I recently stumbled across a new barefoot shoe company from the UK called Freet Footwear. Their first product is an all-around outdoor tabi-style shoe with a softshell upper called the 4+1, which also includes a foam wedge insole for helping transition people to more minimal shoes.
I figured the best way to get to know them and what they are all about would be to do an interview.
Freet is a relatively new company to the footwear market. How long have you guys been in business?
Development work on the first style started in May 2012 and we finally launched for Easter 2013.
What made you decide to start a shoe company?
A complete passion for moving naturally ... for everyone. The vision is a truly multi active shoe, easy to get on and off, great security & comfort with or without socks.
On your website, you state that "Freet Footwear is founded by a team experienced in the development of performance sports footwear and biomechanics". Tell us a more about that, what is your background?
Started working life as an active footwear "end user" - an infantry officer specialising in reconnaisance who also led mountaineering expeditions. Cut my footwear teeth in the Altberg business, Britain's last outdoor footwear factory. Co-founded Anatom footwear. Experience along the way of working with Superfeet, the sports orthotic insole, which developed my biomechanics interest and understanding, and other sports and outdoor footwear brands. I am fortunate to have working colleagues skilled in all aspects of footwear design, development, manufacturing marketing and sales. My wife is co-founder and runs the business. She has worked in footwear but her background is more finance and marketing. As a qualified primary school teacher she is desperate to extend our range for little people, who she feels very strongly, should not have their feet "boxed up" in conventional shoes.
With the proliferation of barefoot inspired shoes on the market now days, what differentiates Freet from the others?
There is some great product out there - I love (and have worn) most of it. Our USP is that the product is ultra-minimalist - really a foot covering - but is easy to get on and off, whilst being a secure fit thanks to the seperate toe pocket. High performance EVA midsole and rubber TR outsole, whilst minimalist, give essential protection. Ultra-breathable, anti microbial & chuck in washing machine every so often. In essence you can throw your Freets on in the morning and they can take you through pretty much all your doing including your run/trek and the pub!
What is "4+1"?
This is just the reference to the toe pockets - one for the smaller 4 toes and one for the big toe.
You offer an insole for your shoes to assist people in transitioning to a barefoot shoe. Was this part of the original plan when you were developing your shoes, or was this in response to feedback from customers?
This was part of the plan to try to help people get used to a more 'barefoot' movement. It seems to work for some customers, especially those who are hiking alot in the Freets. Lots of runners either use them to start with or not at all.
You say that Freet can be used for all activities below the snow line. What is your response to people who think they need more robust footwear for hiking, backpacking, or trail running in rugged off-road conditions?
I have spent a lifetime either active in, or involved in the development and marketing of, rugged, supportive outdoor footwear. For many people this works and is absolutely the right thing to continue with. This might be just personal choice or that they don't want to change and go through that transition. For some (i.e. military/police) work demands conventional boots/shoes. I, for one, run and trek all year round in Freets in the beautiful hills where we are based in Swaledale, North England. The foot is a skilled thermo-regulator. When active, it takes care of itself; wet or dry. The other potential problem with wet feet is movement in the shoe. Freet 4+1 eliminates this with the seperate toe pocket securing the foot in the glove-like upper. My marketing Guy describes them as the "thinking man's flip-flop"! Gradually your foot conditions and strengthens ... above all it just feels great to be exercising a part of our body we normally "box-up".
What is the most interesting thing you have seen people do with your shoes?
A customer just emailed me to say at the music festival he was at the weekend, the mud was a foot thick. It was oozing in his Freets around the big toe ...!