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Enter the ProWalker. After extensive research on the foot and its mechanics while walking, Rockport designers discovered that there are basic differences between a good running shoe and a walking one, namely the last shape and rigidity of the sole. Taking these findings, the company introduced the ProWalker as part of its RocSports line in 1985. Initially aimed at men age 45 and older, the ProWalker featured an extended heel counter for lateral stability and support, a rocker profile to aid the natural walking motion, a Vibram Superflex outsole for durability and a Poron insole to cushion stress points. Outside magazine dubbed it “the Mercedes-Benz of walking shoes.” “Customers flocked to the shoe right from the get-go; they finally had a shoe they could wear while walking their dog or walking with their spouses,” Carroll says, adding that the style has since sold in the millions of pairs worldwide. “This shoe hit the market and changed people’s lives,” notes Bob Mullaney, president of Rockport Americas. “People were nervous because it was a new concept, but the marketplace took a wonderful liking to the shoe because it resonated. There were a lot of consumers looking for a product that would perform, and the style was easily translatable to everyday wear as opposed to many other athletic styles.” New York stalwart Harry’s Shoes was one of the first retailers to pick up the ProWalker. According to Owner Robert Goldberg, the shoe is the epitome of “an authentic original.” “It was something of a revolutionary product at the time because in that era walking footwear wasn’t thought of as a category,” he says. Danny Wasserman, co-owner of Tip Top Shoes in New York, agrees. “At the time the ProWalker came out, athletic shoes other than tennis and basketball really had no classification as they do today. Back then there was no such thing as walking shoes, cross trainers, trail running shoes, etc. The ProWalker was an important shoe for the entire industry. It made the walking category what it is today,” he says, noting that it’s “right up there” with some of Tip Top’s all-time bestsellers. “At times we’ve needed to pre-book the shoes in order to get product,” Wasserman adds. The ProWalker remains a leading seller to this day for the brand. When online retailer PlanetShoes added Rockport to its selection in early 2012, the decision to carry the ProWalker

was a no-brainer. “It’s an integral part of Rockport’s business,” says Brooks Maitland, director of merchandising. “There’s a consumer that just replaces it and replaces it.” She adds, “The fact that it comes in extended sizes and widths is a huge benefit to the consumer. The wides and extra wides really sell well.” While the ProWalker has changed aesthetically over the years, including technical updates such as an amply cushioned heel cup, the addition of shock-absorbing open-cell foam in the forefoot and blisterpreventing collar, and supportive Vibram outsole, its fundamental design remains the same. “Each season we’ve had to reflect the change and movement of style,” explains Dave Pompel, vice president of Rockport’s men’s product. “But what hasn’t changed is this notion of walkability, this commitment to the ability to move on your feet. That’s the DNA of the shoe and the brand.” These days the original ProWalker wearers are entering their retirement years. But unlike any generation before, many of them remain active. And while they may not be running as much, they are definitely still walking. “Walking products have evolved so I would say that it’s become more of a utilitarian type of purchase,” notes Goldberg. Maitland agrees: “It’s an older customer— someone who’s much more concerned about fit and comfort.” The walkability of the ProWalker remains a design tenet for Rockport’s entire collection. It spans its latest TruWalk Zero effort—the brand’s lightest ever collection of walking shoes—to Total Motion, which fuses stylish uppers with sports technology to deliver all-day comfort for the busy metropolitan professional, to RocSports Lite, a collection of casual dress shoes weighing less than the average running shoe. “The ProWalker was never built to be a seasonal item; it was built to be a transformative item in an area that was untapped,” Carroll says. Mission accomplished. “We’re proud of a number of shoes in our portfolio, but the ProWalker is a very special one,” Mullaney says. “It’s helped carry us forward as a brand.” •

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2013 december • footwearplusmagazine.com 25

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Footwear Plus | December 2013  

The New Grunge | Style Hall of Fame Inductees | Hot for Birkenstock | Custom Shoe Craze

Footwear Plus | December 2013  

The New Grunge | Style Hall of Fame Inductees | Hot for Birkenstock | Custom Shoe Craze