Life begins on bare feet, and through these unimpeded steps, inspiration struck Sense of Motion Footwear’s CEO, Olivier (Olie) Marchal, and his wife and CFO Nathalie Bouchard to create a product that could improve people’s lives.
This July, marks SOM Footwear’s 8-year anniversary, and during this time, we reflect on the creation of SOM and how barefoot-feel shoes can change lives.
Olie was born in France and moved to the United States with his French Canadian wife Nathalie Bouchard in 1999. After spending 3 years in Long Island, New York working in construction, they moved to Colorado to be surrounded by mountains and enjoy the high-altitude outdoors. Olie started a small metalworking company making spiral stairs, guard rails, metal countertops, and other decorative projects. In his free-time, he enjoyed practicing sports, in particular, trail running, often calling Colorado’s wide open spaces his playground.
In his mid-thirties, pain began surfacing in Olie’s lower back, which worsened, over time, the more he ran. Eventually, he was forced to give up his favorite pastime, as even walking was becoming uncomfortable.
Determined to reclaim his passion, he researched possible causes for his pain. Were they work related? From bad posture? Or was running the culprit? He searched two years for a remedy, until one day, Nathalie told him about a popular book written by Christopher McDougall, entitled Born to Run, which featured the Tarahumara Indians of Copper Canyon, who were known for their incredible feats of long-distance running in flat, thin sandals made out of tire and leather straps; some of them even ran barefoot.
After reading the book, Olie was skeptical but curious about the benefits of barefoot running. The distances these runners reached, and the terrain they covered with less than an inch beneath their feet placed a thought inside his head: Could his back pain be caused by his shoes?
With nothing to lose, Olie gave it a try.
On the back road behind his house, where the pavement was fairly smooth, he took off his shoes and started to walk. The walk soon turned into a jog, and then soon a run. It took him no more than two hundred yards to realize how better he felt running on bare feet.
Olie had his answer: His back pain came from the bad posture created by years of wearing thick-heeled work boots and cushioned running shoes. He was hooked on barefoot running, but before he could return to the activity he’d been forced to give up, he needed a barefoot shoe that could withstand the sharp rocks and twisted roots found while trail running.
He hunted on the market for footwear with a perfectly flat, not-too-thick sole that best simulated a barefoot-level of simplicity. But every shoe he tried had elevated heels, arch support, tapered toe-boxes, and extra cushioning that put his feet into the same unnatural posture that led to his back pain.
Then, one morning, an idea sparked into an obsession: If others weren’t making this shoe, could he make it himself?
Make Your Vision Reality
Olie learned how to sew, scraped together mesh, Velcro, and Vibram resoling material, and within a couple of months, he had his first prototype. They may have looked like elf shoes, but all that mattered was if they worked. He went for a fifteen-mile run and returned home more excited than ever. He could run again!
His second prototype was even better than the first, allowing him to compete in five, long-distance, trail races and marathons during the same summer. If this minimalist style of shoe could help him rediscover the comfort of running and walking naturally, then it could do the same for others.
Olie pitched his shoe designs to factories, but with so many based overseas and the modern way of shoemaking, he knew to make his designs right, there was only one option, and SOM (Sense of Motion) Footwear was born. Not only would he design his own shoes to address the problems he, and countless others experienced from years spent in over-engineered shoes, but he would make them in Colorado so that everyone could enjoy a natural and stronger sense of motion.
Since 2014, SOM Footwear has been designing, manufacturing, and shipping barefoot-feel shoes around the world from their factory and outlet store in Montrose, Colorado.
After eight years, Olie, Nathalie, and the rest of the SOM Team are moving strong with new shoes, new techniques, and new opportunities to strengthen lives from the sole up.
In an upcoming blog, we will continue our anniversary celebration by reflecting on the lessons and advice our owners have collected over eight years of making handmade products in America.