For a start we immediately ask Ambrogio Merlo, managing director of Michelin soles, how he sees the world of safety footwear evolving from his privileged observation point.
“It is a sector that has seen significant changes in the last 2 years. If it previously seemed a sector only capable of drawing inspiration and stylistic features from other sectors (sneakers or outdoors, for example), translating them afterwards into traditional footwear, today I have seen very interesting original proposals. It seems to me that this sector has acquired a lot of creativity and pushed towards innovation. Perhaps also motivated by the changes that are taking place downstream, among the end consumer. The concept ‘I have to buy a shoe that complies with the law at the lowest possible price’, has been almost entirely supplanted by the thought of a more mature consumer who has understood that the work shoe is a crucial tool in one’s working life and therefore it must be safe, long-lasting, but also comfortable, so as to reduce fatigue. The consumer is willing to spend even a little bit more. We are therefore witnessing a cultural evolution of the market and, consequently, also a creative and innovative evolution of producers.
The repercussion on the world of soles ensures that the now consolidated injection technology on the upper is completed by other techniques that allow greater technological innovation.
It is undoubtedly one of the sectors that shows the greatest vitality”.
How important is safety footwear for Michelin?
“For us at Michelin, the world of safety is among the most important ones, because we believe it is part of the brand’s DNA. Michelin has developed all its tires and technologies exactly to provide safety, grip and stability to the means of transport, thanks to increasingly efficient compounds and treads. The same values that are sought after in the world of safety footwear.
Today Soles by Michelin works in 11 different segments and safety represents approximately 15% of the market. Please note that Michelin’s mission is not to become the specialist in Safety or Sports or any other segment, but to make a difference in every sector we are going to face. Our focus is not on holding the leadership in quantity, but on offering brands technologies that allow them to remain market leaders. For this reason also, we select our partners to complement each other. We focus a lot on providing customised solutions based on their needs, solutions that make the difference”.
On which points are you most working in terms of research and development?
“One of the aspects on which we are focusing a lot is lightness, because comfort is also fundamental for safety shoes, as I have already said. Since the work shoe is worn for many hours, the lighter it is, the less tiring it is to wear it.
In this sense, our Fiberlight technology – already developed and used for the outdoor world – helps us to reinforce the rubber compound with synthetic fibres, which allows us to significantly reduce thickness while maintaining the dimensional stability of the sole. One of our next goals is to apply the same technology to the safety world.
Furthermore, we are developing a series of technologies that will allow us to build soles with extremely important grip even in extreme winter conditions (or at low temperatures, think of the food industry) while maintaining oil resistance, antistatic properties and even ESD characteristics. These technologies will be revolutionary for certain sectors and will probably see the light at the A+A of 2021”.
Garsport and Michelin together once again
Garsport was founded in 1972 thanks to two passionate craftsmen who decided to start a small mountain shoe production company. Today it is a leader in trekking and safety footwear, even with its own brand. As is the most recent line of safety shoes whose tread was developed together with Michelin. “It is an injected shoe – explains the designer Luca Feltrin – whose bottom has an innovative design, conceived to withstand slippage in an important way: the large grooves ensure flexibility, while the distance between the blocks allows an immediate passage of the water for an excellent self-cleaning. The design on the edges ensures greater lateral control and more adaptability. The rear area disposes of a safety block for the heel, while a specific angle has been designed to keep the foot stable in certain moments, for example when climbing stairs. The massive wedges in the heel area ensure durability.
The tread features a compound specially designed for the accident prevention world and is therefore antistatic and resistant to heat, oils and acids”.
The line will include different models, both in S1P and S3 categories, also with mid cut, in addition to the possibility of being equipped with both an anti-perforation foil and a metal-free toe cap in textile composite material.
Different options will be available for the upper materials: from resistant and water-repellent microfibres, thanks to special sublimation procedures, to traditional materials such as mesh, nylon and suede split, up to nylon base materials with high tenacity frame, very resistant to abrasion. Nubuk and tumbled leather will enrich the more classic versions, with one-piece uppers, without seams, perfect for the construction industry.
“The first project developed with Michelin was the heritage sole in 2015 that was inspired by the X Cargo Bib tread. A line that then diversified and evolved, despite the fact that the top model remains Monza S1P, still bestseller three years after its market entry”.
Working with Michelin brings a lot of advantages to Garsport: “First of all the good working affinity between our group and the Michelin team – concludes Luca Feltrin – and of course, the reliability and excellent slip resistance of their soles. Without forgetting the possibility, also using their open funds (therefore not only those developed exclusively with us), to greatly diversify the lines offered to the market. Finally, the brand’s recognition, which is highly appreciated in the world of security, which allows us to grant added value to medium-high lines”.