The turnover of JV International, the company that is marketing Michelin technical outsoles for outdoor, sports and work shoes, enjoyed a sales increase of 40 percent in 2017, and its management is targeting similar growth for this year. It still has a long way to go, as its market share is relatively small as compared to that of an industry giant like Vibram.
Ambrogio Merlo, the former Vibram executive who is running JV, says it is one year ahead of its business plan, with a strong upside for further progress. Its factory in China is still working at only half of its annual capacity of 14 million pairs.
JV was formed in May 2013 in Hong Kong by a large Chinese shoe manufacturer, Jihua, in combination with a Luxembourg-based firm, Vestar. By that time, Michelin, the big French tire manufacturer that is providing much of the technology, only had footwear licensing agreements with two sports brands, Babolat and Northwave.
JV subsequently bought the Chinese factory with an integrated R&D lab to make the soles, alone or in cooperation with certified suppliers in China, Vietnam and Europe. It also set up an R&D and sales team in Italy. Things have been moving rapidly. Since it started to produce its first soles in 2014, the group has been chosen by more than 60 companies in ten different categories, developing more than 300 projects for them. Many others are in the pipeline with existing partners and other new ones.
While it still has a relatively marginal presence in the outdoor footwear sector, Michelin has introduced an interesting new Ice Control technology for the Columbia brand's autumn/winter 2018/19 collection that offers high grip and traction properties in icy snow conditions. These properties are maintained on other types of terrain.
Representing an alternative to Vibram's recent Arctic Grip technology, company officials claim that Michelin's Ice Control keeps the sole flexible at medium and low temperatures because it is 100 percent made of natural rubber, without any other elements. The project, which began in 2016, has allowed JV to develop a special recipe and a new sole design in combination with Michelin, following the tire manufacturer's participation in a Japanese car rally in which snow tires are banned.
A ski touring boot by an American brand, Full Tilt, is among the other new product introductions for the next winter season that make use of a Michelin sole. The boot's sole integrates rubber with TPU to reduce the risk of slippage. Called Ascendant, Fulltilt's boot got awards by Freeskier magazine and Ski Magazine at the recent Outdoor Retailer + Snow Show in Denver.
Fulltilt is one of the brands that are working with Michelin Technical Soles for the first time with their autumn/winter 2018/19 collections. Icebug and Salming are new clients, too. In addition to Columbia, former partners like Hanwag, Mammut, Nordica Ride Snowboard and Under Armour have developed new projects for the next autumn/winter season.
Michelin Technical Soles has also developed a new Fiberlite technology for Ride Snowboard that integrates a special fabric. The sole is light and thin, which helps improve its interaction with different types of terrain.
Another breakthrough was the outsole developed for a climbing shoe presented by Wild Country at the OutDoor show in Friedrichshafen last June. It uses a special, sticky rubber compound that makes it light and particularly suited for free climbing. Each sole can be individually vulcanized and molded to be more closely integrated with the upper. Michelin has already been working with Salewa, another brand owned by the Oberalp group.
A total of 16 sports and outdoor brands presented new footwear models with Michelin soles at the recent trade shows in Europe and the U.S. On top of those already cited, we can mention Aku, Etnies, Everlast, Garmont, Hi-Tec, Magnum and Viking.