Altra Bought by the Owner of TNF and Smartwool

Altra founders Golden Harper and Brian Becksted will remain involved under the new ownership

North Carolina-based parent company VF Corporation has bought the running-shoe brand Altra. (Courtesy Altra)

North Carolina’s VF Corporation has bought running-shoe brand Altra. Tuesday's announcement was scant on specifics, with no indication of the sale price or VF’s plans for the company. More information will be available in April, when the acquisition is set to be finalized. 

For Altra, a company born in the kitchen of one of its founders, the move is indicative of astronomical growth over the past decade. In 2008, marathon wunderkind Golden Harper began melting shoes in a toaster oven and cutting excess midsole foam from the heel, believing that a flatter midsole would help alleviate running injuries. It did, and demand for Harper’s famous “zero drop” shoes grew quickly, first in his home state of Utah, then nationwide.

In 2011, Altra was acquired by Utah’s Icon Fitness and distributed throughout North America. Business skyrocketed, with 300 percent growth in 2013 alone. These days a visit to the start line of any trail race or ultramarathon is likely to turn up dozens of runners wearing the recognizably wide-toe-boxed shoes. What might the acquisition mean for Altra? A company spokesperson says that Harper and cofounder Brian Beckstead will remain on as VF employees. (The duo have been at the helm of Altra since it was founded a decade ago.) As for which products it makes, and how those products are marketed—that’s a different story. 

VF owns the North Face, which also makes running shoes. With both brands under the same umbrella, they could be forced to alter the products they manufacture or the consumers they target to avoid competing with one another. Similar concerns arose in December, when VF bought wool-apparel brand Icebreaker. VF also owns Smartwool, and at the time of the purchase a VF spokesperson said that consumers would probably notice a shift in one or both brands at some point. So far there have been no major changes, but only a few months have passed.

Matt Powell, an outdoor-industry analyst for NDP, says that he expects both Altra and the North Face to be unaffected. “Trail running is a tiny business in the U.S.,” he says. “I don’t see this acquisition impacting North Face footwear in any material way. Altra was already on a great trajectory, and that should continue.”

VF was unable to comment on anything beyond its initial press release but said that information would be forthcoming once the acquisition is finalized. 

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