Details in Focus: Karhu
by Ian Peterson·
Meaning “bear” in Finnish, century-old footwear brand Karhu precedes most of the sneaker world’s modern giants in their history and design. During the 70s, Karhu grabbed the attention of millions on and off the track, during which their trainers became standard for the world of track and field and the favorites of several esteemed track coaches. Their resume only broadened with a new cushioning system in 1976, along with one-of-a-kind lacing technology two decades after that. Karhu are undeniable for any and every sneaker fan, take it from us: they are LIKELIHOOD’s only collaborator to date.
There’s hype, and then there's premium. The drop, and the craftsmanship. While the two seem completely independent of one another, there’s no reason why they can’t both be of equal performance. New collaborations debuting only means a renewed focus on the makeup of a new sneaker, all of the little qualities that define it and the brand that put it out. After all, sometimes it’s more important for a sneaker to stand the test of time than to stand out.
Through his long-time work relationship with Karhu, Satoshi Mukohata remains a big part of why so many Seattle locals have found themselves addicted. From high quality design details to new advancements in sneaker technology, what brand is better for a deep dive into materials and details than Finland’s most legendary footwear designer.
Q: Tell us about yourself!
A: My name is Satoshi. I am a Legend Line Manager at Karhu and I own multiple fashion showroom companies, working to bring fashion that isn’t widely known, but that I trust and believe in. With Karhu, I’ve built several different retailer relationships on a global scale, and combined the Japanese and American markets at high profile fashion and sneaker stores.
I also have two other brands I work on, called A HOPE HEMP and NANGA. AHH is a hemp-based sock company made in Japan, launching next month in North America for the first time. NANGA, on the other hand, is a proper Japanese outdoor brand that started in the 1940s making down jackets and sleeping bags. Being Japanese, I find a lot of joy in introducing Japanese fashion to places that don't know it yet. Instead of hype, I focus on what I personally think is cool and high quality.
Q: How did you get involved with the fashion industry and what gets you excited to go to work everyday?
A: I was always into it since I was little, but I think it started with my love of surfing. I grew up surfing a lot in Japan, where a lot of goods weren’t easy to get, so they were being imported from all over the world (mainly from California). That was the beginning of fashion for me, from there I started to understand Americana, denim, and European fashion.
Q: What drew you to work with Karhu?
A: I’ve been involved with footwear for a long time. Back when I first started, I was involved with a different brand called Pointer. The creator is a good friend of mine who now owns Palace, and he was selling it in the UK and Europe. He asked me to help introduce it to the US. While this was going on, Karhu was contacting me. I didn’t really have the time, and wasn’t really into running shoes, but their persistence eventually paid off and I joined three seasons later.
Q: What’s the design process like for making a sneaker at Karhu?
A: We have a great history, the brand is 105 years old and started with track and field and running shoes. Finland was known as the “flying fin” country and was dominating the sport. Ever since then, 99% of the shoes you see every season are new fabric combinations and colorways, something our team works really hard on. I think that’s what makes Karhu designs different.
Q: What are some of the hidden gems you can find in Karhu sneakers? Details that the average consumer wouldn’t know about?
A: We always pay the highest attention to fit and comfort, and starting in Autumn 2022 we will bring some functional shoes to the Legend line - two new styles for trail running. We’ve been trying to do this for a few years, and we’ll have a couple out-of-the-box secret drops in collaboration with more high fashion designers.
Q: What is one material that you wished the industry used more of?
A: I think waterproof fabric and technology. Not just with boots, but sneakers that are 100% waterproof. We have two waterproof shoes coming up as well, that are going to use waterproof nubuck.
Q: What is something special about Karhu that the average person wouldn’t know about?
A: There are actually a lot of things about Karhu’s history that make people go “Really?!”
Most notably, the Air Sole is one of the first things Karhu invented for track and field sneakers. Karhu sold over a million pairs because it was such a unique thing in the world of running shoes. A couple years later, the Karhu team were all invited to other brands’ HQs, who eventually came out with their own Air Sole…
Another example is the Trampas, the first one ever to feature warm up and cool down shoes after track and field. Everything is based around running, running is in our blood.
Q: Which is your favorite Karhu sneaker of all time and why?
A: I’d say the Synchron Classic, and I’ve also been wearing the Trampas a lot.
Q: What is one piece of advice that you could give someone who’s interested in working in the shoe design industry?
A: Don’t touch anything you don’t feel connected to, regardless of the money involved. You have to really love it to get into it.