#35 Sustainable Shoes

How can sustainable shoes contribute to a healthier and happier living?

Galahad Clark is the Founder and Managing Director of Vivobarefoot, the fast-growing footwear manufacturer which believes that conventional footwear can damage people’s feet and their ability to walk and run properly.

Vivobarefoot has sold more than a million pairs of its minimal “barefeet” shoes and trainers in three years and is growing at 30 per cent per annum. Profitable for the past two years, the company has sales of £10 million.

Earlier this year Vivobarefoot successfully raised £1.36 million in investment through Crowdcube and £92,000 through their Kickstarter campaign to bring the SAN-dal, created by the bushmen of the Ju’/Hoan San Community to a wider market.

Key Ethos

Galahad’s favourite definition of Sustainability is from the book ‘Sustain-ability’ by John Ehrenfeld. According to Ehrenfeld, sustainability means humans and other life on earth are able to flourish – to grow and prosper, and be better and more beautiful.

In order to justify filling the world up with more man made stuff Ehrenfeld believes a product should be able to answer at least one of the following 3 criteria:

1. The product should help us connect more with nature.
2. The product should help make us feel more human.
3. The product should help ask important ethical or environmental questions.

Vivo uniquely does that. Going for a walk in the woods wearing Vivo’s is a completely different experience than when wearing a conventional pair of hiking boots. Individuals have a completely different relationship with nature and themselves as a result – since feet have as many nerve endings as hands, and the part of the brain which takes information from the feet is the same size as the part that gets information from the hands.

Humans are programmed for the brain to receive information with every step and that is a core part of the movement function of the body. Wearing padded or restrictive shoes massively interferes with the connection. Therefore, by definition individuals feel less human wearing more shoe, and more human wearing less shoe!

Research undertaken by Dr. Merzenich (University of California, San Francisco) looking in to neuro plasticity shows that, when walking around in padded shoes in a concrete world, parts of the brain start to atrophy. This was linked to the likes of Alzheimer’s. The key thing for Vivo is that even if an individual’s feet or posture have weakened, by sitting around on chairs and wearing bad shoes, their whole body is able to reconnect amazingly, and quickly, if they correct their bad habits.

Engaging Stakeholders to the Vision

Most of Vivobarefoot’s stakeholders are really bought in, and are very loyal, to the concept.
They do have some distributors who say that Vivobarefoot could sell a lot more shoes if they just added a little more padding. However, Vivobarefoot holds regular education days and make videos explaining the concept.

Ultimately, with Vivobarefoot, it is about experiencing the shoes. It is about transitioning into the shoes and taking time to walk around in them every day and allow your body to adjust. Then it is fairly easy to convince people that it is a good thing!

Profits in the end come from people doing things that they really believe in, and really love. Those are the things that ultimately stick in the world. They might not be as overnight successes as some other things.Galahad Clark

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