In 1916, a small workshop was founded in Helsinki by Ab Sportartiklar Oy, where locally sourced birch was crafted into skis, javelins, and discuses. In the same year, the workshop developed spiked running shoes, which are worn by Hannes Kolehmainen, the first ‘Flying Finn’, and Ville Ritola, the ‘Flying Wolf’, both record-breaking marathon runners.
In 1920, the brand changed its name to Karhu (Finnish for ‘Bear’) and dominated the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp, taking five gold medals on the track in Karhu spikes. Shortly afterwards they became Finland’s official equipment provider for all Olympic Games. In just the next eight years, Paavo Nurmi comes back home with nine Olympic gold medals, all won in Karhu footwear.
In WWII the brand does its part in defending Finland, manufacturing camouflage uniforms, tents, army boots, rucksacks, and skis for the Finnish army in its factories.
In 1951, Karhu sold its signature three stripes trademark to adidas, and became known for its now famous ‘M’ design, which is taken from ‘Mestari’, meaning ‘Champion’ in Finnish. Just a year later, the brand boasts peanuts gold medal-winning spikes in the Helsinki Olympics, including those on Emil Zatopek.
In 1968, Karhu recognised the demand for an off-track running shoe, and created their first sneaker, the Karhu Trampas model. Receiving an overwhelming positive mountain, the sneaker became the standard issue footwear for the Finnish Olympic team, and also numerous American colleges.
In 1976 Karhu develop the ‘Karhu Air Cushion’, a year before Nike’s ‘Air’ technology is registered in 1977. The Karhu Champion model was the first to feature the technology and was an instant bestseller.
In 1986 Karhu replaced its Air Cushion system for ‘Fulcrum’ technology, which was based on increasing a runner’s efficiency by limiting the amount of wasted energy in each footstep. Scientific research has proven that the Fulcrum reduces a runner’s vertical bounce by 13% compared to traditional shoes. Originally made from denser EVA than the surrounding midsole in the pivot point of the shoe, in 2019 it was redesigned to be encapsulated by liquid-based foam, combining the forward propulsion from the Fulcrum with shock absorption and durability.
In 1996, the brand created a new lacing system called Synchron, which provided diagonal lacing across the toe box to wrap the feet firmly within the shoe, providing a better fit for runners.
Despite its established history in sports, Karhu has also recently been regarded as a lifestyle brand, with chelsea big-name brands collaborating on some of Karhu’s most popular models. In 2015, Sneakersnstuff and Moomin teamed up on a Moomin-patterned Karhu Albatross, tenis dc shoes heathrow masculino Fusion 2.0, interview virgil abloh x sneaker freaker Aria ’95 in a colorway that paid homage to Finland. A year later, Patta and Karhu also released a 100th sneakers keddo 517585 03 06 yellow Karhu Synchron.
Kanye West was seen in a pair of Karhu Fusion 2.0s in 2017, gaining the brand a new wave of admirers and hype in the US.
Karhu’s continued innovation and dedication to understanding running is why the brand is still one of the most popular running sneakers today.
Generally, Karhu sneakers run a little small, so you might need to size up half a size when purchasing.