Q&A with Jean-Marc Dijan – VP of footwear for The North Face

Q&A with Jean-Marc Dijan – VP of footwear for The North Face

Q&A with Jean-Marc Dijan – VP of footwear for The North Face

Written By: Ben Mounsey

We caught up with Jean-Marc Dijan, VP of The North Face, to discuss the 2021 edition of UTMB®, The North Face VECTIV™ range and other new and exciting releases from the global outdoor brand.

Hi Jean-Marc! We’re all super-excited about the UTMB®, particularly because it’s almost been two years since the last edition of the race. Can you tell us which TNF athletes will be competing at this year’s event?

Unfortunately, we’re still waiting for final confirmation from all our athletes, particularly our team of athletes from the US. Recently, Dylan Bowman crushed it at the Hardrock 100, finishing second only to François D'Haene and it would be great if he could compete. So, I’m just waiting for the US athletes to let me know, but there will of course be plenty of European athletes in the race. Also, the bad news is that the Chinese athletes are not able to travel, but whatever happens, the UTMB® is an amazing event and festival, so we will have a big social and community presence, plenty of product testing and of course, lots of VECTIV™!

We have to talk about Pau and his quest to break 20 hours for the UTMB®. Last year, he embarked on a solo attempt to achieve this quest, but unfortunately fell just short of his lofty goal. Now, 12 months on we have the news he isn’t able to race, do you think this will make him come back stronger and is there a chance other athletes could break this?

After the attempt last year, he was very realistic. First, telling us that his preparation was chaotic because in Spain the lockdown was really serious. As a role model to other trail runners, he was very conscious not to break the rules, so although he was training, unfortunately he wasn’t able to do as much in the mountains as he had originally planned. Also, he told me that the mental aspect of running against yourself in a solo record attempt, was an entirely new experience to him. When you are in a race format, the competition, the feeling of being chased and chasing other athletes on the trail, plus the excitement of the crowd all really help to motivate you to run much faster and push you to your limits. So, in comparison, going into a new situation, without the regular preparation and only racing against himself was much more difficult for him to cope with.

Obviously, it’s sad news not to have him available this year for the race, I know how much he wanted to come back and compete on the course with other athletes and be pushed by the best, but I expect we will see him back stronger than ever.

north face athlete

Pictured: Pau Capell in action, wearing Flight VECTIV™ (Photo credit: The North Face)

 

TNF athletes will wear The North Face Flight VECTIV™ for the UTMB® race. Can you please tell us more about this innovative trail shoe in terms of the technology and design. What makes it so different to other trail shoes and how does it benefit trail runners?

Here at The North Face, we are always shooting for the very best and I think we have created something really spectacular and innovative with the Flight VECTIV™. The combination of the rocker shape, the carbon plate and the efficiency of the shoe all provide and enhance forward momentum. Underfoot, the shoe delivers the right amount of energy transmission and collectively these things are what makes the Flight VECTIV™ so unique, distinctive and efficient compared to other trail shoes on the market. We have also developed the outsole with SurfaceCTRL™ grip, which is specifically designed for ultra-distances and capable of gripping to wet rock - this makes a big difference in terms of performance. Therefore, I would encourage all trail runners to test the Flight VECTIV™ because it uses the very best technology available and it is a shoe like no other.

Just how much of an influence did Pau and other TNF athletes have in the development and creation of the Flight VECTIV™?

There has been an amazing connection between our athletes and the shoes. I remember more than two years ago, we had a training camp with the athletes where we were sharing our initial ideas for VECTIV™ and the first reaction was ‘I’m not sure I can run on a plated shoe’. But then, after they had tried it and felt the forward momentum, especially on the flat terrain and technical descents, they were really surprised at the difference the shoe made in terms of performance and this gave them even more confidence going into races.

As part of the testing and development process, we used international athletes, but also a lot of local athletes, including Sebastian Chaigneau, who only lives 5km from All Triangles. He was able to test the shoes everyday so this was very helpful to us. We’re very lucky at The North Face to have used All Triangles to develop the product. Starting with the initial idea, to the rounds of prototypes, to the ability to tweak, change and then find the right balance between forward momentum and cushioning. We felt like we needed to bring something to the consumer that always delivers on performance without compromise, for it then to become iconic. This is the formula that The North Face has always been working towards throughout our rich history. It’s been one hell of a journey, but we finally proved that VECTIV™ works, so we feel super-blessed.

Can you describe the testing and development process of designing and creating the Flight VECTIV™ and other trail shoes within the range.

The Flight VECTIV™ has been over two years in the making and we took no shortcuts. I would say for the first time, when we finalised the prototype, we worked with so many moulds and pairs in different configurations to be able to test them all rigorously. We experimented with a huge range of materials including Polyutherane, Pebax®, Carbon, different types of EVA, plus a range of stack heights in order to find the perfect balance and ultimately determine what worked the best. So, it took a lot of time to refine the shoe, the upper and to match it with all the requirements and needs of every type of trail athlete. We also knew that if we found something that could work for trail running, then it could also translate to Fast Hiking.

Aside from the Flight VECTIV™, what other specialist TNF kit and apparel will the athletes be wearing?

We have our Summit Series for climbing and mountaineering and Flight Series for everything that comes under the banner of trail running. This includes baselayers, t-shirts, jackets, shorts, packs that are all totally dedicated to the sport and performance. It’s really a total head-to-toe collection and to develop all the products within each range, we always use the very best materials and work closely with our athletes for testing and feedback. We really put an emphasis on fit, comfort, durability, lightness, packability and sustainability.

We are constantly learning from our innovations in outdoor apparel and we are able to now bring these into our range of footwear in order to share the same benefits - this is really an exciting breakthrough for us. So, in Fall 21, you will see many products which feature both VECTIV™ and FUTURELIGHT™ combined, which is particularly useful for athletes in countries where it tends to rain a lot!

That’s great news for the UK then! Please can you tell us more about the VECTIV™ collection as a whole, specifically about the range of shoes within this range and how each type of shoe serves a different purpose.

In trail running, we have three different styles of VECTIV™ footwear.

We started our innovation at the pinnacle of trail running with the FLIGHT VECTIV™. which features the full carbon plate and a minimalist approach for the racers. Then we have the VECTIV™ INFINITE which is certainly the most durable trail shoe in the range, designed for ultra-distances and made to maximise energy on the trail. Finally, we have the VECTIV™ ENDURIS, which features a TPU plate, has a higher stack and is a little bit more forgiving. This is suitable for racing but also fits within the broader spectrum of trail running.

Last year, we also extended the VECTIV™ range by launching a series of shoes for Fast Hiking. The VECTIV™ EXPLORIS features a more protective upper and includes FUTURELIGHT™ material. We are also launching a leather version of this shoe in Fall 21 and we are scaling the VECTIV™ range within Light Hiking to feature more products, including shoes specifically made for women like the VECTIV™ HYPNUM. Our range of VECTIV™ hiking shoes are specifically built for trail performance, but also designed to look good with a pair of jeans and worn casually in a restaurant or a bar. Hence why we chose to work with bold colours and iconic designs - the darker colours signify parts of the shoe that are for protection and stability and the brighter colours are for wrapping and comfort. We have taken VECTIV™ to a broader spectrum, because we know that the outdoor sector is constantly growing and evolving, with more people running, walking and hiking than ever before as a consequence of the global pandemic. Therefore, VECTIV™ is not only for the elite professionals, but also for the everyday athlete and outdoor enthusiasts and we have a wide range of shoes and products that are designed to suit and appeal to all types of people.

north face athlete

Pictured: The VECTIV™ HYNUM, a hiking shoe specifically design for women.

 

The North Face has promoted the VECTIV™ collection as The Future of Trail. What other advancements/new technologies can we expect to see for 2022 and beyond?

In Fall 21 we are launching some exciting new winter trail running products. So, expect to see more Futurelight™ and also deeper lugs in our trail running shoes to meet the needs of our UK consumers. The latter has been specially requested by our UK team and I also remember you asking for more grip when we first launched VECTIV™ last year. Then we will look to extend all our ranges moving into 2022 and we’re constantly working on new innovations for both Summit and Flight series in the future. We don’t know exactly when some of these ideas and developments will come to life, but it’s great to see that we have a pipeline of innovation, a positive connection with the outdoor communities and athletes from the ground up, at local to international level. We just know that we want to bring some new style and some new energy to a greater spectrum of people.

Finally, I have to ask…which 2 athletes do you think will win the UTMB® race this year?

There are so many incredible athletes both in the men’s and women’s races. In the men’s races you have François (D'Haene), Dylan (Bowman), Xavier (Thévenard), all brilliant athletes, so who knows? Perhaps a US athlete can win the race this year? The standard of the women’s race will also be outstanding and it’s really difficult to predict a winner in either race. Plus, it’s not just the UTMB® we have to look forward to - we also have the CCC®, TDS®, OCC, PTL®, MCC, YCC and the Mini UTMB® to get excited about. One thing we do know is that so many athletes are really well prepared for this year and have trained so much they’re all just desperate to race.

Find out more about off-road running by visiting our Trail Running Hub and make sure you’ve got all the running kit you need for your next adventure.

Related posts: The North Face FLIGHT VECTIV™ | Trail Hub | SportsShoes.com







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