By Brian Metzler
Although it flew a bit under the radar when it was launched two weeks ago on Boston Marathon Monday, Craft USA launched an audacious new campaign that has been indicative of its emergence as an authentic running brand.
The company’s Universal Health Wear campaign is meant to be a somewhat serious, somewhat irreverent commentary on the fact that the U.S. is one of the few developed countries without universal health care. The idea is simple: The subsidiary of the Swedish-owned brand is indefinitely offering 10.7 percent off its utilitarian Essence line of fitness clothing to U.S. customers as a nod to the fact that Swedish residents pay the same percentage of their paychecks to receive 100 percent health care coverage. (Watch this video for details.)
“I don’t know someone else in our industry or anywhere else that has taken up this cause – probably because it’s such a hot potato,” says Craft North American CEO Erik Schenker. “All you hear in the U.S. is that it will be kajillions of dollars and it will never be able to work. And we’re basically saying, it can work.”
Whether or not other brands join the cause as we’ve seen with the environmental and DEI movements, or if Craft remains an outlier is yet to be seen. But it’s with the same bold gumption that Craft USA is gaining traction behind its new line of running shoes. In 2021, it became the footwear partner of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Running Series, began developing footwear for the Spartan Race Series, started an elite running team and unveiled some of the hottest new shoes of the year.
The disruptive Craft Universal Health Wear initiative doesn’t come with a political ax to grind, but instead from a heartfelt perspective based on the tumultuous scenario that Craft athlete Tommy Rivers Puzey has endured for the past 15 months. In 2020, the accomplished endurance athlete, iFit coach, social media personality and Craft footwear consultant was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of Lymphoma in his lungs, which required extensive treatment and nearly a six-month stay in the hospital.
Friends, fellow athletes and social media followers of the 37-year-old Flagstaff, Arizona, athlete responded by raising nearly $1 million to help pay for medical costs. Craft stepped up by not only keeping him onboard as an independent contractor, but it also created a special Team Rivs Collection of shirts and hats with all proceeds going towards helping Puzey’s family because their health insurance only covered a tiny portion of their bills.
For better or for worse, crowdsourcing to help defray medical bills has become a common and sometimes desperate scenario in the U.S., which lacks universal healthcare coverage except for its over-65 Medicare program.
“We know that offering a discount on a small, curated line of clothes is not going to fix the problem, but we do hope it will spark some conversation, as it obviously has with us,” Schenker said. “(We’re) hoping we can contribute to changing perceptions about universal health care while reminding everyone that exercise can have a positive impact on overall health.”
The bigger story is how Craft is becoming a highly visible, rising brand in running, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, a supply chain crisis, a massive shipping dilemma and one of its most prominent athletes becoming gravely ill with cancer. In announcing its partnership with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Running Series in August, it launched a co-branded version of its mid-level X165 Engineered II shoe ($135) in three colorways. A few weeks later, it sold out of its new all-black CTM Ultra Carbon Race Rebel featherweight racing flat ($249) and most of its inventory of the positively reviewed CTM Ultra Carbon training model ($249) in the eye-catching Zebra-stripe P Dazzle Cam pattern.
There is a new unisex colorway of the Race Rebel on the way that is bound to turn even more heads, given that each pair is comprised of one bright pink shoe and one fluorescent yellow shoe. (Jon Howard, Craft USA’s Director of Consumer Sales and Marketing, said he hoped they would arrive before the start of the fall marathon season, but, for now, they’re stuck on container ships somewhere between its Chinese factory and the Port of Long Beach.)
“We held back for many years before bringing the (Craft shoes) into the U.S. and I don’t think the Swedes pushed us too hard because they know the U.S. market is very different than the Scandinavian market,” Howard says. “But now that we’ve got them in the U.S., we want to be bold about what we’re doing.”