The Dunlop KT26 was a running shoe made by Dunlop Sport (Australia), from 1978 to 2012 and originally designed by Jerry Stubberfield for the OSAGA shoe company in the 1970s. KT is short for Kinetic Technology (or Kinetic Training) and 26 represents the number of miles in a marathon. The shoe featured a light weight upper, wedge shape and wide flared sole to spread impact and increase traction and a hard wearing rubber sole with a tread pattern of "cantilevered" large deep lugs and voids which provided 360° grip edges and was relatively self-cleaning making it useful in wet and muddy conditions.
The Dunlop KT26 became a lasting favourite. In 2003, Dunlop Footwear calculated it had sold more than 5 million pairs since release. Versions were made in synthetic with suede, full suede and vinyl uppers and with lace up or Velcro tab closing. In addition to sport and recreational uses, the KT26 became a standard clothing issue item for many Australian factory workers and was widely used by construction and other outdoor workers. Dunlop Footwear later made a ‘safety’ version with a steel toe cap. Its sole tread pattern made it a choice for bushwalking, canoeing, rafting and rock fishing where it was also valued for its low saturated weight and quick drying. A version, the Dunlop KT Centurion, was made for the Australian Defence Forces. Dunlop KT Walker shoes, in leather or canvas uppers, used the same wedge and sole design. Dunlop KT26 Osaka was a specialty line. The Dunlop KT XLC is a cheaper, lighter and fully synthetic variation.
Dunlop exported on average over 120,000 pairs of KT26 shoes to Papua New Guinea per year. Dunlop KT26s have become ubiquitous fashion items within rugged countries where they are prized for their low cost, wide fit, sturdy construction and superior tread pattern. The shoe's tread pattern is particularly useful in muddy conditions, which has helped it to become the footwear of choice for competitors in the Kokoda Challenge, a race over the length of the Kokoda Track. It is reported that there are over 23 counterfeit versions of KT26 on sale in Papua New Guinea.
Kinetic technology means that the shock waves are radiated outwards so minimal impact is felt making the shoe extremely comfortable for running and walking. The bio-kinetic sole lugs distribute energy so that when running or walking the impact and stress of the movement is directed away from the foot which improves not only the comfort of the person wearing the shoe, but their overall stability, support and control. Many podiatrists and chiropodists have recommended the KT-26 to help overcome foot problems.
The KT-26 was developed in the late 1970s by Jerry Stubberfield in Portland, Oregon, United States. Stubberfield came up with the concept of Kinetic Technology and developed the unique bio-kinetic lugged sole for the OSAGA shoe company. OSAGA got into financial difficulty and closed its doors by the start of the 1980s.
Stubberfield then started AVIA shoes (AVIA became the fourth-largest sport footwear company during this time). AVIA acquired the patent and design rights to the KT-26 from OSAGA and early AVIA shoes feature 'cantilever technology' which is derived from the KT26 design. Stubberfield then sold AVIA to REEBOK by the late 1980s for a tidy sum.
Dunlop Sport (Australia) first came across the KT26 shoe at the NYC Shoe Fair in the late 1970s. An agreement to purchase the shoe was arranged thanks to the son-in-law of the OSAGA shoe company being friends with an employee of Dunlop Sport (Australia). Dunlop Sport (Australia) then purchased ownership rights to the KT26 design (with a 10-year royalty agreement with Stubberfield). The KT-26 was then redeveloped to become the Dunlop KT26 which was in continuous production from 1978 to 2012 (with minor pattern changes to the upper & revised sole lug pattern with added forefoot section).
At one point the Australian Occupational Health & Safety Department (Note: Nice story but there has never been such a Department!) realised that there were thousands of factory workers wearing these shoes without steel safety toe caps. Although uncommon for such a light shoe to feature a steel cap, Dunlop Footwear was quick to solve the problem by creating a ‘safety’ version with a steel toe cap.
The KT26 remained unchanged for decades as rival sports footwear brands evolved their designs through material and construction technologies. As a result the KT26 was relegated to the Discount Department Store retailers (DDS) of KMART, Target, BigW etc. In parallel, the DDS retailers were also producing and retailing their own 'home brand' versions of the KT26. To remain viable in the DDS market space, Dunlop's primary focus was cost reduction with zero brand or promotional activities. Cost pressures saw the production of the KT26 was moved offshore to China in the late 1990s then moved between Chinese factories for the next decade to find the cheapest per unit production price. As a result, the quality of the KT26 suffered and the famed fit / last shape varied depending on the factory at the time. Product returns and customer complaints accelerated the KT26's demise and during 2011, all major DDS retailers had dropped or were in the process of dropping the KT26 form their footwear offerings.
In a last ditch attempt to resuscitate the KT26, the product footwear designer (Daniel Stewart, Industrial Designer) from the successful 2012 Dunlop Volley International redevelopment project began working on revised designs and a business case to relaunch this iconic running shoe. This was an 'after hours' project as there was no interest from Pacific Brands management to salvage the Dunlop Footwear business after Volley's departure into it's own 'power brand'.
Daniel made contact with Jerry Stubberfield and key Dunlop footwear personal from 80s & 90s to uncover the history and heritage of the KT26 shoe. The revised 2012 KT26 design featured the original last shape and design elements from the OSAGA and first model KT26 shoes. The mid sole was revised from an EVA wedge to an injection moulded pylon. The outsole featured a 3D concave and revised 'lug' pattern to improve impact absorption and grip rivalling the performance of major brand running shoes.
The 2012 KT26 was marketed as a "Soul Revival" and was finally given approval by Pacific Brands management to procedure from concepts to production ready. 2 of the 3 main DDS retailers bought into the revamped range which featured the KT26 in new look colours in both men's, women's and children's styles. The KT26 range was supported by the XLC (fully synthetic, entry price point). A special 'PNG' colour design sold over 200,000 units alone in Papua New Guinea.
The revamped KT26 range spiked sales for the first year however Dunlop Footwear's failure to invest in brand, design, and quality assurance recommenced the KT26's slide from retail market once again.
In November 2014, Pacific Brands sold its Dunlop Sport (Australia) Dunlop and Slazenger brands to International Brand Management & Licensing (IBML), a division of Sports Direct International plc. based in the United Kingdom, which already owned the Dunlop and Slazenger brands in every other market except Australia and New Zealand. They continue to manufacture & sell the revised "KT26" models.