Not just for runners: Trendy kicks by brands like Hoka and On make a sartorial statement

Two brands have stomped to the top of the national running shoe market recently: Hoka and On.

Varsity Sports owner Jenni Peters has seen plenty of local non-runners fork over more than $100 to snatch the latest pair, too.

Known for years by marathoners and training athletes, the brands are now viral in the style world. Spot them on celebs like Harry Styles and Zendaya—or on athleisure-wearing students on campus at LSU and Southern University.

The clunky, colorful sneakers have been dubbed “ugly,” “clownish” or “dad shoes” by critics. But in 2023, On’s net sales grew at a rate of 46.6% year-over-year. Meanwhile, Hoka also had a bigger jump in net sales compared to its parent company Deckers’ other brands, like UGG.

So, what’s making these styles so popular?

Peters credits Hoka’s popularity to unique colorways and thick, chunky bases that can add up to 2 inches of height. For On, it’s about firmer models, sleek styles and toothy soles. And both are suited for everyday wear—on and off the running trail.

Some of Peters’ customers are seeking doctor-recommended comfort, while others are looking to get a new pair for “Disney season,” her umbrella term for vacationing that involves a lot of walking.

“I’d say about seven out of 10 people in our store are not running in any of the shoes they buy from us these days.”

[—Varsity Sports owner Jenni Peters, on the general public’s growing interest in running shoes]


The heightened interest in running shoes has brought great business. But keeping a full stock can be challenging for a small-space retailer like Varsity Sports.

Peters does her best to maintain a range of vibrant colorways and sizes for popular models, though, knowing how much customers value a multihued inventory.

“The Hoka Bondi is one that if you said ‘I wear a size 8,’ I’ve probably got six different colors for you to choose from,” she says. “Storage to try to accommodate people’s preference for colors is tough. If we don’t have that color in the store, they’re going to go sit out in their car and one-click it.”

If Varsity Sports doesn’t have what a buyer is looking for, the shop can order the color combo and style, typically ready for store pickup in a week or less. Luckily, neutral colors like gray and white are having their moment, too.

Though On and Hoka are currently in-demand, Peters has seen the market cycle through plenty of popular styles since opening in 2000. She recalls when minimalistic shoes were all the rage. Remember Vibram’s FiveFinger toe shoes that gave consumers a barefoot look and feel?

“I’m surprised to see it swing back to be what we call the ‘maximalist industry,’ which is the big cushy shoes,” she says. “But that’s going to be more appealing to more people. I don’t see it going away anytime soon, because every one of our brands has got their max shoe. They’ll call it their ‘Hoka’ behind closed doors. … Most all of the brands these days are taking advantage of what they see as a whole new opportunity.”

But try as they might, it seems no one is knocking On and Hoka from their top spots. Peters says she’s even seen these brands gain on others that have led the market for years, like Brooks Running. But the demand for On and Hoka has in turn helped out the retailers that carry them—Varsity Sports’ four Louisiana locations included.

“Our last two years have been record years across all stores,” Peters says. “And it’s driven a lot by On and Hoka.”

And she hopes the Hoka and On craze continues to keep pace.

This article was originally published in the June 2024 issue of 225 Magazine.