’s fashion.

In 2018, after his long-standing sponsorship agreement with Nike ended, Federer inked a clothing contract with Uniqlo reportedly worth $300 million. He has also partnered with numerous brands, such as Rolex, Moët & Chandon, Mercedes-Benz, Rimowa, NetJets, and Credit Suisse.

However, amid the luxury watches, luggage, champagne, and high-end vehicles, there was still a gap in the footwear segment. Federer first met the On founders over dinner two years ago, a few years after he first noticed how many people in Switzerland were wearingtheir shoes.

The founders of On, Olivier Bernhard, David Allemann and Caspar Coppetti, at the On design studio in Zurich.

The founders of On (from left), Olivier Bernhard, David Allemann and Caspar Coppetti, at the On design studio in Zurich.Credit…Samuel Zeller for The New York Times

"They were hard to miss because everyone had them, people on the street, my friends, my wife," he said. "At first, I thought they looked a little strange, but then I really liked the design."

Federer also expressed some hometown pride: "We appreciate it when little Swiss guys make a big move on the international stage."

Federer started wearing Ons for his sprint training and has been building a relationship with the brand ever since. Even before he or his longtime agent Tony Godsick signed anything, Federer said he had visited the On office every time he was in Zurich to provide feedback on product colors and cuts, growth strategies, and marketing. (He is building a lakeside home for his family about a 25-minute drive away from the headquarters for when he retires from professional tennis.)

Products designed by Federer are already in the pipeline for next year, and he will represent the brand publicly. He also listed other responsibilities.

"Brand building and global marketing," he said. "How to connect with fans across cultures. And I think I can motivate employees from a leadership perspective too, on how to stay humble but dream big."

Neither Federer, the world’s highest-paid tennis player with an estimated net worth of around $450 million, nor the On founders, would specify the deal’s financial terms.

"It’s a very meaningful investment for Roger and On," Mr. Allemann said.


Mr. Allemann, left, discussing a shoe’s features with a designer.

Mr. Allemann, left, discussing a shoe’s features with a designer.Credit…Samuel Zeller for The New York Times

The Prospective Sneaker Landscape

Federer’s entry into On presents itself during a significant phase of metamorphosis for both the brand and the global sneaker domain, half a century old. Traditionally, the so-called performance categories like tennis, running, basketball, and cross-training have been the propellants of industry expansion.

According to its creators, On has been yielding profits since 2014. Its footwear graces the shelves in 55 nations, employs nearly 500 people, and has ventured into the production of all-day footwear, hiking and trail running shoes, and athletic apparel.

Nonetheless, the preceding four years have witnessed a decline in the allure of performance footwear. Supplanting them are sports lifestyle shoes — athletic-inspired or fashion-forward sneakers not designed for sports use — poised to ascend as the dominant footwear category in the United States, as per NPD.

Matt Powell, an experienced industry consultant on sports for NPD, pointed out that, at least for now, On seems to be defying this shift.

"Many individuals no longer seek costly and highly technical sneakers — their goal is simply to look fashionable," Mr. Powell noted. "However, a substantial population of runners still crave such footwear and are increasingly attracted to distinctive brands that others don’t possess."

On, he articulated, is addressing this audience. "Yet the quintessential On aesthetic — which is heavily design-forward — has also piqued the interest of trendsetters from the sneaker community," he observed. "It’s evident that it aspires to transcend the confines of a niche-running brand."

Although it may not feature prominently in the flourishing sneaker resale market, or appear in the most coveted sneaker launches, On’s strategic positioning at the crossroads of fashion, performance, and outdoor lifestyles indicates that it’s gathering momentum among a casually dressed, digitally savvy, and health-conscious professional demographic. This is where Federer — and perhaps a large portion of his fanbase — enter the equation.

"Sometimes, as a seasoned athlete, you can sense yourself being akin to a fading star," Federer reflected. "You can practically perceive your image and success diminishing."

Previously, he confessed, he was reticent to contemplate life post-tennis. "Now," he shared, "there is comfort in committing to what lies ahead."

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