By jeanne starmack
You can’t always go bare when it comes to your feet, but you can go for the bare minimum.
Two entrepreneurs who have embraced that philosophy are standing their ground quite well, and doing it comfortably, in the shoe industry.
From their office on Martin Luther King Boulevard in Farrell, Pa., Andrew Rademacher and Steve Perna are celebrating a year in business for a startup they’ve named Leming Footwear.
They’re also ready to introduce some new styles of Lems — their “live easy and minimal” contribution to the minimalist shoe movement — including a dressier woman’s shoe and a boot you can hike in or wear around town.
“It’s a shoe designed after the human foot — most shoes aren’t,” said Rademacher, who started the company. Perna joined him in August.
There are three important features of Lems, Rademacher said: a concept of zero-drop, meaning they are completely flat; super-flexible soles you can “wring out like a towel”; and a wide toe box that allows plenty of wiggle room.
These aren’t your mom and dad’s Earth Shoes, either. That decades-old classic actually had a negative-drop heel, Rademacher said, which can strain calf muscles and Achilles tendons.
The toe box is the feature that makes Lems stand out from the rest of the crowd in the barefoot-shoe offerings, Rademacher added, and Lems fans are giving good feedback.
“We have a tight online fan base,” he said. We hear stories about our shoes helping their backs, and [they say] they’ll never wear another shoe again.”
Their product isn’t the only minimal aspect of Rademacher’s and Perna’s company. They don’t have a lot of overhead, and they don’t spend a lot of money to advertise, using social media and blogs instead to get the word out about Lems.
“Steve and I are pretty mobile. We just need Internet,” Rademacher said.
“We were just on the road for six weeks,” he continued. “We went out west and visited customers we hadn’t met yet,” he said, adding that Lems are now in 30 stores nationwide, including Reyer’s in Sharon, Pa. People also can order from the online store at www.lemingfootwear.com.
The company farms out shipping operations, using a fulfillment warehouse in Charlotte, N.C., that also ships for 30 other clients.
“It’s been a great partnership, ’cause things can go wrong with logistics,” Rademacher said. “We have a high number of returns, that’s the nature of the business,” he said, because people order shoes that end up being the wrong size.
Rademacher’s and Perna’s backgrounds also are nontraditional for the business world. Rademacher, a 2004 Hickory High School graduate, graduated from Purdue University in Indiana with a degree in landscape design.
“But I have a passion for shoes,” he said. “My shoes never fit me right. And I saw this minimal trend happening.”
Perna, who graduated from Sharpsville High School in 2005, said he went to college for art education.
“Steve’s good at branding and social media, and has a good sense of design,” Rademacher said.
The company’s first year was not without problems. Its manufacturer in Dong Guan, China, sent a defective batch of shoes, and a trademark dispute forced a name change for the product. But Rademacher and Perna are undaunted.
“I have a lot more ideas for shoes,” said Rademacher, adding that he’s committed to his company.