How One of the Most Difficult Times in My Life Inspired the adidas Breast Cancer Awareness Collection
See how adidas’ Luke Hontz is paying tribute to his mom – and all those affected by breast cancer – by bringing a whole new collection to life.
I am fortunate to have been able to turn my greatest passion, bike riding, into my job. In late 2010, I started my career at Five Ten as the Action Sports Sales Director in Redlands, California. I loved biking as a child. It was my first taste of freedom, something I could control. It was my escape from reality. Even now, whenever I ride – whether it’s dirt jumps, gravel, or out on my mountain bike, that is the time I live in the moment.
“I’d always admired the ‘Brand of the Brave’. At that time, Five Ten made the greatest climbing shoes in the world and I wanted to make our cycling shoes the same.”Luke Hontz, Senior Product Manager at adidas
The first year on the job not only marked the beginning of a new professional life, but also a rough time in my personal life. Right after I started, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was really shaken. I was in the thick of a new career, my dream job, helping to kick off the Five Ten Bike business. Five Ten was bought by adidas in 2011. My new job required a lot of travel, in North America, and to Germany to meet the adidas teams. Plus, I was connecting with athletes around the world. It’s nothing I would ever complain about, but it meant I couldn’t take the time off that I’d have liked to be with her. My boss was really understanding but balancing a new career and a mom with breast cancer was very hard. I never felt like I could do enough for her. I always wished I could have done more. I always wished I could have given her more in-person support. It is something I’ve always regretted.
Finding inspiration in the hardest moments
We were lucky. My mom is a fighter, and we are so fortunate and grateful that she is a breast cancer survivor. But not having been available to spend time with her during her treatment and surgery stuck with me. Two years ago, I realized that I was at a point in my career with adidas Five Ten where I could do something as a tribute to my mom. My goal was to help raise awareness about breast cancer, for those afflicted with it, survivors, and friends and family who are looking for ways to be supportive. And now I could use my job to show that support. In my role as a Senior Product and Brand Comms Manager for adidas Five Ten I am responsible for product marketing, global brand communications, and social media.
“I thought that making a shoe would be a great way to honor my mom, while raising awareness of the disease, and emphasizing the importance of early detection.”Luke Hontz, Senior Product Manager at adidas
Seeking allies by sharing experiences
I thought a lot about what I could do in terms of footwear. One day, I was talking with pro mountain biker and adidas Five Ten athlete Veronique “Vero” Sandler. I had worked with her on the film ‘Vision,’ one of the world’s first woman-led freeride films that adidas Five Ten supported. I knew Vero was not only an extremely good mountain biker, but also a talented artist. We were talking about my dream of promoting breast cancer awareness and it dawned on me that she might be able to help. I asked her if she could work on the graphics. She said that she was interested; she had a family friend who had suffered from breast cancer.
“When Luke told me about his project, I realized it was a great cause and something I wanted to get behind.”Veronique Sandler, Pro Mountain Biker
Vero talked with people who had fought the disease. One thing she discovered was that people found solace and comfort in the outdoors, whether it was going for a walk, getting on their bike, or simply sitting outside, all of course dependent on what level of activity they were capable of at the time. Spending time in nature or just thinking about nature helped them stay positive through difficult times. This evolved into our adidas Breast Cancer Awareness Collection theme, ‘Strength in Nature.’
“A few significant people in my life have suffered from breast cancer. It’s something many of us will be affected by in some way in our lifetime, and it’s so important to spread awareness. I’m so stoked to have had the opportunity to be involved in designing the adidas Five Ten Breast Cancer Awareness Collection.”Veronique Sandler, Pro Mountain Biker
Those conversations inspired the graphics Vero drew. They are a series of illustrations aimed at representing the strength and comfort that those with breast cancer have experienced in the outdoors. Not only did my original shoe come to life, but the Vero’s graphics are now spread across a collection of four shoes.
The power of collaboration
“But I knew what, and who, I was fighting for...”Luke Hontz, Senior Product Manager at adidas
I knew I needed allies if I wanted to get the backing from adidas. When I first came up with the idea and pitched it to the team, they were somewhat skeptical. But I knew what, and who, I was fighting for, so I kept talking and included more people in the conversation. They realized that in addition to being a strong cause, it was an authentic story and one that adidas felt strongly about getting behind.
What started off with a single shoe – the Five Ten Freerider Pro Canvas, which is one of the all-time best-selling mountain bike shoes in the world, quickly evolved into something much bigger. When the greater adidas team saw it, our Hiking business unit wanted to get involved with the TERREX Free Hiker, then the Trail Running team came on board with the TERREX Agravic Ultra, and then the Apparel team jumped in. Eventually, the Running team saw the collection and decided to make a special edition of the Ultraboost, which is one of adidas’ top selling shoes. All the shoes not only look good, but also perform. That is important to me. It is really heartening to be launching a full collection of functional footwear and apparel for running, hiking and mountain biking.
Support can come in different shapes – big and small
The fact that this idea went from something we didn’t think would happen, to developing to a full Breast Cancer Awareness Collection is one of the things that makes me proud to be with adidas. The whole thing snowballed in a very positive manner and now adidas flagship stores in NYC, Berlin, London, and Texas will carry the Breast Cancer Awareness collection. It will also be sold on the adidas.com site.
The products are available throughout October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. £15/ €15/$15 from each full-price sale of the adidas Breast Cancer Awareness Collection will be donated to Breast Cancer Now (for purchases in the UK and EU) or to the National Breast Cancer Foundation (for purchases in the US).
The money raised will contribute to the important work these charities are doing through awareness and promotion of early detection, as well as funding education, support services and research.
Neither I nor adidas are breast cancer specialists, but what I have learned is that there are many ways one can show support and allyship. Sometimes, even the hardest and most emotionally challenging situations in our life may spark creativity and new ideas. Spending time and giving your friend or family member comfort and simply being there for them is probably one of the most impactful ways. What I could do is use my platform, the creativity of my colleagues, and the collaborative power of the overall adidas team to show our support.
The products in the collection have been chosen to help everyone – regardless of their physical ability or condition – to spend more time in the outdoors and raise awareness. I’m grateful adidas gave me the chance to let this creativity unfold and get the project off the ground. I hope our efforts can make a difference in people’s lives.
My mom is super proud of me, and loves the collection, especially the Five Ten Freerider Pro. She tears up every time we talk about the shoes. It means a lot to her.