When it comes to orthopaedic comfort shoes, there’s a new German contender stepping up.
“Manolo Blahnik said you can’t make beautiful shoes in an ugly building,” says Ulf Lunge. He chuckles as he looks admiringly at the statuesque barn that houses the HQ of Lunge, the trainer brand that he runs with his brother Lars. Few would guess that this cowshed, built in 1913 with tall brick walls and a small decorative turret, was the site for an internationally coveted footwear brand. Yet the Lunge brothers have operated their business – including all manufacturing – from this idyllic outpost for the past 12 years. Located on the outskirts of Düssin, a tiny village that’s a one-hour drive from Hamburg, the barn overlooks rolling fields and towering chestnut trees.
Despite not having a marketing team or doing any PR, Lunge’s highly functional designs have caught the attention of a sizeable – and varied – customer pool. They appeal to shoppers in search of sensible walking shoes as well as agenda-setting fashionistas who are increasingly interested in products that are almost nerdily technical. Just look at the brand’s 108 stockists, spanning everything from small orthopaedic shoe chains in western Germany to London’s Dover Street Market.
The brothers started out with hardcore running shoes but their more casual designs have taken over and now account for 70 per cent of sales. Their bestseller, the Classic Walk, was designed for everyday use and is an exceptionally light, chunky-soled lace-up whose upper part is made from a soft microfibre fabric. The firm’s decidedly comfortable shoes – which are all catalogued on their website alongside detailed ratings for stability, firmness and springiness – are slightly awkward-looking and come in a spectrum of bright colours.
After 40 years in the sportswear industry there is little that these brothers don’t know about feet – and running. “Most shoes change the direction of the ankles but the straightness of our soles keeps them in a stable position, which reduces the compression of your joints,” says Ulf, holding up a blue plastic last in order to emphasise his point. “If your feet aren’t properly supported there’s a chain reaction from the knee to the hip and the back,” adds Lars. “If you have a stable midsole like ours, your entire body is more stable. We’ve had people come to us saying they’ve been experiencing pain and soreness in all different parts of their body but when they try our shoes on they instantly say, ‘I feel better.’”
Lunge combines this commitment to functionality with precision German manufacturing. Production begins in the factory every morning at 06.00 sharp, when 22 workers from the surrounding villages assemble with the aim of producing 120 pairs of trainers every day. “We make everything here,” says Ulf, standing in the middle of the barn’s factory floor, straining to make his voice heard above the sounds of a man with a handlebar moustache hammering the upper part of a new shoe onto a plastic mould. Now a bespectacled man in his late fifties, Ulf was a champion marathon runner in his day; he started selling running gear out of his parents’ basement before opening a shop in his native Hamburg in 1979. Younger brother Lars began working in the shop at weekends and in the holidays before joining his brother full time after graduating.
However, it wasn’t until 2007 that the duo began producing their own designs. “We weren’t really satisfied with the quality coming from brands that were manufactured in Asia,” says Lars. “The forms broke down too quickly. We knew there must be a way to make them better and thought that, with all the knowledge we had gathered over the years, who better to do it than us?”
The brothers still operate four multibrand running shops that go by the name of Lunge Laufladen – three are in Hamburg and another is in Berlin. And though their own designs only account for 10 per cent of stock, these shops still play a vital role in developing their new models. “We have 30 employees in our stores,” says Lars. “They’re all runners who test our shoes and whose feedback is really valuable to us.”
Although Lunge is now stocked by style-conscious shops, for the brothers form still squarely follows function. “Our focus is on production, not the market,” says Lars. “We only use the highest-quality materials, which means our trainers will last far longer than your average pair. When we look at runners today, many of them are still using our first shoe version 12 years later. Yesterday Ulf saw someone running down the Alster River in Hamburg wearing a model from 2008. It’s amazing.”