Minimalist footwear brand Vivobarefoot has been leading the change in an industry often marred by empty promises both for the body and the planet.
Vivobarefoot has been challenging conventional footwear design norms since its launch nearly 30 years ago. Its focus has been to create products that embody its core tenet: regenerative design for both human and planetary health.
That commitment has seen Vivobarefoot challenge longstanding beliefs about footwear; its 2019 short film Shoespiracy, for example, explains the inherent problems with modern footwear. And, according to Galahad Clark, Vivobarefoot’s co-founder and “Chief Ecosystem Officer”, the company is continuing to reshape the footwear industry with its unique and eco-conscious approach.
In its bid to truly embody regenerative design, Vivobarefoot has introduced innovative practices like the WTF (Wide, Thin, Flexible) shoe design. The WTF design approach fundamentally transforms the way we understand and wear shoes. Clark explains that the human foot is a “biomechanical masterpiece.” He says, when left to its own devices, the foot can thrive. In other words, less footwear can be “more” in the long run. Modern shoes, on the other hand, negate the foot’s natural strength and function.
By creating shoes that are wide, thin, and flexible, Vivobarefoot enables natural foot movement and strength, which the company says directly improves balance and physical function.
Modern footwear, ancient feet
“While the world has changed, our feet haven’t,” Clark told Ethos via email. “Over-designed and over-produced, normal shoes are now mass-consumed, damaging our feet and creating massive waste,” he says.
“In short, shoes are trashing our feet and our planet. They make our feet weak, are made of off-shore ‘toxic’ supply chains. The world doesn’t need new shoes, but rather a new system — one from the ground up, starting with our feet.”
Clark says shoes that support the foot’s natural strength and movement and allow wearers to feel the ground beneath their feet do more than just help with foot health. “There is a powerful sensory connection between the feet and the brain and thus, our movement and place in the world,” he says. “A Vivobarefoot shoe reconnects you to the world around you, literally bringing you closer to nature.”
According to Clark, research shows that wearing Vivobarefoot for just six months improved foot strength by 60 percent. “This is on top of research that shows that balance and physical function are immediately improved by wearing Vivobarefoot, even in those who have suffered falls,” he says.
Other research has found benefits in the next best thing: being barefoot. Vivobarefoot collates data about foot health, shoes, and going barefoot on its website. One study points to benefits for kids — barefoot students concentrated better than their shod counterparts, the research found. More than 77 percent of Americans have reported foot issues, most of which are shoe-related.
And while being shoeless isn’t exactly practical in the modern world, Vivobarefoot says footwear that allows the foot to function as if it were is the next best thing.
Vivobarefoot shoes, however, are designed to “let your feet move like feet,” Clark says. “And it’s all based on the principles of evolution. We’re on a quest to make the perfect footwear — perfect for your feet.”
Its design makes Vivobarefoot sustainable for the wearer, but sustainability from a planetary perspective is also at the core of every Vivobarefoot product. As part of its commitment to reduce waste, the brand employs high-quality, regenerative materials, including Bloom algae, agricultural waste, and mycelium.
Vivobarefoot is working to eliminate virgin plastic, clean up its supply chain, and switch to recyclable, repairable, and biodegradable footwear. Its commitment is evidenced through partnerships with organizations including Fashion for Good and Agriwaste, as it works toward sourcing more innovative, eco-friendly materials.
One of its most recent efforts is Vivobiome — what Vivobarefoot says is a radical vision for a circular system; enabled by technology to “re-imagine manufacturing that takes it back to its roots,” Clark says. The Vivobiome footwear will be made-to-order, made-to-measure, made locally, and made to be re-made — deconstructed at the end of its life cycle.
“Indigenous footwear has been made for millennia person-by-person, foot-by-foot, and out of local materials — a far cry from the mass-marketed products that are destined for landfills,” Clark says. Vivobarefoot wants to get back to this heart of community-driven innovation and production. It’s launching Vivobiome in the U.K. this year and the U.S. in 2024.
ReVivo, Vivobarefoot’s resale platform, plays a crucial role in the company’s sustainability agenda. As Clark points out, more than 22 billion pairs of shoes end up in landfills each year. “ReVivo allows consumers to send back their shoes once finished with them to be reconditioned and placed back on sale, keeping products in circulation and out of landfill,” he says. Through this platform, Vivobarefoot educates customers about sustainable consumption and waste reduction while keeping quality footwear affordable and accessible. The platform has seen more than 30,000 shoes pass through since last year.
While Vivobarefoot strives to minimize its ecological footprint, customer comfort and design aesthetics are never compromised. But the company is also the first to admit that the journey to regenerative design has not been without its challenges. To truly influence the broader footwear industry, Clark believes transparency is key.
He explains, “We do this mainly through our annual Unfinished Business reporting process and our B Corp assessment, as well as joining industry talks, expos, media, and podcast interviews.” Vivobarefoot remains open about both its achievements and shortcomings, as it continues to call on all businesses to join the move toward regenerative design.
According to Clark, no modern shoes are truly regenerative. “Many brands toss around empty claims of being regenerative or sustainable,” Clark says. But he says that unless the product has a net positive impact on both people and the planet, “they aren’t regenerative.” The CEO adds that sustainability should imply zero harmful impact on people and the planet, a standard that is yet to be met by contemporary footwear.
Unless a product has a net positive impact on both people and the planet, it isn’t regenerative, Clark says. He says that any product, material, or process which has any negative impact that isn’t offset or remediated, is not sustainable. And this includes Vivobarefoot’s own operations and products. “It’s a journey, and Vivobarefoot is on a mission to get there,” he says.
“We want to go beyond sustainability and become truly regenerative. We’re proud to be part of the growing movement of regenerative businesses swimming ever more firmly against the tide with practices both inside and outside our company that aim to put human and planetary health first, above profit,” Clark says.
“We have a way to go,” Clark says. “We call on all businesses to join us and share both successes and shortcomings and commit to not just sustaining what is, but to improving upon how it functions in a balanced way that uplifts all stakeholders, including our planet.”
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