To celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Jungle Moc, we sat down with Clark Matis, Merrell co-founder and designer of the original Jungle Moc and the newly redesigned Jungle Moc XX.
Clark, tell us about your athletic career and history with Merrell.
I’m from––and still live in––Durango, Colorado. 300 days of sunshine a year! Both of my parents were avid skiers and introduced me as a kid to cross-country skiing. In 1964 I was the Junior National Ski Champion, following that I won NCAA titles in 1968 & 1969. I was a member of the national ski team from 1969 – 1972, competing in the winter Olympics in Gernoble, France (’68) and Sapporo, Japan (’72). After I hung up the skis, I had to figure out a way to make money. I landed a job for Rossignol ski company, working alongside a guy named John Switzer. We both mutually loved the outdoors. We asked each other, what else out there can we do? I was an engineer designing ski boots, John had the business background. So, we decided to start looking at opportunities. Randy Merrell had just had a feature in Backpacker magazine about his boot, the Wilderness, that was voted best boot in the world. We went to Randy and he agreed to set up a company with us. That was the beginning of Merrell. Our first outdoor trade show was in Vegas, a 10×10 booth. We took one of Randy’s original boots with us and managed to get some attention. The rest was history. It was all pretty much on a wing and a prayer.
Tell us about the design and insights behind the original Jungle Moc?
The Jungle Runner was the first Jungle sole we created and took to market. It was doing horrible. At the same time we were working on developing an Italian casual moc. So, we decided to merge the two. What made the shoe so successful was the last––the form used to model the foot. There’s a saying in the shoe business; “the last comes first”. To this day, the last we used in the original Jungle Moc is still true. Also important to the design was the fact we were required to use pigskin for the leather upper. It turned out to be a better choice than cowhide because of its durability and it also softens over time without cracking.
What features and characteristics were most important to you?
Sizing. Our main competitors in Europe were not offering Men’s and Women’s sizing at the time. We had specific men’s and women’s sizing and it was revolutionary.
At the time, the Jungle Moc was a totally new kind of design. It was called everything from revolutionary to crazy. How was it first received?
The industry was laughing at us for coming up with this crazy looking product. However, in the UK, sales were exploding so we sent all of our inventory over there. Well, that turned out to be a big mistake. Next thing we knew it started to take off in this country and we had to scramble to get inventory for the U.S. market. Needless to say, we had the last laugh. I have always known that Merrell is a chameleon brand being able to sell as lifestyle, barefoot, trail running and hiking. The Jungle Moc was the start of Merrell not just being known as heavy old school hiking brand. To this day we still sell over a million pairs every year. It’s one of the most iconic shoes out there and also one of the most copied. Fortunately, we were smart enough to get patents on all of our models back then.
Today, recovery is a critical component of training and performance. In developing the original Jungle Moc, what emphasis was placed on recovery?
Back in the day recovery was called after-sport. When you got off the trail, people still wore their big clunky hiking boots out to the bar or wherever. We developed a comfortable shoe that you could just slip on and go.
To celebrate 20 years as the original recovery moc, Merrell is introducing a completely new Jungle Moc XX series. Tell us about the design, materiality and technology behind this exciting new collection.
In 20 years of the Jungle Moc, this is our first major redesign that I personally oversaw. It was a fun challenge to work on. The upper is still pigskin, we’ve added a dual-density midsole and we added a Vibram® TC5 outsole. This version is much lighter and faster. It’s very sleek. It keeps the same heritage as the original Jungle Moc––it just better meets the demands of today’s outdoor lifestyles. Footwear News called the Jungle Moc XX one of the best new shoes of 2018. Pretty cool.
Many of those who already wear the Jungle Moc live active lifestyles and are full of many great stories. What are some of your favorites?
A best friend and Olympic teammate of mine, Mike Elliot, got a pair from his wife for Christmas. Mike is quite the stylish dresser and thought they were the ugliest things he’d ever seen. Wouldn’t you know it, he came to love those shoes. Never took them off. I later saw him at a dress-up affair and wouldn’t you know it, he was wearing his Jungle Mocs. Probably my favorite memory was during a trip to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC. There, I met a veteran of the war who had lost a leg. The shoe he was wearing was a Jungle Moc. It was a fantastic experience to see.
What is life like for Clark Matis these days?
Busier than ever. Lots of travel for both work and visiting my kids. I’m still heavily involved with the Merrell design team on product development for lifestyle, hiking and Nature’s Gym. Merrell still gives me all the tough projects, which is great. This year, the new Jungle Moc XX is the most radical design we have and I’m really proud of it.