Designed For Freedom
WORDS Jyssica Yelas | Photography Tim Sugden
Entrepreneurs are notorious for their love of freedom. This typically brings to mind creating one’s own hours, flexibility for travel, and bringing creative ideas to life without running it by the next one up the ladder.
For Everett Carson, though, this materialized through the design of a shoe. After trying barefoot running, he desired a shoe that could provide the next best experience, but he couldn’t find it.
Prior plans to begin a brewery were pushed aside, and he took matters into his own hands to create something that was badly needed in the market. Carson Footwear was born in Milwaukie, Oregon, where every shoe is made to this date.
Your website says, “We believe your run should not be about our shoes…RUN YOUR OWN RUN.” What does it mean to run your own run? A good friend of mine told me that one day when we were out on a trail run. Basically, it helped me change my focus from what was around me, and more on what I was doing. I realized at that point that the shoes I had on my feet were influencing my run more than they should. That said, I haven’t had a running injury since I have been logging miles in my shoes. I am approaching five thousand miles injury free.
Has running always been an important part of your life? When do you remember first experiencing a connection to running? I hated running as a kid. To me, it was punishment for whatever sport I was in at the time.
Carson Footwear is another product of that Born to Run book. My wife Nicole was reading it one night, and I read just enough to want to try running barefoot. I thought it was just another exercise gimmick. I went downstairs with a glass of wine and ran on the treadmill to see what the hell they were talking about. After one mile I thought ‘this is totally crap, this isn’t natural.’
Then I realized what I just said. ‘Of course, it’s natural, dumbass, it’s as natural as it gets.’ I ran another mile or so – I think about three and a half miles total. It felt super-efficient, super clean, with less impact and I was sold. Then my feet started to bleed and I knew I needed shoes! The adventure began.
You’ve been known to say, “In my hunt for the perfect running shoe, what I saw was an industry that had been abandoned by the American entrepreneur.” Can you elaborate on that? What I found at first was that all the shoe experts were just graphic designers with 3D printers that could make models of shoes out of sample quality materials. That was an expensive, frustrating lesson, but the more I looked the more I found that there was no infrastructure to support footwear or apparel production in the USA. We still have our production molds made overseas, but we have managed to find all but a very small amount of raw material from US companies.
I am excited about the growing infrastructure. It is moving this way, and I am sure we will have one hundred percent US-sourced raw materials before the end of the year. The next big challenge will be to revitalize the manufacturing equipment supply chain. All our equipment is manufactured overseas. Unless we can get some equipment manufactured here, we will never be able to match production efficiencies. I know there are lots of possibilities with automation and robotics coming online, but what I have seen is they don’t yield a better product, just a more profitable product.
What about the design of Carson Footwear shoes makes them unique? The big difference with Carson footwear is the polyurethane sole. They are perfectly flat with zero drop from heel to toe. Poly gives such better proprioception it’s almost laughable to compare to EVA and rubber. The upper is minimal as well. We are just now introducing a little more reinforced toe cap, but other than that it’s barebones, all you need to run your own run.
Can you explain the process of designing a Carson shoe? How has that process evolved since the beginning? Most of our shoes have a story behind them. The first pair, the Iguana Racer, is taken from an image of a little day gecko, now our mascot, Iggy.
The process is pretty much the same. We don’t have quotas to meet or anybody to answer to, so we just look for inspiration in our travels. I will admit, there is a lot of loud music and beer to help nurture inspiration! We let everybody on the team create, and we do some custom shoes for folks who have fun ideas. Inspiration drives the design. If you run in the snow, we will make you a wool shoe. If you like zombies, we will make you a killer shoe for that too. Fun is the key element.
What did the first shoe you ever designed look like? The first shoe was the carbon neutral. The sole looked like the 10/10, except when you take a drawing and throw it into the typical manufacturing process, it comes back with a huge heel lift, like twenty millimeters. The toe was twenty-five millimeters, and the heel was forty-five millimeters. It took two more rounds of development to get footwear people to understand flat!
Why footwear? Well, my primary business, Pacific Marketing & Publishing, was maturing and I like making things. I had set up a small microbrewery in the garage and was planning to invest in a brewery. Drinking more beer, I was running more, and after injuring myself for the second time in a year I decided that I could get plenty of good beer, but good minimal running shoes made in the USA were impossible to find.
Your shoes are 100% made by in USA. What influenced this decision, and have you encountered any obstacles with this decision? The reason was to change the paradigm – the shoe buying process is such a wreck. Typically, you go to a store looking for a shoe that you bought last summer, and it’s not there. They’ll say, “Hey, here’s the new model,” but it doesn’t fit the same as last year. I wanted to make shoes that you can reorder and know they will fit the exact same way, and really the only way to do that was to run your own factory.
There is a theme: Run your own run, and run your own factory. Being in high-volume production environments my whole adult life, taking on the obstacles of starting a shoe factory sounded fun to me. Crank up the tunes, let’s do some battle, and have some fun. The industry standard for glue was a toxic endeavor. We had to grind the poly to break the skin, oxidize both sides, then use industrial contact cement. Toxic toxic toxic, and it didn’t work on poly! I thought we were done. We had glue experts from several companies trying to find a solution, then an old guy at Northern got ahold of me and told me about a new TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) film glue they were working on. It was the perfect solution. We close the molds with the sheet, and we get a mechanical bond on both surfaces! Now the biggest obstacle is just skilled people, and of course sales. We can always use more to help sustain the supply chain.
If you could outfit any athlete, who would it be and why? Lindsey Vonn. We are mountain lovers, we ski, and we run. Our shoes are meant for the alpine trails, and running downhill with our super sticky responsive polyurethane soles reminds me of skiing. I might have a chance to beat her in that downhill race!