Franco Arese, in the name of Karhu and running
Karhu has launched the Trampas ‘Franco Arese’, a tribute to its chairman and his sporting legend
“Karhu and Finland are in my destiny”. Franco Arese talks about destiny, he does it with extreme lucidity, with that touch of irony typical of those geniuses who have always added articulate thinking to their sports practice. The Piedmontese from Centallo, born in 1944, talks about it in front of us.
He is a middle-distance runner crystallized in the myth, an entrepreneur constantly able to mix tradition and future, a man who became a few days ago a sneaker to wear, thanks to the Karhu Trampas ‘Franco Arese’.
He speaks loudly, sincerely and directly, like the manifesto of a gentleman from another era, to which the brilliance of modernity has been added. He returns to the tartan of the Helsinki Olympic stadium, rewinds the tape of memories, stopping it on his long and elegant run, on his arms extended in search of the apotheosis of the “land of champions, the land of great middle-distance runners, from Paavo Nurmi to Pekka Vasala…”. For a few seconds he lingers on the glitter of that European gold medal that has just completed half a century of legend.
He wears the Karhu Trampas dedicated to that historic continental success in the 1500 meters: blue like the tank top he wore on that sunny Baltic afternoon, red like the shorts that allowed him to cross the finish line ahead of Poland’s Szordykowski and Great Britain’s Foster, atypical shorts worn because “beautiful, avant-garde, and also a bit for superstition… For those shorts I also had a heated discussion with the Federation, but they did nothing”.
FROM INJURY TO THE TOP OF ASICS
It was 1971, Franco Arese’s moment of grace, the year in which his graceful levers set Italian records on 1500, 5000 and 10000 meters, as well as on the mile. It was the apex of a career that would soon come to a drastic halt, “a rupture of the Achilles tendon, which happened during a race in Milan. A very serious injury, I had to keep my leg completely in plaster for almost seventy days. In the end I was just bones. I tried to run again, but I wasn’t me anymore, my muscles were struggling so much”.
In the months of slow and ineffective recovery, Franco Arese’s body stopped, but not his mind. “I was used to do 50 races a year, I didn’t know what vacations were, I rested just a couple of weeks in December to wait for the new season… I was always going from one plane to another, from one race to another. During the period of my injury, I started thinking about what I wanted to do after my sports career. I remember talking to my brother and saying to myself: shouldn’t you quit? In that month and a half I decided to give up running, and it was a lucky choice”.
Destiny, luck. In the middle of these ungovernable poles lies the skill of an athlete capable of reinventing himself, of finding in his passion for shoes his own dazzling second life. “It was traumatic to make that decision, but I quickly found my way. In life you have to be good at making choices. I was in love with shoes, always have been, I knew all the brands and started working as an agent. Then, during one of my trips to ISPO Munich, I met the Japanese president of Asics Tiger. I proposed him to become distributor for all Italy, but he said no. He asked me to prepare a four-year business plan for him, and at the time I didn’t know what a business plan was…”.
Despite the initial stalemate, Arese’s approach to the Asics universe quickly turned into a dizzying climb, first focused on the broad Western panorama, then on the eastern peaks. “I remember that I was given the position of Italian distributor during the European Indoor Championships in Milan, we were at the Palasport of San Siro. After some time I became partner and then Chairman of Asics Europe. In Japan I was really esteemed, and that’s why I also joined in the board of Asics Japan“.
A thirty-year history with the flavour of cherry trees and the Rising Sun, a working romance closed and reopened in front of a distant but strong Nordic call, in front of the irresistible and evocative melody of a land that has become a second home for the entire Arese family.
KARHU, THE PAST IN THE FUTURE, THE RUNNING IN SNEAKERS
“It was an act of love for Finland”. When talks about the rebirth of Karhu, the famous bear brand that populated all the major athletics meetings of the first seventy years of the twentieth century, Franco Arese seems to be referring to a phoenix, to an inevitable process.
“I had reached the end of my career with Asics and I didn’t want to get involved in the sneaker market anymore, but my sons stimulated me”, a stimulus that came in the form of a family vision, an opportunity to be seized. “It would have been a mistake to throw away all his experience”, says Enrico, the youngest of Franco’s three sons, all of whom are now involved in Karhu. “Initially we wanted to create a brand in his name, ‘Arese’, inspired by Finland. My father is particularly tied to that country: when he was a professional, he used to go there every year to train, leave on his own and go to Turku between July and August, where he trained with Pekka Vasala and other Finnish athletes. We had a brand idea, but we didn’t have shoes yet. Suddenly, my brother suggested that Karhu was having a very bad time. So we went to Finland, held a meeting, and and we began negotiations to join the company”.
When you buy a brand like Karhu, you can’t just think about quotas and turnover, you can’t just think about products and market. When you buy a brand founded in the Suomi language back in 1906 and passed by the feet of the ‘Flying Finns’ or by those of the ‘Human Locomotive’ Emil Zatopek during the golden Olympic hat-trick (5000, 100000 and marathon) in Helsinki ’52, it means coming into possession of a precious heritage, of a mythological legacy, of a past to be reverently honored.
A reservoir of notions and victories from which the Arese family immediately drew, starting to insert the concept of sneaker in a fascinating historical container, forging the contemporary street shoe in the great vintage sports figures. A process that, combined with the ever-present production of pure, technical running shoes, has quickly led Karhu back to being a prestigious brand. “We are bringing Karhu back to where it deserves to be. My three sons know very well that the concept of turnover comes after that of prestige, comes after that of status. That’s why we don’t sell our products casually, that’s why we only rely on certain stores around the world”.
Destiny, luck, prestige. The last piece of Franco Arese’s sporting-entrepreneurial epic is enclosed in the search for excellence: a search conducted for years on international athletic tracks and on company desks, a search that today finds its apotheosis in the most programmatic of objects, the Karhu Trampas Made in Italy dedicated to him. With these shoes Arese also wanted to re-embrace the tartan and the emotions of the Olympic Stadium in Helsinki, as evidenced by the striking video below.
Foto e video di Karhu
IG @karhuofficial, @karhurunning
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