Karhu: Rolling Into the Future; Founded in a Rich Heritage

A brand that has caught the eye of many Fleet Feeters and often raises the question of, ‘Is that a new brand?’ is that of Karhu – a word from Finland meaning bear. While new to our shoe wall, Karhu is certainly not new to the shoe game, by any means. Karhu was founded in 1916 by Ab Sportartiklar Oy (bonus points to anyone who can pronounce that properly) in Helsinki. The initial products designed and produced were not running shoes, but rather javelins, skis and discusses. Running spikes quickly followed and made their U.S. debut on the feet of Hannes Kolehmainen, the first “Flying Finn,” and Ville Ritola, the “Flying Wolf,” who raced in Berwick, PA in 1917.

Karhu enjoyed a long and storied time of prosperity, including a dominate performance at the ’52 Helsinki Games. Karhu found their shoes on the feet of champion after champion. In fact, in 1960 Karhu adopted the stylized “M” still found on their shoes today. This “M” stands for Mestari, the Finnish word meaning champion.

Flash forward to the 1970 and Karhu’s R&D team develops the World’s first running shoe to feature “Air Cushioning.” The 70’s was an exciting time for running. Here in the US at any given time you could go to Hayward Field in Oregon (home of Nike) and find Steve Prefontaine running laps and preparing to take on his arch-rival; none other than Finland’s own, Lasse Virén – who was no doubt at any time preparing to take on ‘Pre’ while training in his Karhu running shoes.

As legend has it in 1975 Steve Prefontaine invited the Finland team to Hayward Field for a chance to compete outside of the only other time they would get to face off – the big games, with the big rings… You know the ones. Sure enough the team arrived ready to race in their Karhu shoes with “Air Cushioning.”

The games came and went and the story goes that one Flying Finn left a pair of his Karhu shoes with this brand new “Air Cushion” at the home of Nike. No one can confirm or deny if this made Coach Bowerman stand up from his waffle iron - it’s how he made the tread pattern of his custom running shoes – and take notice, but very shortly after in 1978 Nike introduced their first “Air Cushioned” shoe. You can tie those strings together anyway you’d like.

If we flash forward to today Karhu is still offering innovative ways to produce amazing running shoes. They have introduced a fulcrum system into their midsole which creates a “Maximum Rolling Effect” by placing a pivot point that encourages forward motion. Quite possible the coolest aspect of their running shoes is that they are exclusively available at Fleet Feet! Perhaps if Leo had a pair of these in “The Revenant” he could have out run that bear! Then again he may have also eluded his Best Actor Oscar win… Whether you’re looking to out run a bear or simply have the heart of a Mestari then stop in a see our full line of exclusive Karhu running shoes today.

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