While there's no shortage of sportswear brands deeply rooted in the world of running, ASICS stands out as of the most well-loved names among high-mileage runners. The brand's GEL-KAYANO shoe recently reached its 25th iteration, so we're celebrating that milestone with a breakdown of ASICS' 10 most memorable KAYANO models.
In its time, running shoes from the GEL-KAYANO lineup have been worn by Olympians, Iron Man competitors, and in 2008, the GEL-KAYANO 14 won the International Editor’s Choice prize in Runner’s World's annual awards.
In the early ’90s, the shoe's namesake Toshikazu Kayano was tasked by the brand with creating a cutting-edge, long-distance runner. The GEL-KAYANO line was established in 1993 with the GEL-KAYANO TRAINER, which took inspiration from an unlikely source: the stag beetle. The shoe's original outsole featured a lightning bolt-esque strike resembling stag beetle pincers when looking at both shoes.
The GEL-KAYANO range is governed by the Japanese philosophy of kaizen, which refers to gradual improvement — as witnessed over the 25 different GEL-KAYANO design iterations. Kayano himself explains this gradual process by telling us, "The first KAYANO sneakers were aesthetically oriented. Later shoes started to include scientifically backed functions. Then from 18, we also started to consider the environment and how we can design ethically."
To this day, Kayano remains an instrumental part of the ASICS design team in Kobe, Japan. To help us on our deep dive into the history of the running series - and to celebrate the re-launch of the OG ASICS GEL-KAYANO 5 - we sat down with Kayano and current GEL-KAYANO designer Yoshiyasu Ando in the ASICS archive to hear their thoughts on 10 key models.
Toshikazu Kayano: This is the very first KAYANO shoe and it was inspired by stag beetles. I was asked to develop this shoe as a successor to the GT-COOL EXPRESS. Since cross-training was popular at the time, we changed the concept from a core running shoe to the idea of a multipurpose “all-in-one” shoe. This is why the product name includes “TRAINER." As you can see, the mono-sock, external heel counter, and stripes are the main features, tech-wise. It launched in 1993.
Kayano: [The KAYANO 5] recently came back. Before this model, the KAYANO range was aesthetically oriented. In other words, the mood, feel, or emotional aspects came first. Then, with the KAYANO 5, we see more importance on visible technology. This is the whole point. The big feature is its Duomax sole. There’s double visible GEL and a teardrop tongue. A lot of visible technology. I meant to make the original for multi-purpose [use] — for running, for walking in the street — so there’s nothing uncomfortable about this shoe.
Kayano: With the GEL-KAYANO 6, ASICS' ISS — Institute of Sports Science — got involved with the production. So our shoe design became scientific. Our product became more performance-oriented, and functions started being measured by numbers. This model featured the latest technology at the time. The heel cradle increases stability. The Duomax sole also got updated. But again, the thought process of ISS was the biggest innovation factor for this model.
Kayano: For the GEL-KAYANO 9, the aesthetic offers a lot to talk about. This model has my name in a daring kanji-style stamp on the tongue. They were actually not sold in Japan, only overseas. [ASICS founder] Mr. [Kihachiro] Onitsuka saw my family name on the tongue and got upset because it could mislead the customers and take advantage of ASICS for my own branding [laughs]. The GEL-KAYANO 9 was a unique design, and it was well-received overseas.
Kayano: In 2004, this model was chosen as the Japanese athletes’ delegation shoes for the Athens Olympic Games. I have so many memories from this time. For this model, we installed a biomorphic fit. The biomorphic fit adds more comfort to the shoe and your foot. Our aim was to have the shoe fit your foot, even while you are moving.
Kayano: The KAYANO 15's eyelet stay is modified for a better fit. It’s called an asymmetrical lacing system. This pattern provides a very good fit, and more GEL components were added for better cushioning based on ISS recommendations.
Kayano: The next one has a twist. This KAYANO 18 enacted a more ethical approach than previous models. We partnered with American university MIT and made this model, which reduced CO2 by 20 percent. It was designed to use less environmentally harmful parts such as resins and so on.
Yoshiyasu Ando: I joined the KAYANO range for this 20th-anniversary model. For the celebration, we marked the names of past models on the toe and insole. Then we switched the biomorphic approach to FLUIDFIT. Instead of partial flexibility, which biomorphic was giving, FLUIDFIT accomplished a flexible fit.
Ando: This KAYANO 22 featured a seamless construction instead of stitch-down construction. The mesh design and seamless construction made the shoe much lighter and softer. Its projected heel counter was actually the base of the future 25th model’s distinctive counter.
Kayano: This is the latest model. The KAYANO range has been developed and evolved over the years. The 25th model's midsole uses a lightweight and high-resilience sponge material called FLYTEFOAM. Because of its high resiliency, you rebound with every step. This is very, very good for running. The shoe last was also renewed for increased kick-back against the ground. The toe was slightly lifted and the silhouette is slightly wider. GEL-KAYANO technology is evolving every day and I think these 10 models speak out the most, which is why we chose them.
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