VIVO BAREFOOT FOOTWEAR | An Interview with Founder Galahad Clark

VIVO Barefoot are a footwear company aiming to alter and improve our current way of living. Originally created by two cousins from Somerset England, Galahad and Asher Clark, VIVO Barefoot combines a unique approach to health and happiness through better design.

Travelling the world in the name of research, the cousins combine the knowledge they obtain from both innovative and indigenous shoemakers with their family history (both members of the Clarks shoe dynasty).

On a recent trip to Porto to visit two of the factories VIVO work with to make their special Hand Cut collection, we saw first-hand the production of the VIVO innovative ‘rocker’ heel.

Champ spoke to owner and managing director, Galahad Clark, about Vivo’s beginnings, their point of difference and why the VIVO designs really are beneficial to human health not only physically, but mentally too.

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Born into a family of cobblers, your background seems to pave the way for your destiny. What is it about working with shoes that you enjoy?

 ONCE YOU START IT’S HARD TO STOP.  FRACTIONS OF MILLIMETERS ARE THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A SHOE THAT WORKS AND ONE THAT DOESN’T. IT’S A NEVER ENDING JOURNEY SEARCHING FOR PERFECTION. NOW WE HAVE LEARN’T ALL WE KNOW ABOUT FOOT BIOMECHANICS IT ALSO FEELS LIKE A MISSION TO BRING HEALTHY FEET BACK TO THE WORLD, THE NEED TO ATONE FOR OUR ANCESTORS THAT HAVE DONE WRONG TO SO MANY MILLIONS OF FEET OVER THE YEARS.

You originally set off to be an academic, but have mentioned that your deep inspiration for the Wu Tang Clan changed the course of your life’s path. Can you tell us more about how you tried to link up a project between Clarks and the Wu Tang Clan as a way to meet your heroes, which resulted in you spending time on stage with them and creating Wu shoes together with them?

THAT’S PRETTY MUCH IT.  THE MEETING HAPPENED (WITH WU TANG AND CLARKS). IT DIDN’T’ GO WELL.  SO WE DECIDED TO LAUNCH IT OURSELVES.  WHICH ALSO DIDN’T GO WELL!

You studied Medical Anthropology in China, can you tell us more about this?

ALL HUMANS HAVE PRETTY MUCH THE SAME BODIES BUT DIFFERENT CULTURES APPROACH LOOKING AFTER THEM IN RADICALLY DIFFERENT WAYS.  PREVENTION, DIAGNOSIS AND CURE ARE ALL APPROACHED VERY DIFFERENTLY ACROSS CULTURES.  STUDYING THESE DIFFERENCES AND ALSO SIMILARITIES HELPS US UNDERSTAND MORE ABOUT HUMAN NATURE ON A GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE.

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After your studies, you became a cobbler, is this correct? Can you tell us more about how you found your way down this path, and your how natural interest in barefoot footwear came to realisation?

IT WAS MAKING PROTOTYPES FOR WU TANG THAT IGNITED THE COBBLING GENE, AND THEN THE BAREFOOT IDEA CAME FROM A CHILDHOOD FRIEND OF MINE.  IT WAS SUBSEQUENT THAT I LEARNT FROM LEE SAXBY ABOUT THE ANATOMY AND BIOMECHANICS OF BAREFOOT. THE MORE I LEARNT THE MORE I REALISED WHAT A MASSIVE PUBLIC HEALTH SCANDAL THE MODERN FOOTWEAR INDUSTRY HAS BECOME AND IT BECAME MY MISSION TO CHANGE THAT.

Please tell us more about how it is to work with your cousin Asher Clark, together on VIVO?

IT’S GREAT.  IT HAPPENED NATURALLY.  WE SHARE MANY PASSIONS AND THE CONVERGE AROUND VIVOBAREFOOT.  WE ARE VERY SIMILAR AND VERY DIFFERENT SO WE GET THE BEST OUT OF EACH OTHER.

In the 1980’s Clarks nearly went bankrupt and through this crisis came up with the Hygienic Shoe campaign, enforcing the fact that shoes should be shaped to your feet, and not the other way around. Why are companies still not making this an imperative part of their designs?

YOU MEAN THE 1880’S! THE WORLD NEARLY WENT BAREFOOT IN THE LATE 19TH CENTURY AND A LOT OF GREAT RESEARCH WAS DONE. I GUESS THE WARS CAME AND THE WORLD WENT PRETTY BONKERS FOR A WHILE.  THEN CAME AN OBSESSION WITH MODERN TECHNOLOGY AND WE ALL GOT BLINDED IN THE HEADLIGHTS THAT MAN-MADE ‘SCIENCE’ WOULD SAVE US ALL. AT THE END OF ALL OUR EXPLORING WE COME BACK TO THE BEGINNING. WE CANNOT EMANCIPATE OURSELVES FROM MOTHER NATURE AND SHE WILL ALWAYS COME AND BITE US ON THE ASS IF WE TRY TO.

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There seemed to have been a natural progression to making overtly performance shoes for VIVO, can you tell us more about this field and each of the footwear lines you aim to apply the barefoot philosophy to?

IF YOU BELIEVE IN BAREFOOT THEN THERE IS NO OTHER WAY TO MAKE FUNCTIONAL SHOES.  HIKING, TRAIL RUNNING, ROAD RUNNING, GYM, COURT SPORTS ETC… AND EVERYDAY LIFE. A LOT OF THE EARLY ADOPTERS ARE ACTIVE PEOPLE SO WE NATURALLY GRAVITATED IN THAT WAY FOR A WHILE BUT THE BUSINESS IS 50/50 SPORTS/LIFESTYLE.

You have been known to take inspiration from tribes worldwide, what specific cultures have influenced your designs?

INDIGENOUS FOOTWEAR IS ALL ‘BAREFOOT’ (I.E. FOOT SHAPED TO ALLOW THE FOOT TO MOVE LIKE A FOOT AND WITH THIN SOLES TO FEEL THE GROUND).  HEELS WERE INVENTED FOR HORSE RIDING (AND FOR WOMEN TO SHOW OFF THEIR BEST BITS).  ALL ORIGINAL FOOTWEAR WAS  MADE LIKE GLOVES FOR FEET FROM THE LOCAL MATERIALS.  THE SAN BUSHMEN MAKE ‘BAREFOOT’ SANDALS FROM ELAND SKIN RIGHT UP TO  THE SAAMI IN THE ARTIC THAT MAKE ‘BAREFOOT’ REINDEER SKIN MOCCASINS.   INDIGENOUS FOOTWEAR IS BAREFOOT FOOTWEAR, AND IT IS THE MOST SUSTAINABLE FOOTWEAR ON EARTH (GOOD FOR YOU, GOOD FOR THE PLANET).

Can you tell us more about the tribes in India and Northern Finland that have inspired your recent collections?

THEY LIVE LIKE THEY’VE BEEN LIVING FOR 1000S OF YEARS, APPROPRIATELY AND EFFICIENTLY FROM THE LOCAL RESOURCES. THEY ARE PRE-INDUSTRIAL SOCIETIES.

The study of these traditions is extremely interesting, and for this you enlisted the help of Catherine Willems who was studying the biomechanics of these tribes for her PhD. Can you tell us more?

SHE DID A PHD ON ANTHROPOLOGY, DESIGN AND BIOMECHANICS.  SHE LIVED WITH TRIBES AROUND THE WORLD STUDYING THEIR CULTURES AND LOCAL COBBLING.  STUDYING THEIR BIOMECHANICS (NO FOOT PROBLEMS OR PAIN) AND THEN WORKING WITH US TO CREATE COLLABORATIVE DESIGNS THAT WE MAKE AVAILABLE FOR INTERNATIONAL SALE IN LIMITED NUMBERS. WE ARE NOW WORKING ON CREATING 3D PRINTED VERSIONS OF THE INDIGENOUS FOOTWEAR (WHICH IS THE CLOSEST THING TO MODERN INDIGENOUS SHOE-MAKING WE HAVE IN WESTERN SOCIETIES!)

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Our feet receive information from our brain, therefore enforcing the importance of the comfort of our shoes (towards the nerve-endings and soles of our feet). Can you tell us more about your knowledge of the underrated importance of this connection?

ACTUALLY THE IMPORTANCE OF HAVING AS LITTLE SHOE AS POSSIBLE IS SO THIS VITAL CONENCTION IS NOT CUT OFF.  OUR FEET HAVE AS MANY NERVE ENDINGS AS OUR HANDS AND THE PARTS OF OUR BRAINS THAT RECEIVE INFORMATION FROM THE FEET THE SAME SIZE AS THAT FOR THE HANDS.  IF YOUR BRAIN GETS GOOD, ACCURATE INFORMATION FROM THE FEET IT MAKES BETTER MOVEMENT DECISIONS THAT REDUCE THE RISK OF INJURY ETC… THE MOST COMPLEX MOVEMENTS ARE NOT POSSIBLE IN CLUMPY SHOES (MARTIAL ARTS, GYMNASTICS, TIGHT ROPE WALKING ETC…). IT HAS FURTHER BEEN SHOWN THAT WALKING AROUND IN PADDED SHOES IN A PAVED WORLD CAN LITERALLY ATROPHY THE BRAIN (THROUGH LACK OF USE).

Do you work with qualified scientists for each VIVO model to ensure they are technically-aligned to your company philosophy?

WE WORK WITH A BUNCH OF SCIENTISTS FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD: HARVARD, VIRGINIA, LIVERPOOL, LONDON, GENT, SYDNEY ETC… AND DOCTORS, SURGEONS AND VARIOUS HEALTH PRACTIONERS WHO ALL BELIEVE IN BAREFOOT.  IT IS FAIRLY UNDISPUTED FOR KIDS AND WALKING (BUT IN RUNNING THERE ARE MORE VARIABLES SO WILL TAKE LONGER TO PROVE).   ALL OUR SHOES ALIGN WITH THE BASIC PRINCIPLES THAT ALLOW THE FOOT TO DO ITS THING.  FLAT WIDE AND THIN.  WITH ULTRA THIN PROTECTIVE SOLES THAT ALLOW FOR MAXIMUM SENSORY FEEDBACK.

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We recently visited two factories with you in Portugal, where you create the premium line of VIVO footwear using leather. Is sustainable and ethical production important to you? With the quantities you are producing, how do you ensure this?

IT IS ABSOLUTELY IMPORTANT.  WE DO ALL WE CAN CONSIDERING OUR SIZE.  WE ARE PIONEERING A SUSTAINABLE TRACKING TOOL ONLINE. WE ARE LOOKING FOR CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENTS IN ALL OUR PRODUCTS.

As a responsibility of a shoe company to make shoes which are good for the body and the mind, where do aesthetics come into VIVO? It seems that function comes first, is there a way to find balance in both?

WHAT IS NON-NEGOTIABLE IS THAT THE SHOES NEED TO ALLOW THE FOOT TO FUNCTION NATURALLY.  SO THEY ARE ALL FLAT WIDE AND THIN.  WE THEN TRY TO MAKE THEM AS SEXY AS POSSIBLE ON TOP OF THAT. LET’S BRING BACK NATURAL. SHOE-SHAPED FEET ARE PART OF A FAKE SEXINESS THAT WE WILL ALL GROW TIRED OF (AND PAINFUL!)

Who is your target market and is your marketing more of an educational process for others?

LOHAS, AND WE ARE TRYING TO MAKE IT MORE ‘LIGHT BULB’ THROUGH STORIES AND NEW INTERESTING TERRITORIES THAT MAKE PEOPLE GO ‘AH HA – I GET IT!’

In 2010 you launched new models and you saw your business start to grow significantly, producing 300,000 pairs in 2013. How many shoes do you produce a year now?

WE DON’T PRODUCE THAT MANY MORE PAIRS – BUT WE SELL A MUCH HIGHER PROPORTION DIRECT TO THE CONSUMER SO THE TURNOVER AND PROFIT IS MUCH HIGHER.

What else can we expect from VIVO in the coming months?

AN ALL NEW OFF-ROAD COLLECTION, CLOTHING AND 3D PRINTED FOOTWEAR! NEW WEBSITE, STORE CONCEPTS AND WONDERFUL NEW FILMS / CREATIVE CAMPAIGNS.

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All photos Ron Timehin.

Thank you to John Doe PR and Lee at Vivo Barefoot.

http://www.vivobarefoot.com/uk