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Clarks heir takes shoes forward

Galahad Clark's ancestors have been making shoes since the 1830s. You could say he's following in his forefathers' footsteps with his new venture. It's just he's doing it without any shoes on, writes Claire Adler.

As he prepares for his wife to give birth to the newest generation of the Clarks dynasty, Galahad Clark is more convinced than ever that wearing shoes is the cause of a slew of health problems. Galahad, 34, is the man behind Terra Plana – a company whose Vivo Barefoot shoes with their ultra-thin soles mimic bare skin.

"Historically, the Clarks advertising campaigns were about hygienic boots and shoes. In the early 19th century, hygienic meant healthy," says Galahad. "It's modern materials that allow us to make the shoes we do today at Vivo Barefoot."

He has however, kept the family business model. Galahad's cousin Asher Clark, recipient of the Young Designer of the Year award, is Terra Plana's head designer, his father 73-year-old Lancelot, is chairman, while brother, documentary-maker Tony, occasionally helps with creative projects.

Neither Galahad nor the rest of the Clark family see a conflict between their parallel shoe ventures, although a minor conflict of interest surfaced recently. "My brother in law, who is on the board of Clarks, was a non executive member of the board of my company. Clarks felt it was a conflict of interest and he chose to stay with Clarks. I haven't forgiven him," jokes Galahad, laughing.

Anecdotal feedback appears to bear out the health benefits of Vivo Barefoot. Galahad's father, who wears Vivo Barefoot shoes most of the time, credits them with awakening his system, improving his circulation, and the birth of his two youngest children, both born within the last five years.

"We call them Vivo babies," quips Galahad. "One woman who took up running in her mid-60s has since run marathons. She's now gearing up for her 70th birthday - and a 100-mile race to celebrate. She puts it all down to our shoes," he says.

Blind people have reported they feel the ground 10 times more by wearing shoes with thin soles. And following the recent launch of a kid's range, a girl born with a crooked pelvis and experiencing problems with muscle wastage started wearing Vivo Barefoot shoes. "She was on daily painkillers and her mother recently said she is no longer taking them. Her consultant is blown away," says Galahad. 

Galahad was never under any pressure to join the family business, though he spent his childhood at Clarks HQ in Somerset. "I'd learned how to make shoes when I was a child. My father always said you don't need to go into it, although he encouraged me to be an educated owner. But making shoes is a bug and I got hooked," admits Galahad.

He first discovered the notion that shoes are unhealthy when he met up with childhood friend Tim Brennan who'd had a string of tennis injuries and whose father was a teacher of Alexander technique. Brennan, then on the product engineering course at the Royal College of Art, realised he needed barefoot shoes and soon came up with the first prototype.

"Instinctively, barefoot shoes made total sense to me," says Galahad, whose degree was in Chinese medicine and anthropology. "The more we researched it, the more obvious it seemed. When you break an arm and put it in a cast, the muscles atrophy because you're not using them. Shoes do the same to feet. There are 200,000 nerve endings on the sole of the feet and shoes prevent stimulation. When the body finds balance, circulation improves."

So can anyone do it? "Running and walking day to day are very different. There's no gimmick to the barefoot shoes, you just have to listen to your body," he says. 

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