Vivobarefoot’s regenerative steps

We believe the closer people are to nature, the more they will protect it” – Vivobarefoot

Founded in 2012, Vivobarefoot is an innovative London-based shoe company whose pedigree dates back almost 200 years. In 1825 in the village of Street in Somerset, tannery operators Cyrus and James Clark designed and made by hand a slipper, the “Brown Petersburgh”, out of sheepskin offcuts. By 1842, they were selling in the order of 1000 pairs of slippers a month, using local out workers who were paid weekly by the number of slippers produced. The business thrived, and in 1851 it won two awards at the Prince Consort’s “Great Exhibition”. However, in 1863, a recession hit and William Clark, the youngest son of James, replaced his father and uncle to steer the business through the recession. To do so, he modernised the manufacturing process by introducing the factory system and the newly invented Singer sewing machine and design, in 1883, the first-ever shoe to fit the human foot. At the same time, he invested in the community, built homes for his employees and looked after their welfare.

The business continued to grow and innovate throughout the first half of the 20th century, introducing its famous foot gauge to measure the exact size of children’s growing feet and, when raw materials were scarce during World War II, a unique hinged wooden-soled shoe. After the war, the business continued to grow, and 15 new factories were opened in neighbouring towns and cities to meet demand. New synthetic materials were also introduced as well as new designs such as the Desert Boot. By the 1990s, however, the company found it could no longer remain competitive by manufacturing in the UK, and it closed all of its factories and moved the production process overseas. As a result, and its adherence to quality and innovation, Clarks remains the number one shoe brand in the UK and is the fourth largest footwear company globally.

Meanwhile, seventh-generation Galahad and Asher Clark have followed the family tradition and set up their own innovative footwear business, Vivobarefoot. They believe that “our sedentary, cushioned lifestyles are making us and the planet sick, and we need, therefore, to “take radical action to restore and regenerate health and the natural world”. Hence their footwear uses natural, biosynthetic and recycled materials to produce footwear as close to barefoot as possible. While their objective is to keep the wearer’s feet healthy, strong, and in contact with the earth, they also recognise the need to reduce the amount of footwear in landfills and pollute the environment. So, they have introduced Revivo, a resale platform where they recondition preloved Vivos, which can then be resold. Already they have reconditioned 31,000 pairs of Vivos and resold 19,000 pairs.

In the last two years, 80% of their pre-tax profits have gone towards socially and environmentally grassroots initiatives that “support the regeneration of land, of hearts, and minds”. In 2003, the late Lancelot Clark, Galahad’s father, established “Soul of Africa” to raise money for orphans whose parents had died from AIDS. It does this by training and paying African Women to stitch shoes. After his father’s death in 2018, Galahad took over responsibility for “Soul of Africa” and evolved it into “The Livebarefoot Fund”. This is an in-house incubation hub for social and environmental initiatives that pioneer regeneration solutions for environmental and social problems. It drives research, innovation and action and is active in three main areas – biomechanics research and indigenous shoemaking, education, advocacy and experiences and regenerative materials and manufacturing innovation. Its objective is “to reconnect people and planet by pioneering footwear and experiences that are regenerative to human movement and planetary health”.

As Quakers, the family was brought up to believe that their employees were part of their family, and this remains a feature of the Vivobarefoot culture. Not only do they value and care for their employees, but they are keen to engage with all of their stakeholders and are committed to “drive diversity, equality, and inclusion through our organisation, stakeholders and communication platforms”. As a consequence, employees recognise there are “lots of opportunities to learn, get involved in projects and work with senior management”, that there is “a great work-life balance…and whilst the workload and responsibilities increased, the focus on employees remained”.

Vivobarefoot is very much a harmonious enterprise. It is founded on spiritual values and a business model that embraces profit, people and the planet. It addresses, in particular, SDGs 1 (No Poverty), 3 (Good Health and Well-being), 5 (Gender Equality), 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), 9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure),10 (Reduced Inequalities), 11(Sustainable Cities and Communities), 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), 13 (Climate Action), 15 (Life on Land) and 17 (Partnerships for the Goals). Already they are a certified B Corporation with an impact score of 98.82. But as Galahad recognises, “we are just at the start of this journey, and it is exciting to think how far we have to go”.

Notes

  1. Quakers or The Religious Society of Friends are a 17th century religious movement that believes there is something of God in everybody. They are committed to working for equality and peace.
  2. B Corp certification requires a minimum score of 80/200 with 183 the highest score and 51 the average.

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