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30 Years of ASICS Gel-Kayano

2023 marks the 30th anniversary of the Gel-Kayano, a runners’ favorite and lately a must on the fashion scene thanks to the 00s nostalgia and hype collaborations like JJJJound.
asics Gel Kayano x Naked CPH
Gel Kayano x Naked CPH. Image Naked CPH

Kaizen is an approach to creating continuous improvement based on the idea that small, ongoing positive changes can reap significant enhancements. The approach is at the basis of lean manufacturing, first theorized in Japan, and it aims to improve productivity, reduce waste, and foster innovation. Among them any manufacturer goods to which Kaizen has been applied, performance shoes are no exception.

Being a Japanese company, ASICS has always done things differently from other sport brands. The company based in Kobe develops all its own materials and shoes in the same facility where the Kaizen principles as strictly applied. When Toshikazu Kayano sat at its working table tasked to design an “all-in-one” performance shoe that would fit gym training and runing in 1993, he translated Kaizen into its creation: the Gel-Kayano Trainer. In July 2023, the 30th iteration of the Kayano is expected to be released after 30 years of constant innovation and product development sticking to the Kaizen philosophy.

Toshikazu Kayano 1993
Toshikazu Kayano at his desk in 1993. Image: VK

The Gel-Kayano Trainer was released in 1993 taking its name from its designer Toshikazu Kayano, which is very uncommon in footwear design. Kayano was tasked with replacing the GT-Cool Xpress and creating a cutting-edge shoe for long-distance runners and for training at the gym - not an easy task at all. For this reason, the first model was called Gel-Kayano Trainer delivering the idea of an all around shoe. Kayano drew an innovative design draining inspiration from the stag beetle which can be recognized when looking at both shoes together from above. In fact, the original outsole featured a lightning bolt-esque strike resembling stag beetle pincers.

The Serious High Mileage Runner 1993 ASICS Gel-Kayano Marketing Campaign
asics Kayano 5 Campaign
Kayano 5 Campaign from 2020. Image: ASICS

Since its first release, the Kayano has been at the forefront of ASICS innovation, featuring the most advanced technologies developed by the brand, from EVA to FLYTEFOAM. The Kayano 5 represented the starting point for aof this approach with a renewed importance around technology with the GEL made visible and a Duomax sole.

The first KAYANO sneakers were aesthetically oriented. Later shoes started to include scientifically backed functions. Then from 18, we also started to consider the environment and how we can design ethically. No revolutions but just evolution model after model Toshikazu Kayano

This quote from Kayano reflects the approach applied by the Japanese company to the shoe. At first, the shoe was about design, then from the Kayano 6 the Asics Institute of Sport Science (ISS) came into play. The ISS is a 45,000-square-foot lab in Kobe, Japan. Here, 200 ASICS employees research, create, and test new materials in a full-scale biomechanics lab with a climate chamber that can replicate nearly any weather condition. The ISS added a performance-driven approach to the creative process, moving the shoe forward into innovation. If the Kayano 6 introduced the design, the Kayano 18 introduced sustainability, following the Kaizen philosophy once again. The production process was improved in order to reduce Co2 emissions, thanks to a study in partnership with MIT.

Hidenori Yamashita Kayano 14
Hidenori Yamashita with the Kayano 14

Till a few years ago, the Kayano had a nurtured follow among runners looking for something outside the Nike and Adidas of this world. This changed in 2020 when the Kayano entered its fashion era. How can the same shoe win the Runner's World International Editor's Choice in 2008 and be featured all over fashion media just 10 years later? The Kayano 14 did both. When it was first released in 2008, the Kayano 14's innovative tech and singular comfort garnered high praise from the running community. With a new model coming out every out, the Kayano 14 became old news for the brand buried in the archive till Kiko Kostadinov, a young Bulgarian designer based in London with a deep interest in performance and technology clothing, started to work with ASICS. Kostadinov went deep into the brand’s heritage looking for the perfect shoe to bring back on the road - and streets. He opted for the Kayano 14, while the brand initially picked the Kayano 13, for its forward-looking and tech silhouette.

JJJJound x ASICS Campaign
JJJJound x ASICS Campaign. Image: The Illest

Kostadinov’s partnership with ASICS was successful from the start, bringing attention to the silhouette and the brand as a whole, and led the brand to hire him full-time to focus on the most innovative and fashion-oriented projects. His works made the headlines in fashion media and generated a halo effect on the Kayano 14 general releaases which were now regularly sold out. ASICS did not stop there and decided to apply the sneakers collaborations playbook to the shoe partnering with key personalities and brands in the streetwear space to establish its presence as a fashion brand as well. Since then, Naked CPH, Ice Studios, and many more were tapped into to design their own iteration of the sneaker.

I dubbed last summer the 'summer of Kayano 14. After that, we started to see a crazy demand for that model and for that early 2000s look and feel. Kelly Fatouretchi, ASICS Director of Merchandising

The last turning point for the Kayano 14, and the brand, happened in August 2022 when the Montreal-based creative studio, JJJJound, released its version of the shoe. JJJJound established itself as a marquee partner for all sneakers brands during the last 5 years being responsible for some of the most sought-after sneakers in the market, from New Balance to Reebok. The Kayano 14 x JJJJound was the shoe of the summer for the lucky ones who were able to purchase a pair. The media exposure granted by this collaboration reached a large number of customers who has not considered ASICS has a fashion brand till then. Unable to get the JJJJound version, they opted for the in-line colorways to still catch the latest sneaker trend.And this is why you are now seeing the Kayano 14 everywhere.

ASICS Gel-Kayano 30
ASICS Gel-Kayano 30. Image: newsmarket

For how much the Kayano can be popular on the runaways, it is still one of the best running shoes in the market. Glancing at the first images and reviews, the Kayano 30 promises to be an exciting release this summer and the perfect way to celebrate 30 years of this iconic shoe, while older models continue to grow their presence among fashionistas.


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