World Footwear


Ellen Schmidt-Delvin: we are all looking to Europe to show us the next innovation

Nov 30, 2022 United States
Today we are sharing with you an interview with Ellen Schmidt-Delvin, Cofounder and Executive Director, University of Oregon. We have talked with Ellen about traceability, sustainability and innovation and all pressing issues of the footwear industry

Traceability and innovation

Traceability and innovation really go hand in hand. So, traceability is about how we understand our responsibility as manufacturers, as retailers, as customers and consumers for the product we consume. And I think is a big word and people might react and say “maybe someone else can take care of that. You know. Why do I have to think about it?”. But it is a responsibility that we have as consumers of products. In order for any company to understand where a product came from, they need innovation. And innovation today is driven by digital.
I spent 27 years at the Nike company and we used to talk about a concept called “brief to box”: an idea for a product, and then the product being finished in a box. I think that with traceability, what we are talking about is what is the responsibility that we have for a product when we have an idea to create a product, all the way to when you create the product and then beyond that and until the end of life of that product.
Digital technology is helping us to better be able to have visibility of the entire supply chain and innovation is giving us the opportunity to be able to trace the origin of the materials in our product and then trace our products all the way to end of use.


Today if we are not innovating, we are not moving forward and we will not be able to move fast in sustainability. And those who have been in this industry we have been talking about sustainability for twenty years, or even longer. And now we can see the impact of what is going on in our planet and that should signal to us that we need to move faster. And I think in order to move faster we have to innovate. And in the (trade) shows, we are seeing that innovation can help us, as footwear makers, footwear retailers. It can help us to move faster in the area of sustainability. Because once you know what it goes in your product you can make better decisions regarding what goes into your product and you can help the consumers, who are becoming more and more interested in knowing what goes into the product, you can give them visibility of what went into your product. So, if you are making responsible decisions for the planet and if you are able to communicate that to the consumer and if the consumer cares about it then you will be able to sell more products and be more profitable.

New consumers

The new generation, Generation Z, they want to know where the products came from: they want to know the product were responsible made, and then they want to consumer products responsible. In the future, we are going to sell new products to consumers. They will have to have a very good reason to buy them. And one of those reasons is that we responsibly made those products for them. And those products are going to last and have the intended purpose, and we can all feel good about the making, the distributing, the retailing of those products.


From a designing sustainable system standpoint we need to look into sourcing and supplychain as part of a bigger system. And that bigger system is all the way from the retailer, who want the right products for their consumer, to the manufacturers, who are going to build it, or the brands that are going to design the righ products to the consumer, manufacturers are going to make them and the retailers are going to offer them to the consumer. If we look at it as part of the bigger system then we realize there is a responsibility in there to understand what comes before and after sourcing and there is also a responsibility in sourcing to look beyond pricing.

Europe’s role

I’m from the United States and I spent an tremendous part of my career in Asia, and what is very evident to me in the footwear business is that we are all looking to Europe to show us the next innovation.

Development of sports shoes

In the development of sports footwear first and foremost is performance. The shoe has to perform for its intended use. Because they are building them for performance, the consumer sees it as an authentic product and that is one of the reasons why the consumer is using it for other reasons. Because if you are using a running shoe that was built for a running and is authentic, then it makes a pretty good casual shoe, doesn’t it?

University and industry

In Portland we have over 9 hundred sports and outwear companies. We educate students in the business of support, so they learn everything from a consumer insight, to building a brief, to building a product, to manufacturing the product for the right market and that is what the industry asked for: "You have to teach them how to do this, then when they come to our company they will do that every single day, as we don’t’ have the time or the money to educate them on this". You also have to teach them about sustainability. You have to teach them about the global industry. And you have to teach them on how to be innovators.

About Ellen Schmidt-Devlin

After being personally mentored by Bill Bowerman and spending 27 years at Nike working in Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand, Korea and the United States, Schmidt-Devlin realized there wasn’t a program out there that could prepare students to work in the sports product industry. Upon receiving her MBA at the UO’s Lundquist College of Business, she worked alongside Dr. Roger Best to cofound the UO Sports Product Management program. Apart from being the program’s director, Schmidt-Devlin also teaches the program's Integrative Project-Sports Product Making course. Schmidt-Devlin's expertise spans the supply chain with direct responsibility for product development, merchandising, marketing, and manufacturing. Schmidt-Devlin's strengths include strategic planning, team leadership, project management, international business management, and government and partner company relationship building. In 2012, she produced a documentary about Oregon track and field called We Grew Wings, which was inspired by her years as a University of Oregon track and field athlete. Schmidt-Devlin now keeps busy with the University of Oregon Sports Product Management Program and enjoys spending time with her family, running, and traveling.

This interview was recorded during the last edition of Expo Riva Schuh in June 2022.

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