Xero Shoes Are Featherweight, But Not in Performance


How many of us long to run barefoot and carefree, the wind at our backs and possibility stretching out before us? How many of us want to avoid the pain and health complications of landing on a rusty nail or shard of glass? For those folks who checked both of those boxes, Xero Shoes hits that sweet spot in the middle with shoes that allow your feet to bend, flex, move and feel the world with enough protection to make them safe and comfortable.

Xero Shoes is a lightweight, natural movement footwear brand that offers sandals as well as performance and casual closed-toe shoes. To understand just how lightweight these shoes are, says founder and CEO Steven Sashen, consider that "three pairs of our Z-Trail sport sandals weigh less than one pair from a big competitor.

"Xero shoes are built to let your feet move naturally," he says, with features including wide toe boxes to let your toes spread and relax, nonelevated heels for proper posture and low-to-the-ground "stack height" for balance and agility.

The company grew out of Sashen's own experiences getting injured while sprinting. That led him to barefoot running, which led him to want to produce a shoe that reproduced the barefoot experience as closely as possible, because, after all, there are some surfaces that are not amenable to bare feet.

Xero shoes are lightweight, so they do not interfere with your gait; they are flexible enough to let your feet bend and move and grip the ground and they are durable, says Sashen. Their patented FeelTrue® soles are designed to provide the perfect mix of protection and "ground feedback" that your brain needs for proper and efficient movement, he says.

Launched in 2010, the company has "proven [its] concept directly" — initially selling only a do-it-yourself sandal-making kit, and then launching ready-to-wear in 2013 — selling almost 150,000 pairs to customers in 94 countries who previously had only seen the shoes online or on someone else's feet.

To describe its typical customer, Sashen says, "Think Whole Foods. … It's Millennials-plus, 65 percent men, slightly higher educated, slightly higher income, somewhat iconoclastic."

Among Xero Shoes' new launches this year are an ultra-lightweight travel sandal, Genesis, and a women's casual canvas shoe, Lena. It's also launching a men's and women's performance multi-use shoe called Prio and the DayLite hiking boot (which weighs just 10.2 ounces), both of which feature functional instep tensioners (meaning the webbing isn't sewn to the upper), which locks your midfoot in place so that your toes can function freely. Other new offerings: the Boaty McBoat shoe and the Coalton, a minimalist take on the familiar Chukka.

As innovative as the company is in product development, it's also forging a new path in marketing by using what Sashen calls the "Wild West world" of equity crowdfunding.

The $28.5-million company is growing quickly, and needs to keep up with demand. "We outsold inventory for the past two years," says Sashen. "It used to be that retailers would prebook big orders, now they are expecting us to carry the inventory."

But Xero's approach is unique, in that it is an already established company using crowdfunding not only to generate capital but to raise an army of influencers.

"We're in that awkward 'teen-age' phase where we have a very robust and sophisticated team, plan and model but at the same time we're on the cusp of having proven the concept at retail and online. Rather than argue about financing, let's go to the people who keep coming back," he says. "This is a whole new approach.

We want our customers to be owners and share in the future of Xero Shoes. We're making the customer part of the story," he concludes.

— Jordan K. Speer

Editor's Note: Don't miss all of our 2017 Top Innovators.

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds