When it comes to running shoes, there are plenty of brands to choose from. If you’re looking for vegan running shoes, then that narrows down your options a bit. These days though, a lot of companies are using animal-free materials, anyway. But, what if you want vegan running shoes that are made closer to home in order to reduce your shipping emissions? Now, that really does limit your choices.
Well, for eco-conscious runners in Europe at least, a start-up from France is launching a running shoe that fits those exact requirements. But is it any good?
Relance running shoes made in France
Relance, which means ‘relaunch’ in French, is a fledgling sports brand based out of Brittany, in northwestern France. The small team—all avid runners themselves—have been working secretly over the last year to design and produce a performance running shoe.
However, unlike the vast majority of sports shoe manufacturers, which use factories located in Asia, Relance aims to be different. Every aspect of Relance’s business, from design through to manufacturing and logistics, is based in France—cutting down on shipping emissions and supporting local jobs.
Relance RL-01 vegan running shoe
It’s a worthy goal for sure, but one that has so far been entirely self-funded. To help launch mass production and give the project a boost, Relance has been running a crowdfunding campaign over the last month. The campaign is now fully funded, which means participants will soon be able to get their hands on the brand’s first product—the Relance RL-01 running shoe. However, the Relance team kindly sent us a pair of prototype shoes to try out a few weeks ago.
Design and materials
Available in black, red, white and blue, the Relance RL-01 has a retro-leaning style that reminds me of the trainers I used to wear as a kid back in the 90s. Paired with the red, white and blue accents, on the quarter panel of the shoe, it’s clear that these colours were specifically chosen to represent the French flag. And, why not; the fact that this shoe is ethically made in France is one of its main selling points after all.
While it’s evident from the styling that this is a running shoe—with running specific features like the reflective patch sewn to the heel counter—the design doesn’t go over-the-top. Paired with the classic shape, the result is a shoe that looks equally good with a pair of jeans as it does on the road or trail.
The breathable mesh upper is thicker than on most other running shoes I’ve tested, highlighting the impressive build quality of this shoe. However, I found breathability to be more than adequate—with venting in key areas—and perfect for the early autumn conditions I’ve been running in, here in the UK. Interestingly, the upper is made as a single piece via an industrial knitting process. This increases the durability of the shoe and allows Relance to craft a more precise shape. However, it has the added benefit of limiting the amount of waste material produced—another win for the environment.
Fit and comfort
Like many other running shoes, the Relance RL-01 opens up by loosening the laces, making it easy to slip onto your foot. Breaking away from the current ‘elf shoe’ trend, in which a lot of running shoes are featuring an extended pull tab—the RL-01 instead reverts to a standard pull loop. In my opinion, this is a much better solution and enables you to get a better grip when you need to pull the shoes on quickly.
Once the laces—which are quite chunky—are tightened up, the shoe feels nice and secure. The eyelet pattern on the RL-01 extends right to the top of the shoe, which enables you to get a really good fit around your ankle and stabilise your heel. That being said, I would have liked to have seen a little more padding around the heel collar to provide an even more secure fit in this area.
Sizing and wide foot fit
One thing to note about the fit is that the Relance RL-01 running shoe seems to be sized on the larger-side. My normal street shoe size is a UK 8 / EU 42. However, with the Relance RL-01, I had to size down a full size to a UK 7 / EU 40. So, bear that in mind if you order a pair of these kicks.
Once you get the correct size though, the shoe feels really comfortable. I normally like to size my running shoes with about a thumbnail’s width between my longest toe and the front of the shoe. This allows room for the shoe to flex, which is especially important when running uphill. With the RL-01, following this rule works really well. I have quite wide feet and the toe box of the RL-01 isn’t particularly wide. But, thanks to the flexible mesh upper and by allowing a little extra room in the front, the shoe fits my foot really well.
Insole, midsole & outsole
Those familiar with the Hoka One One Clifton series—which is incidentally manufactured in Vietnam—will note the similarity in midsole shape. Compared to the Clifton 7, which has been my go-to road running shoe for the last year, the Relance RL-01 has the same slightly extended heel and rounded sole. Combined with the neutral footbed, I found that this complimented my natural footstrike and gives the shoe a smooth transition from heel to toe.
The RL-01, however, is slightly heavier than the Clifton 7, at 295g for my UK 7 / EU 40. For most people, this is not something you’ll notice, unlike the 5mm bigger stack height and drop. To be more precise, that’s a 34mm stack height and 10mm drop, compared to the 29mm stack height and 5mm drop of the Clifton 7. Additionally, the midsole is not as well cushioned. But, Relance has compensated for this by adding extra padding to the heel section of the insole. This results in the shoe being effective at softening vibrations on the heel strike, without losing responsiveness through the forefoot.
In my testing, this is something I appreciated more when picking up the pace. When you start to kick on road surfaces, you can really take advantage of the extra pop. That being said, for general training and road running at slower paces, I prefer the more pillowy feel of the Clifton 7. The extra cushion throughout the entire midsole makes slower runs feel less laboured.
Take your run off-road though, and the Relance RL-01 comes alive again. Even though the heel-to-toe drop is bigger than on many other trail running shoes, the responsive midsole feels great on soft ground. There’s even quite a lot of feel through the sole on loose surfaces, which I was really surprised and impressed with.
It’s no wonder then that Relance has fitted the RL-01 with an all-terrain outsole rather than a road specific one. Again, the team has been careful not to go over the top here. Instead, opting for a simple tread pattern with shallow lugs that provide sufficient traction for detours on softer ground without getting in the way when you get back on the road.
Overall, I think Relace has done a brilliant job with its first running shoe. The design is pretty cool and stylistically versatile. Depending on your taste, you can opt for the more subdued black or white colour, but if you want something a bit loader, then the red or blue versions do just that.
On the road, the RL-01 feels responsive when you want to pick up the pace. But the extra cushioning in the heel helps to reduce vibrations where you need it. Off the road, the shoe is arguably even more impressive, with decent traction and a surprising amount of feel. The whole package comes together nicely and results in solid all-terrain performance. While the Relance RL-01 running shoe is probably not the best choice for race day, it’s an ideal partner for half on/half off-road training loops—which is the type of terrain I tend to run most on.
For eco-conscious runners in Europe, the fact that Relance is manufacturing this shoe close to home, with an ethical and environmentally friendly focus, is a bonus. And, with an expected retail price of around €130 (EUR) / £110 (UK), it’s priced competitively too.