This less obvious brand of athletic footwear began company life in 1916 when Ab Sportartiklar Oy established a small workshop in downtown Helsinki where locally sourced birch was transformed into their first products… javelins, skis and discuses. Soon after running spikes were also developed and landed in the U.S. at the feet of Hannes Kolehmainen, the first “Flying Finn,” and Ville Ritola, the “Flying Wolf” who raced in the Berwick (PA) 1917 Marathon.
In the 1920’s the company changed it’s name to Karhu, which is Finnish for bear. The two “Flying Finns” (mentioned above) went on to dominate tracks around the world gathering recognition for Karhu running shoes. This lead to Karhu becoming Finland’s official equipment provider to all Olympic games, with runner Paavo Nurmi bringing back home nine Olympic gold medals in just eight years
The 1930’s saw Karhu encourage their employees to train during lunch hours and the support paid off during the 1932 Olympics where Karhu factory workers Matti Järvinen (javelin) and Lauri Lehtinen (5000m) brought back gold from Los Angeles
After the war, Karhu dominated the 1952 Helsinki Olympics with 15 gold medal-winning spikes, including those of Emil Zatopek. Karhu’s international reputation for technical expertise established the company as the world’s leading manufacturer of athletic shoes. Not long after Karhu sold its three stripes trademark to a now well-known athletic shoe company that still uses it to this day. The price? Two bottles of good whiskey and the equivalent of about 1,600 euros.
In need of a new logo, the 60’s saw Karhu officially registers its famous M-symbol derived from the word “Mestari” which means “champion” in Finnish.
Continuing its tradition of efficiency-driving innovation, Karhu developed the first patented “Air Cushion” midsole system for its running footwear in the 70’s. Karhu’s Champion model became an instant top seller with runners worldwide selling over 1,000,000 pairs globally.
Karhu famously collaborated with the University of Jyväskylä in the early 80’s, resulting in the development of the “Fulcrum” technology. While the rest of the industry kept outfitting their shoes with massive air bags, gel pockets and the like, Karhu actually ditched its famous Air Cushion in 1986, because running is about moving forward, not up and down.
So on to the present day, some clever boffin over there has realised that trainers aren’t just for cushioning but for looking good in to! And guess what? they have fused them both resulting in some of the slickest wheels out there which are only available from the coolest underground independent stockists a bit like us.
Start flying here.