norda Co-Founder Nick Martire on Developing Trail-Ready Supercars - for Your Feet

Photo: Moe Lauchert 

norda has been a unique trail-running brand since its founding in 2020. Using a proprietary bio-based Dyneema® upper stacked ontop of a thick norda x Vibram midsole and outsole, the norda 001 silhouette seems at once clean, classic and pioneering, futuristic. We spoke with norda co-founder Nick Martire about the brand's mission to make uncompromising performance trail runners.

How did your personal and professional story lead to norda?

We're a team of four. 

My wife Willa and I are lifelong shoemakers and lifelong athletes. We’ve worked for many big companies primarily in the fashion space. Every time we’d go running, my wife would say, “Can’t we make a better shoe?” We knew there was an open space because big companies need to make decisions to cut costs and save money. But we wanted to make Lamborghinis and Range Rovers. So, we set out to make the best shoes we could make.

Louis Martin Tremblay, Head of Design, and Gerard Cleal, Art Director, joined as partners because we needed a team as passionate and uncompromising as we are.

Photo: Julien Payette Tessier

How does norda set itself apart from other trail shoe brands?

So much of the industry is road-driven. It started with the Vaporfly, which is probably the most innovative marathon shoe ever made. It runs on a foam called Pebax. But we live on a farm and our world is only running on trails. We wanted to make what the Vaporfly’s innovation was for the road - but for the trail. 

There’s a lot of talk about superfoams these days. We prototyped and tested different foams for two years and tried everything available, and we found the Vibram SLE midsole with an eTPU insole to be the best for our specific purpose. 

Big brands are all about making you superhuman - bigger and faster. For us, we want you to go fast, but we want to make you comfortable and stable, too.

The other thing is, so many shoes are products of the marketing department. We wanted to do it in the inverse: start with a blank slate and build the best shoe we can.

Photo: Julien Payette Tessier

How were you able to develop a form of Dyneema® suitable for performance footwear?

I’d love to say that I was great at crochet or something.

Dyneema® has a program called The Dyneema® Project, and within The Dyneema® Project, there is a group of people who pioneered the ultralight movement. Louis [Martin Tremblay] and I met with some of these people, and they could sense we were as passionate as they were.

We’re the first to use bio-based Dyneema® in a shoe the way we used it. We got it in a filament - in a yarn, and then we worked with a mill that specializes in Dyneema®, and they wove it into our fabric. What’s unique about our shoe is that everything is seamless. Everything is cut by laser and laminated. We have stitches in the back and a strobel stitch on the inside, so we say that shoes are cut by laser and sewn by hand - a mix of new with traditional shoe-making techniques.

Photo: Julien Payette Tessier

Could you talk about norda’s approach to sustainability?

For us, sustainability starts with durability. There’s something crazy - like 20 billion shoes per year put into landfills. Our view is simple: the more we limit that, that can be our contribution. 

There are a lot of great innovations with castor beans and so-called natural fibers, and it’s great to make them, but they’re not durable enough today or suitable for trail purposes.

There’s also a lot of talk about building a shoe with replaceable parts that you can break down after. Just think about the fuel involved in shipping a shoe back to a manufacturer and replacing different components and then shipping it back to you… It’s not sustainable at all.

We want to be very clear - not every part of the norda shoe is sustainable and bio-based. We’re a performance company. But we do what we can to use recycled and bio-based materials. Most people don’t know that most shoe boxes with those shiny coatings aren’t recyclable. Our boxes are made from FSC certified recycled craft paper and white aqueous based ink, so you can recycle them entirely a second time.

Photo: Julien Payette Tessier

The outsole of the norda 001 is inspired by the topography of Montreal. In what ways is norda a product of Montreal?

The lines on the sole are literally the topography of Montreal. The lines are supposed to represent the rock formations around the city.

Most shoes have v-shaped lugs, but if you’re familiar with snow tires, snow tires have sipes, so that’s what these lines can do - they function as extra outsole sipes that provide traction.

Many brands try to save weight by carving up the sole and minimizing the rubber on their outsoles. You use a full rubber outsole.

A lot of the brands have rubber pods and exposed EVA. Rubber pods rip off. Rocks puncture the EVA. The full soleplate guarantees durability. 

What’s your current favorite trail run?

My morning run. It’s super simple. I’m a creature of habit. My sport is running in new countries. One of the coolest runs I did recently was totally by fluke running in Korea. Just like how New York has Central Park, there’s Namsam, a mountain right in the middle of Seoul, and my hotel was right at the base. So, I would run there every morning.

Photo: Julien Payette Tessier

What’s next for norda?

While everyone is waiting on the norda 002’s release this month, the norda 003 is also almost ready. I’ve been wearing this shoe for 6 months.

At this point, Nick may or may not have presented a shoe to the screen that felt novel and unlike anything I’d witnessed before. I can neither confirm nor deny the material existence of this shoe or whether or not it has laces.

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Interview by Storr Erickson