Breathable Shoes: Branding Success through Patenting
For Mario Moretti Polegato, chairman and founder of GEOX S.P.A., the heat of the Nevadan desert proved to be the ideal innovation climate. In 1989, during a business trip to Reno to promote his family's wine business at a trade fair, he decided to take a walk. Bothered by his overheated feet, he used a hunting knife for puncturing several holes in the soles of his sneakers to let air through. He had just discovered a simple and effective way to let excess heat out of his shoes.
Back in Italy, Mr. Polegato, who holds degrees in Wine Technology and Law, started researching his flash of intuition in the workshop of a small footwear company owned by the family. After extensive experimenting and research on footwear construction, he discovered how to apply a membrane that is both waterproof and breathable at the same time: it has millions of small "canals", or micro pores, smaller than drops of water, so that water cannot get through, but vapor can. Fitted between his shoe's punctured soles and his foot, the membrane stopped water from entering his shoes through the holes in the soles, but allowed the vapor from perspiration to evaporate.
A desert, his shoes, a knife: Watch the GEOX founder speak of the innovation behind his unique, breathable footwear. YouTube
Waterproof and breathable sole structure drawing as submitted in EP application no. 89121612.9.
Mr. Polegato's technology consists of three different components: a perforated inferior component called the outsole, a superior perforated component called the mid-sole and a third component (the “membrane”), which is positioned between the outsole and the mid-sole, and that is permeable to vapor and waterproof. The combination of the membrane with holes on the outsole and mid-sole allows vapor to move out while preventing water from entering. As soon as the rubber-sole technology was in place, Mr. Polegato patented his invention in several countries. Later on, a similar solution for leather soles was also patented.
Mr. Polegato initially intended to sell the patented technology, but due to lack of interest from any of the world's leading shoe manufacturers, in 1995 he decided to enter the shoe trade himself, with a bank loan and a workforce of five.
Trademarks and Branding
Mr. Polegato chose the “GEOX” name to identify his products and registered the trademark internationally. The GEOX™ brand name is a combination of the Greek word "geo" (the earth) and "x", symbolizing technology. GEOX products unify innovation with comfort and a style in line with the latest fashion trends.
Although GEOX is marketed as an Italian brand (the raw materials, technology and design are Italian) their products are manufactured outside Italy. However, in each plant, Italian technicians control the entire production process and the shoes are stocked in Italy where their final quality can be controlled.
While Mr. Polegato agrees that the “made in Italy” tag is compelling in fashion and design, particularly when it comes to shoes, he believes that GEOX’s most marketable differentiator is the technology behind the breathable shoe. The strength of the brand name and the competitive advantage of the company cannot be attributed to a marketing strategy but to the uniqueness of the product based on its patented technology which makes the shoes “breathable”.
Waterproof and breathable sole drawing as submitted in PCT application no. PCT/EP2003/010395 (PATENTSCOPE®)
Research and Development
Mr. Polegato's fast-growing company soon extended the product range and kept investing in research and development (R&D), leading to the discovery of new technologies. In 1999, GEOX patented an idea to apply their breathable and impermeable technology to garments such as jackets, anoraks, and sports jackets. After a testing phase, the "total breathable look", GEOX's own line of patented apparel, was commercialized in Italy. As the company grew it employed professional managers for production, marketing and distribution.
In 2008, following many years of research in its corporate laboratories and some sales from 2005 on, GEOX launched worldwide a new line of sports footwear that will release the sweat produced by the foot sole during intense physical activity, based on patented “NET System” technology. The brand expression NET® from the English synonym of "mesh" sums up the new technology: a "net sole" coupled with a waterproof, breathing membrane ensuring "supertranspiration" for maximum health and comfort.
In 2010, the GEOX group inaugurated the „Breathing Building” In Milan’s historical city center. It is the largest GEOX Shop in the world and the brand’s flagship store (Photo: GEOX).
After having consolidated its first successes in Italy, between 2000 and 2003, the group expanded internationally using a balanced mix of multi-brand stores (approximately 10,000) and single-brand stores (1000+ GEOX shops). Since December 2004, GEOX has been listed on the Milan Stock Market exchange. In 2005, the inauguration of a boutique in New York's famous Madison Avenue marked the company's definitive breakthrough overseas.
Today, GEOX is market leader in Italy in the sector of classic and casual footwear and is increasingly present abroad: in 2010, about 60% of net sales took place in the company's main foreign markets, among which are Germany, France and Spain. In 2009, the group present in 103 countries sold over 20 million pairs of shoes and produced more than 2 million items of clothing.
Throughout his career, Mr. Polegato has been awarded many prizes in recognition of his innovative and successful business. Most recently, he won the “Innovator of the Year” award at the CNBC European Business Leaders Awards 2010, for the development of a fashionable brand with new technology.
R&D: The Key to Past and Future Success
The most important success factor of the GEOX group is its constant focus on product innovation protected by patented technology, coupled with a strong awareness of the GEOX brand. Ever since its inception, GEOX has maintained a company policy aiming to enhance technological innovation, resulting in more than 50 different national and international patent applications originated by the company to date, covering materials, products, processes, equipment and machinery. Furthermore, the company's constant stream of patented inventions and innovations ensures that competitors would be unable to simply copy the product after the expiration of the original patent. Smart use of intellectual property (IP) guarantees GEOX a lasting competitive edge. Mario Moretti Polegato is fully aware the importance of IP: "It's time to invest in ideas. An idea is worth more than a factory.”