The wall of Diard’s garage dons a homemade rack system that holds hundreds of shoes – his own prototypes and designs from various brands. In front of the shoes is a forest green Porsche Macan, which he drives through the winding, eucalyptus-lined streets of posh Montecito to take us to the Romero Canyon Trailhead, one of his favorites. Due to its morning meetings with Europe and nighttime meetings with Asia, Diard’s workweek races consist of midday test loops around the concrete Goleta office park. On weekends, however, he leaves for six- to nine-hour product trials.
On the three-mile, 1,500-foot climb up Romero Canyon, where we both wear prototype X Lab trail running shoes encrusted with some plate (he won’t tell me what material the plates are made of) and the waist belts that fit more like a belt than any other on the market (“flat on the body”) – we’re talking about the importance of a holistic view of product, business and life. How adventure racing, with its multiple disciplines, is a kind of 30,000 foot view of product development. How having employees in their twenties offers new perspectives on business. “I always hire young people who play a lot of sports,” he told me. He is always looking for another way to approach a product.
Most of his ideas come while he’s running, so he started recording voice memos of his thoughts on his phone as he went. “Because you’re there, you’re running and things just kind of flow,” he says. “They digest naturally, and all of a sudden, pop! bop! – you have something.
At the top of the climb, Diard and I swap shoes (we have the same foot size). He sometimes runs with a second pair in his backpack, he says, and changes them mid-run or runs with one model on one foot and one on the other.
On the descent, we talk more about the super sneaker, a category which, according to him, does not yet exist. He says he likes the idea that general consumers as well as Hoka colleagues think, Oh, I didn’t know I needed it, but now that I have it, it just makes sense. Or just that they’re cool. When I arrive home in Colorado wearing an all-white prototype of what has since been released as the Hoka Transport X, my 14-year-old son, a budding sneakerhead, gives me a “Yoooo, they’re sick!”
Sometimes Diard’s introductions to Hoka go so well that the brand decides to incorporate a Deckers X Lab shoe into the Hoka line. When I visited, Diard was unsure whether the prototype shoe would hit the market under the Deckers X Lab label or be adapted in some form by Hoka. When I asked him if he’d rather get credit for industry-changing designs, he just shrugged and smiled. He admits, however, that it is sometimes difficult to let go. “There’s always that little moment of giving the baby away,” he told me, laughing.
Hoka, as a brand, seems to benefit greatly from Deckers’ resources, of course. But also Diard’s continuous innovations and his ability to think five steps ahead, his inner compass leading him to push the boundaries in the areas of design, materials and categories. Diard, in turn, appears to have generous funding from Deckers for a 3D printing lab, and a team of engineers and designers from around the world, and the green light to keep playing.
In fact, Deckers is so impressed with Diard’s work on the Transport X that the company plans to launch an all-new brand around the concept, which will be announced this fall. With that, Diard moves on, which he couldn’t share with me. At least not yet.
It may not be a perfect idea. It may even be a mistake. “But,” he said, “it’s an ongoing quest.”