Roger Federer planned to spend this summer the same way he’s spent nearly every summer: playing tennis. This week, he would have been competing in Wimbledon had it not been canceled due to the pandemic; much of the 2020 ATP Tour has been scrubbed or postponed until 2021, ditto the Olympic Games in Tokyo (though we’re still holding out hope for the US Open in New York). Unsurprisingly, the world’s greatest player is taking it all in stride—and he’s still finding ways to celebrate his sport. Today, Federer is unveiling The Roger, his first sneaker designed in collaboration with On, the Swiss running brand he joined as an investor last fall.
Conventional wisdom would suggest a sneaker with Federer’s name on it might be of the performance variety—one we’d hopefully see him wearing on the court next summer. That could certainly be in the works, but he wanted The Roger to be a “tennis-inspired” sneaker that anyone can wear. “It’s not for tennis, it’s for the street,” he said on a Zoom video call from On’s design studio in Zurich. “I hope it’s a shoe you can wear every day, sort of like your watch—something that’s so comfortable, you want to wear it all the time.”
At first glance, The Roger looks similar to other “lifestyle” sneakers on the market: sleek, white, low-profile. Classic white sneakers have become the foundation of our modern wardrobe, a shoe that works with everything—jeans, leggings, or even a dress or suit. The Roger is On’s second lifestyle shoe, following the sold-out Cloudnova earlier this spring, and also appears to be the first sneaker designed without the brand’s signature, bubble-like CloudTec soles.Photo: Juergen Teller / Courtesy of On
As the name suggests, they look and feel like a row of little clouds under your feet; the distinctive look is what piqued Federer’s interest when he saw everyone in Switzerland wearing Ons. The bouncy technology is still part of The Roger, though—Federer just challenged the design team to hide it inside the shoe for a cleaner finish. “It was a really big deal, because CloudTec is what they’re most famous for,” he said. In the studio, he turned the sneaker over in his hand to show the clean lines and pointed out On’s other signature detail, the Speedboard, a plate injected in the sole to improve a runner’s agility.
These sneakers aren’t meant for running. But why shouldn’t your go-to shoe—the one you might spend most of your time wearing—be just as comfortable and considered? “I wanted to make sure we could integrate On’s same technology into a street shoe,” Federer explained. “If you look at other tennis-inspired shoes, they were designed a really long time ago, back when Björn Borg and John McEnroe were playing tennis”—and most have retained the same clunky, vulcanized rubber soles. “We said, let’s use today’s technology so they’re actually comfortable.”
The challenge was to incorporate those cushy soles and technical tweaks without adding heft. “The first version Roger tried out was really bulky, because we were trying to reinvent a sneaker,” On’s cofounder David Allemann explained. “Roger said it was important that it was super sleek, so we spent a lot of time shaving everything down and making it very light.” The final result is one-third the weight of most sneakers, and the eco-minded shopper will be happy to know it’s 100% vegan leather, too. Allemann said one of his long-term ambitions is to incorporate natural, bio-based materials (in lieu of the usual plastic or leather) that still live up to customers’ expectations. “If you’re making a technical sneaker, you can’t compromise on performance, but how can you make it fully sustainable?” he asked. “That’s what everyone in the market is working on. It’s a race in and of itself.”Federer’s new sneaker for On, dubbed The RogerPhoto: Courtesy of On
It’s a noble goal considering sneakers are only going to become a bigger part of our lives. Allemann believes the trend toward comfort and function has been accelerated by the pandemic: “Performance used to borrow from fashion, but we’re now in a moment where fashion is borrowing from performance,” he said. “The big question is, what happens now? Almost every fashion brand has a sneaker, even the ones that never made sneakers before. Our lives have changed, and work, play, sport—everything is converging. If everyone is going to start wearing sneakers, we want to add the functional benefit.”
“It’s interesting to see how the casual and comfortable materials we use for sports are coming more into our everyday lives, especially now that we’re all working from home,” Federer added. He shared one caveat: “I’m really happy to say that I hope everybody wears these shoes, but let’s not forget some fashion, as well. Because I love that part too.”
How is Federer styling his own pair of The Roger? You can get a glimpse in the Juergen Teller photo above and by tuning into Roger Live, a virtual event where he’s chatting with special guests, reminiscing about his first Wimbledon victory (which happened this day 17 years ago), and answering questions submitted by fans. If you want to be among the first to wear his sneaker, you’ll have to act fast—and cross your fingers. The first run is just 1,000 pairs, released through a “draw” online and in partnership with Dover Street Market. If your name isn’t chosen, there will be other opportunities to buy the sneaker in multiple colors, and Federer promised there’s lots more to come. “On is a fast-moving, nimble company that makes really quick decisions, so they’re really interesting to work with,” he said. “We’re evolving The Roger, but we’re also talking about all the other things we can do together.”Photo: Courtesy of On