Inov'8, the British brand of running and fitness shoes acquired by Descente two years ago, wants to make its mark in these sectors by pioneering the use of graphene in sports shoes. The first three models will be available at between 200 and 250 specialty running, outdoor and fitness stores in key markets around the world from next July, priced in a range of €165 to €175 per pair.

Described as the first two-dimensional material, graphene is a sheet of carbon that is just one atom thick. It is very thin, yet 200 times stronger than steel, and it is very flexible. Added to the rubber used in outsoles, it makes them more stretchy and durable, and it enhances traction and grip.

Graphene is a byproduct of graphite, which was first mined in England's Lake District, not far from Inov'8's head office, more than 450 years ago. Graphene is already used by Head in tennis racquets, by Vittoria in cycling tires and by Colmar in sports clothing.

Inov'8 carried out the development project in only a few months, starting in September of last year, working in cooperation with the National Graphene Institute at the nearby University of Manchester, which is also developing applications for the aerospace industry and other sectors. They have developed a patent-pending compound and an exclusive manufacturing process to adapt graphene to footwear.

The graphene-enhanced outsoles will be manufactured for Inov'8 by a Chinese supplier on an exclusive basis. In another technological breakthrough, the company's new G-series shoes will be made by a Chinese shoe manufacturer on a robotized line, one of the first of the kind in China, where workers' wages are going up.

Inov'8 is starting with a model of fitness shoes and two models of trail running shoes, but is planning to use graphene in road running shoes as well. By 2020, all its shoes should be graphene-enhanced. With the support of Descente, which has already led Inov'8 to expand its apparel line as of next year, it is also considering the application of graphene to clothing, like Colmar.

After growing at an average annual rate of 14 percent in the last three years, Inov'8 is set to generate sales of around £20 million (€22.8m-$26.8m) in 2017– about one-third in the U.K., one-third in the U.S. and one-third in the rest of the world. Thanks to Descente, which previously distributed the brand in its domestic market, Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan, it is particularly strong in Asia.

To further consolidate its position in North America, where it is currently focusing on the cross-fit segment, the new management of Inov'8 has appointed a new regional manager, Christian Triquet. He worked for Wolverine Woldwide for nearly 20 years, the last ten as country manager for Merrell in Canada.

Ian Bailey, who was appointed as chief executive of Inov'8 in November 2015, shortly after Descente took over a controlling interest of 80 percent, came from Wolverine, too. He previously served at Adidas, Nike and Umbro. Bailey was joined in September 2016 by a new product and marketing director. Michael Price, who previously handled marketing at Reebok and Asics.