Seattle’s “The Stranger” pulls back the curtain on Barefoot Ted, Inc. You heard it here first (well, assuming you’re not in touch with Roman Centurions and Biblical prophets):
Huaraches are about to become the next footwear sensation. In a year, Lunas could push aside Vibrams as the next less thing.
As Ballard makes mattresses, on the other side of town, in the quiet part of Capitol Hill (19th and Prospect), the people at Luna Sandals are drilling holes in the soles of minimalist running shoes. This factory is not your typical factory. It’s above a beauty salon and is surrounded by big trees, expensive houses, and private schools. It has four or so heavy machines (standard drill presses), shelves containing materials (fabric, straps, leather, vegan leather, rubber, buckles), a main desk (at which the founder, Barefoot Ted, sits and receives orders or makes deals), and a central table where the sandals are assembled.
During my visit, nine casually dressed women and men are at work at this table. On an internet radio station, Paul Banks revives Ian Curtis’s ghost: “Surprise, sometimes, will come around/Surprise, sometimes, will come around/I will surprise you sometime/I’ll come around when you’re down.” Sunlight fills the small space. One of the employees, Dylan Romero, guides me through the process of making a Luna sandal. (On the company’s website, Romero is pictured eating the leg of an animal that looks wild, recently killed, barely cooked. This image prepared me to meet the wrong person; instead of a lusty, loud, loquacious type, I met a very mellow and affable human being.)
We begin with the shelves by the factory’s entry, then proceed to the drills along the walls, then come upon a tree stump that’s used for hammering and banging things. The Luna sandal, he explains to me, is a part of the minimalist movement. What this movement wants more than anything else is to reduce the running shoe to the brink of nothingness. Purists, of course, want nothing but nothing. Barefoot Ted, a runner who is featured in the popular book Born to Run and heads a school of sorts for those who want to master the art of running with what god gave you, is not in this camp. Though committed to barefoot running, he believes there are exceptions: There are places (rocky hills or city streets) that require something to protect the human foot from the world. He discovered that something in Northern Mexico, where a rugged people (Tarahumara Indians) make the sandals out of old tires. These most rude/rudimentary of shoes are used for work and sport.
Barefoot Ted returned to Seattle with the idea of these sandals impressed on his mind. A little thought and a few experiments led him to replace the old tire with materials from Vibram, the makers of FiveFingers barefoot shoes. A company was eventually born and named after the Mexican runner Manuel Luna. All of this happened in 2006. Six years later, Barefoot Ted’s small-scale operation exports a variety of these sandals to any part of the world that the global mailing system can access.
“We are doing very well and growing,” explains Romero. He is a big fan of the sandals because they conform to his feet and don’t stress his joints the way regular running sneakers do. “But yesterday morning, Don Imus mentioned us on his radio show, so we are very busy today. We usually have three people working at a time, but today we had to call in friends to help us meet these orders. It’s pretty weird that a small hippie company got great publicity from Imus.” One of the factory workers, a tallish young man assembling sandals at the table, takes a break and hugs the woman working next to him. She hugs him back. They have a moment. CalPortland is about massive machines; Canvas Supplies, families; Luna Sandals, friends.