The Place: Online all over the place. And a physical store in London’s Covent Garden. Also via wholesalers.
The Story: If you’ve ever fancied plogging…
Fancied what? Or tried a swimrun…
Tried a what? Or hankered after minimalist shoes…
Hankered after what? I’m sorry, is there a problem with my speaking today.
Yes, I don’t understand anything you’re saying: I imagine that would be because you are sedentary, desk-bound, a pen-pusher.
Thank you: You are alienated from your own feet.
I resent that: VivoBarefoot has been put on this earth to reacquaint you with the joys of walking in algae pulp.
To be honest, I still don’t comprehend a word you are saying: I can see I am going to have to walk in straight lines with you on this one.
If you would: May I introduce you to two young gentlemen called Asher and Galahad Clark. Cousins. The year is 2004 and Galahad works at Terra Plana, a shoe company trying to minimize the environmental impact of shoe production. He is joined by Asher as head designer and together with friend Tim Brennan they develop and launch the VivoBarefoot design and brand.
Wait – did you say Clark? Let’s get this over with now. Yes, they are from that Clark’s shoe family.
Woah. No pressure: And the first thing to say is that along with shoes they are selling a lifestyle and an ethos. You might even say that they position the product after the ethos.
That’s modern retailing for you: They label themselves with “we make shoes for people who don’t want to wear them” and it’s really a two-pronged attack. Firstly, on the shoe design front and how bad traditional shoes can be for your health and posture…
That could get awkward at family dinners, no? And secondly on the environmental front.
Let’s take the first: Pretty shoes/ugly feet. That’s the idea. Most people are born with perfect feet and yet so many of us develop foot or knee or balance or posture problems. VivoBarefoot contends that traditional shoes compromise foot development and conform them so that they become shoe-shaped instead of foot-shaped.
I get it: Your foot, they would argue, evolved as a perfect mechanism for allowing you to get about and has 200,000 nerve endings and should be as tactilely important as your hands in sensory perception with a fan shape and three natural arches to it. I think it is fair to say the founders are fairly evangelical on the advantages of going completely barefoot – especially for children.
That’s another strained family dinner right there: No, I really don’t think it’s like that. Anyway, this all taps very neatly into the ever increasing trend of ‘natural running’ which involves wearing absolutely minimal sole so that the foot can feel each step. And not forgetting the swimrun of course – VivoBarefoot actually sponsors a professional swimrun team which competes all over the world.
Like triathlon without the bicycle bit: Yup. And VivoBarefoot of course, are in there with shoes that move seamlessly from water to land and back again. So that’s one element of their customer community but for the more urban among us there’s always plogging.
Finally. And what exactly is it? Swedish invention but basically involves running with a bit of litter picking.
Seriously: Yes. It’s this new Generation Z – they just have to be doing good at the same time as being healthy. VivoBarefoot organises a plogging club which runs around London town clearing the streets of rubbish at the same time.
It’s not your average jogathon is it? Trust me, the VivoBarefoot customer is about as far from the full on tracksuit-ed and trainer-ed jogger as you can get. Health is one part of it. Connection to the natural world is another.
But is it just running shoes? No, no and thrice no. The company develops around 100 lines a year and there is pretty much everything in there from winter walking boots to women’s knee-high about-town boots but the thin, puncture proof sole that you can feel every step through remains consistent.
How many they selling? This year will see around 180,000 pairs sold online this year and 400 pairs per week are going through the physical store. The average spend is £85 and they have big ambitions to reach £100 million turnover within five years.
Do you know the only thing we haven’t covered very much is the actual shoes: I’m about to change all that. First thing to say: they can fold away into a tiny shape as the sole is totally bendy so the modern fixation of living smaller and eschewing huge chunky trainers can be followed through to its logical conclusion – shoes that take no room up at all. My own personal favourite first – the Ultra Bloom from 2017. This literally repurposes the kind of algae that clogs up waterways through the world and turns it into a sustainable foam.
Brilliant: The Primus Bio – uses a by-product of the corn industry developed by Dupont Tate & Lyle Bio Products called Susterra Propanediol. It is possibly the least petroleum reliant shoe ever manufactured and uses 52% less energy while creating 32% less greenhouse gases in production.
I’m getting the picture: The Primus Trail is made from 17 recycled plastic bottles. The company uses wild hide for its leather from Pittards, many lines are vegan friendly, you can filter the products by your favourite eco-material and basically if it’s sustainable they’ll have it. The shoes are produced in manufacturing facilities in Portugal, China and Ethiopia and all are monitored for working standards etc.
Totally guilt free purchasing then: Absolutely.
What can we expect from the brand now? Onwards and very much upwards I imagine. This lifestyle of connection with the natural world and its sensations combined with the health benefits of the shoes is a potent mix. What are you doing?
There’s a physical profile questionnaire on the site to determine the best products for each customer. I’m doing the required squats: Well please don’t. It’s very distressing.
PCMS is a global provider of IT software and services for the retail industry. PCMS offers a full-range of integrated commerce solutions across selling touch points and also provides turnkey managed services and cloud hosting. Its client list includes John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Whole Foods, as well as Walgreens in the US and fashion brands including Prada and Ferragamo across Europe