Brand Story: CAT

How the World’s Largest Construction Equipment Manufacturer Became a Fashion Footwear Force

Key Takeaways

  1. Now seen everywhere, from fast fashion emporiums and mid-level department stores that look to the fashion houses for direction, to almost every high-end collection on sale today, chunky footwear has overtaken modern shoe culture.
  2. CAT Footwear helped start the dad-approved sneaker movement back in 1996, with the release of their chunky-soled, workwear-minded Intruder Mid shoe.
  3. Noticing the aforementioned resurgence in popularity, the brand saw an opportunity to revitalize their line and bring new life to their iconic Intruder, hoping to capture Millennial and Gen-Z buyers who are appreciative of the chunky form factor.

Chunky platform shoes, the kind that gives you an inch or more of extra height while keeping your feet comfortable, are reaching a zenith in popularity right now. The thick-soled sneakers, which were originally popularized in the 1990s by shoemakers like Reebok and New Balance, have been gaining ground in the hi-fashion world for years. Now seen everywhere, from fast fashion emporiums and mid-level department stores that look to the fashion houses for direction, to almost every high-end collection on sale today, chunky footwear has overtaken modern shoe culture. And with Millenials and Gen-Z’s propensity to ’90s and early aughts fashion, the trend certainly isn’t going anywhere. The biggest players like Balenciaga, Prada, Off-White, Loewe, Versace, Armani (at least, Emporio), all now regularly feature the revitalized trend in their offerings, mixing in their own branding and styling with the pavement-made aesthetic. The look has also been particularly heavily utilized by Kanye’s all-encompassing Yeezys line, which perhaps more than any other brand has created an entire fashion house around the concept. Look no further than creative director Bruno Sialelli’s latest effort for Lanvin, which partnered with DC Comics’ Batman for a Gotham-themed collection, complete with chunky sneakers topped by Dark Knight branding. 

Lanvin by Bruno Sialelli


So many are riding this trendy wave right now, it’s hard to pinpoint who is and isn’t into it just because a lifted sneaker is the cool thing of the moment. Because there is a brand that has been designing in this category and championing the look for decades, but without much of the recognition its contemporaries receive: CAT Footwear.

Born out of a partnership between Caterpillar Inc. (the 96-year-old, Montana-based Fortune 100 company which holds the title of the world’s largest manufacturer of construction equipment), and Wolverine Worldwide (which produces its own namesake boot line Wolverine, as well as Sperry, Saucony, Keds, Merrell, Harley-Davidson, and more), CAT Footwear helped start the dad-approved sneaker movement back in 1996, with the release of their chunky-soled, workwear-minded Intruder Mid shoe. A sneaker bordering between a Chelsea boot, a work boot, and a pair of walking trainers, the Intruder gave fans of the historic Caterpillar brand a chance to feel cool and safe while on or off the job.

Although the chunky shoe concept went out of fashion with the turn of the century and the early aughts’ obsession with flats or knife-think stilettos (only Converse remained a popular chunky-soled style, a la Avril Lavigne and her post-punk rebirth), the super-comfy styles have come back in force, as heel heights have lowered considerably. Perhaps a sign of some newfound austerity from COVID or reaction to antiquated ideas of chicness and sexiness, whatever the case may be, chunky sneakers provide the height and, ergo, the extra confidence stilettos can give, but without the likely back pain and knee joint issues. And who knows — as the Millennials age, the meme of “Are you a bad back millennial or a bad knees millennial?” seems to be a weather wave for comfortability necessities. And CAT, which has been producing this style for decades now, is retaking its place amongst its fashion peers.

Noticing the aforementioned resurgence in popularity, CAT Footwear executives saw an opportunity to revitalize their line and bring new life to their iconic Intruder, hoping to capture Millennial and Gen-Z buyers who are appreciative of the chunky form factor. “We've had a very elastic line globally, even since the ’90s,” says Kim Page, VP of Global Product at CAT. “And when we saw the big chunky sneaker trend starting to hit big in 2019, we decided to repower our archives. We felt like, if any brand has the right to build a sneaker that looks like it has tractor truck tires on it, it's us!”

Christopher Shannon x CAT


CAT Inc., which boasts close to 200 branded apparel stores worldwide and has its CAT Footwear design team in London’s King’s Cross, has smartly partnered with many buzzy designers in the past, including James Long (now at Iceberg) and the UK’s Christopher Shannon. But in 2019, as the big-rig sneaker’s popularity raged, CAT partnered with none other than the coolest guy in streetwear, Heron Preston, for his FW20 show in Paris. Preston and CAT worked in tandem to rebirth the Intruder (as well as CAT’s Stormer boot, also with a chunky silhouette), updating the usually muted style with 21st-century flair.

“We utilized the already iconic branding and signature yellow from Caterpillar, and remixed it by exploring new colors and patterns and materials,” Page explains. “We were able to bring new life to an older style, the Intruder, that previously we would have produced in just brown or olive, and sold only within our slower international markets. We realized it was time to bring the style back into the mainstream.”

But keeping up with the current fashion world is no small feat, even for a company with as many resources as Caterpillar. In light of that, CAT Footwear’s London design office is populated with some of the brightest young minds in design who have taken the Intruder’s lead on contemporary style and have been pumping out fresh styles for CAT Footwear aficionados, like the rugged RePowered Reactor (made with plant-based materials), and the SoHo-ready Vapor. “I just hired a designer from AllSaints,” Page relays, “and we have people from Lacoste, Fred Perry. We have recent graduates from Central Saint Martins. It’s a great group.” 

Heron Preston x CAT


And in an exclusive scoop for 1MOQ, we’ve learned that CAT Footwear’s newest guest designer for FW22 will be none other than legendary British menswear designer Nigel Cabourn. “It’s perfect, because he can just stop by the office in King’s Cross for a tea and a brainstorm whenever he needs to,” Page says happily.

Heron Preston, for his part, has partnered with CAT twice more since the original collaboration, creating footwear with features like translucent rubber outsoles, suede uppers, subtle printed patterns, and of course, all with the signature Heron Preston orange in the interior. Citing his working class upbringing as the genesis of his affinity for function-driven fashion, and therefore Caterpillar, Preston appears dedicated to working long-term with the blue-collar brand. “And ya know, because we're born from work, we really have a unique heritage,” Page explained. “We can credibly position ourselves as a workwear brand, known for durable, top quality products. So we take that history and translate that into our own streetwear. Remember, we literally helped build the streets that people are walking on. We built the cities, and we’re born from the cities. Everybody wants to feel empowered, wants to feel strong. CAT Footwear does that, authentically.”