Emily Jancic is the founder of HARTS in Brooklyn, NY. As every parent knows, baby socks fall off and shoes make them fall. HARTS are the “Gateway Shoe” made to simplify life for parent and child. We’re as close to bare feet as possible. With no laces to tie, machine washable styles and rubber soles, we stay on all day, no socks needed. Moms and Dads love us because we help new walkers walk.

Listen to this episode of The MOVEMENT Movement with Emily Jancic about who really needs to wear barefoot shoes.

Here are some of the beneficial topics covered on this week’s show:

– How it’s common for entrepreneurs to overcommit which can lead to failure.

– Why mothers in Ethiopia don’t traditionally put shoes on their children until they are five years old.

– How athletes who grew up playing sports barefoot experience problems when transitioning to padded shoes.

– Why word of mouth can be the best tool for advertising when it comes to natural movement.

– How studies suggest being barefoot contributes to better social development and increased attention.

 

Connect with Emily:

Guest Contact Info

Instagram
@hartsbootees

Links Mentioned:
hartsbootees.com 

Connect with Steven:

Website

Xeroshoes.com

Twitter
@XeroShoes

Instagram
@xeroshoes

Facebook
facebook.com/xeroshoes

Episode Transcript

Steven Sashen:

There’s one group of people that may be the most important group to discover the value and benefits of natural movement and barefoot inspired shoes. Who are they? We’re going to find out and have a conversation about that on today’s episode of The Movement Movement, the podcast for people who want to know the truth about what it takes to have a happy, healthy, strong body starting feet first, you know those things that are your foundation, the things at the end of your legs?

We break down the propaganda, the mythology, sometimes the flat out lies you’ve been told about what it takes to run or walk or hike or play or do yoga, whatever it is you like to do, and to do that enjoyably and effectively and efficiently. I think I said enjoyably. I know I did, because it was a trick question. Actually, I didn’t even ask a question, but anyway, it was a fake out. That’s what I was going to say.

Anyway, I’m Steven Sashen, co-founder, co-ceo of xeroshoes.com, host of The Movement Movement podcast, which we call it that… Man, I can’t do English sentences today. Anyway, we call it the Movement Movement podcast because we are creating a movement that involves you, more about that in a second, about natural movement, how to let your body just do what it’s made to do without getting in the way.

The movement part is your help, spread the word. It’s really easy. You can start by going to www.jointhemovementmovement.com. Nothing you need to do to join, no secret handshake, no money involved, no song you need to sing every morning when you get out of bed. Just that’s where we have all the previous episodes, all the links to places you can find us on social media, all the ways you can share and spread the word, like give us a review, give us a thumbs up, hit the bell icon on YouTube, whatever. Look, you know the drill. If you want to be part of the tribe, just subscribe.

Let’s have some fun. Emily, do me a favor, tell people who you are and what you do, and then maybe what you’re doing here.

Emily Jancic:

Okay. My name is Emily Jancic. I am from Brooklyn, New York, and I am making children’s shoes because when my son was born, his socks were falling off. They don’t leave shoes on, and the shoes that are there hurt their feet and make them fall. So I sort of started tinkering around to make something that would stay on but be soft like a sock and durable like a shoe.

Steven Sashen:

You just gave away the punchline right away. We have nothing to say after that. The punchline, of course, totally teasing, it’s just the value of getting kids into or keeping… Well, either getting kids who’ve been in quote, “regular shoes” out of those and into something that’s more natural or keeping them in something more natural to begin with.

You’re starting at the very small end. You’re starting with the smallest humans when they’re going to be starting to use their feet for getting them into something that’s going to let them be natural. Was there anything more than just the experience with your son that made you think, “Hey, this is a good idea”?

Emily Jancic:

Yeah. You know what? Actually there was one week when I was in the park with my son, and in the same week I had to help two different mom friends search around the park for lost toddler shoes. I had been having the same issues myself because they don’t leave them on. They’re irritating to them, and they were falling down. I had experienced that. So yeah, I started playing around after that.

Steven Sashen:

When Lena and I started Xero Shoes, the joke that we have is we had this idea and then we uttered the five dangerous entrepreneurial words, how hard could this be?

Emily Jancic:

Yeah.

Steven Sashen:

How do you relate to that, and what made you decide to take the leap into doing this as an actual business? Which as you know, I could not recommend less.

Emily Jancic:

I guess I just started tinkering. I started cutting up his socks, and I added little snaps on them, making them look a little more like a shoe, but that it was easier to slip his foot on and different ideas like that. Before I knew it, I was hunting around for factories, finding someone that would just help me make a prototype. One thing led to another.

Steven Sashen:

Here you are. By the way-

Emily Jancic:

Three years ago I started.

Steven Sashen:

Oh my gosh. I’m being glib when I say I would not recommend it simply because starting any business, running any business is just way harder than we ever imagine.

Emily Jancic:

Absolutely. It reminds me of, did you ever see the Chevy Chase Christmas movie where he makes these beautiful lights for Christmastime and then he thinks it’s going to be wonderful, and then a bulb is out and the outlet’s sparking. Here and there it’ll be on and be beautiful. And then it’s like… It’s always something.

Steven Sashen:

Early on, we had friends who would say to us, “Oh, you have your own business. That must be really fun.” And we’d say, “Yeah, you’ve never done this before, have you?” There’s things that are immensely satisfying, immensely satisfying, but the fun part, that comes and goes. There’s mostly a lot of work.

Emily Jancic:

Yeah, absolutely.

Steven Sashen:

I mean, in terms of the sort of barefootness… Is that a word? All right, let’s use that, the barefootness of things. Had you had any previous experience with this? Did you start doing any research about this? Are you hip to what’s been going on about any of this? Or was it literally just like, let’s make something that stays on my kid’s foot and doesn’t let him fall on his face because they’re slippery?

Emily Jancic:

I mean, you’re a lot more hip to a lot of the things than I am, but definitely I think it was just a mother’s instinct. I realized that putting a big shrunken down adult sneaker on his little mushy feet just didn’t make sense. I knew that much.

And then now I’ve learned so much more. I mean, their feet are basically cartilage. They don’t even really have strong bones. So to put them on a little inch of foam is they’re teetering around like they’re on stilts.

Steven Sashen:

I don’t know if I told you this when we talked before, but Dr. Irene Davis, who is one of the top researchers in the world about minimalist footwear and natural movement, she’s now the president of the American College of Sports Medicine. She said to me, “If we just got kids wearing minimalist shoes, in 20 years, we wouldn’t be treating adults for the billions of dollars of foot, ankle, hip, knee, back problems they currently have.”

Emily Jancic:

Wow. How about that? Yeah, because as I’ve read, the bones don’t even completely harden and solidify until the age of 18 to 22, late teens. There’s still stuff happening, fusions happening and things like that to become the 26 bones that we have as adults.

Steven Sashen:

Yeah, I mean, most people don’t think you’d become fully adult until you’re done with med school. That’s a whole way of thinking. At least that’s the way it was in my family. And I apparently never became an adult because I decided not to go to med school. That’s the way I got around that problem.

And so you started this three years ago. What was it like? It’s fun for me, talking to people who have started this. I actually annoyingly did… Well, let me rephrase that. I did an interview with my friend Golden Harper, who founded Altra, and the annoying part was not talking to him. The annoying part was as soon as I hit save for the recording, something crashed and we didn’t get the recording and we have not been able to do that.

But it’s fun to talk to people who are in the biz, A, because everyone’s got a slightly different perspective, which is interesting, but also, frankly, we get to commiserate about what it was like. What were those early days? What did you expect when you decided to build a website, and what actually happened?

Emily Jancic:

I guess for me, one of the biggest issues was getting the product right or close to right or getting closer and closer to right. I thought it would be a great idea to have kind of toggles on the shoes. They were great and they were wonderful, but a couple of times they fell off. It’s just too close to a baby. Babies grab things and stuff like that. It passed all the small parts things and everything, but it’s just nerve wracking to think of the things that could go wrong, I guess.

Yeah. I’ve learned a lot along the way, things I didn’t think I would have to learn, definitely ordering new inventory before it’s all gone and so many things, so many things to learn.

Steven Sashen:

When you launched the website, what’d you do to let people know that you existed?

Emily Jancic:

We were really active on Instagram, and that kind of seems to be where our crowd was, so that kind of took off. Then moms would post pictures of their babies and it was all just kind of a big connection and a lot of community there. That’s what happened for us. Yeah. How about you?

Steven Sashen:

When I started, it was in 2009 and the barefoot movement was just kind of kicking in. So frankly, there was only one place that people were really gathering and that was a Google group. And so I jumped in on there and just contributed whatever content I could think of that was meaningful. Once I made a couple pairs of sandals, I had made videos of how I did that and I shared those.

Essentially it’s a friend of mine’s line. If you’re trying to make money, it’s easy. Figure out where the money is flowing and get in the way. Or another way of saying that in this context is find out where the conversations are happening and get involved in the conversation. By getting involved, I mean don’t just try to sell things, try to offer something of value.

In those early days, I just made a bunch of videos and was syndicating them. There were at that time about 40 different video platforms, and I was on all of them. That was the very heady time when it comes to search engine optimization for any keyword that I cared about. Within a couple of months, I had at least 40 of the top 50 results if you searched for things like barefoot shoes. That has dramatically changed in the 14 years since. But that was the gist of it.

Frankly, we were running a search engine marketing business, my wife and I. When I built the website, I said, “This will just be a case study where I can show that I can dominate this category in a few months.” And I was wrong. It only took me a few weeks, but those were, again, it was a very different time.

But the biggest thing, frankly, was just those videos and just putting out content. I basically gave people the ability to rip off my entire business model. And a number of people did. I was fine with it. I mean, I was fine with the fact that they were doing it because I wanted the awareness to grow. I’m here to help people change their lives, not to become the next fill in the blank.

But what was annoying is the number of people who would say “I was looking for something that I couldn’t find, so then I had to do it myself.” And then what they did is an exact copy of what I did. So if you rip me off, just say you’re ripping me off. I mean, it’s not a problem.

Emily Jancic:

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, it’s funny.

Steven Sashen:

In that first whatever period of time that you can think of in terms of delineating time, how did things grow? What was your experience of that, and what were people reporting back when they were getting the product?

Emily Jancic:

I think things grew a lot actually from word of mouth. We would notice that we would be shipping to one area and then we would kind of consistently ship to that area. It would be because moms talk and they’re together and they recommend things to friends if it’s working. And so most of it has been word of mouth, and that’s just the best thing. But I’m sorry, there was a second part to your question. I’m not sure what you-

Steven Sashen:

The second part is what were you hearing and what was it like getting that feedback?

Emily Jancic:

Oh, well, we had one customer say one thing that’s like my favorite thing. She called us the gateway shoe, which I loved because it’s like, I like to not be a shoe. I don’t think kids are ready for that at two and under and three, but I love that, the gateway shoe, to be kind of something a little bit to wear outside and around but not heavy or clunky.

Steven Sashen:

Pardon me one sec. People are trying to call me and I’m turning off my phone. So you started three years ago. How do things feel again now compared to what you thought? I’ll give you the teaser on my end. Lena and I thought that by the three-year mark, somebody would’ve bought us out for some large amount of money. That has not happened. What were you expecting?

Emily Jancic:

Yes.

Steven Sashen:

Yeah, how are things comparing to your expectations?

Emily Jancic:

I mean, I definitely expected things to move a lot faster. You are so optimistic and you think that things are going great, and things are going great, but things take a lot longer than you expect. I thought it would be just easy to be doing a lot of retail and things like that.

And we are, we’re at Macy’s and stuff like that, but I have learned that some of these things that you think are going to be a great opening, maybe sometimes keeping them simpler and just being on the website and Amazon and things like that has been more just easier to get to the customers and not have anyone between us. It’s just a lot less complicated sometimes.

Steven Sashen:

Backing up to manufacturing. How did you find someone to make things, and what was that like? Again, what has that whole experience been like? I’m more than happy to share war stories.

Emily Jancic:

Okay. Well, I really wanted to be made in the US and I really thought that would be great. I loved that. But I had worked with some factories in LA, and the prices that they were able to do… Well, first of all, they’re a lot more selective. And so it was difficult to get them to work with me just starting out. But by the time I did, it was the prices that they would need to charge were a lot more than would’ve worked out for the price point.

I did eventually use a manufacturer in China, but that took a while too because only certain factories do the Flyknit and then certain factories do children’s shoes. So I had to get two different factories to work together. It took a while, but now we’ve been very happy with one of the premier children’s shoe factories in China.

Steven Sashen:

Did you go over there?

Emily Jancic:

And they’re great. They do-

Steven Sashen:

Did you go over there?

Emily Jancic:

I never went over there, no.

Steven Sashen:

Which town are the factories in? Just I’ll tell you stories about them.

Emily Jancic:

Shenzhen.

Steven Sashen:

Got it.

Emily Jancic:

Shenzhen.

Steven Sashen:

Are they Shenzhen or are they just outside in the Dongguan region? This is getting really in the weeds for people listening, but what the hell?

Emily Jancic:

The address is in Shenzhen.

Steven Sashen:

Good enough. The first time I went to China as a tourist, it was 1989, and Shenzhen was a farm. There was nothing there. It was, I mean-

Emily Jancic:

Really?

Steven Sashen:

Yeah, it was not a thing. I got out there, and I think I was the first white person that most of the people that I bumped into had ever seen. It was very entertaining. Now a whole different story.

The thing I say about manufacturing in Asia in particular, some people think that it’s just a question of price, which sometimes it is, but what I say with the stuff that we’re making, we literally can’t make this domestically. And then I like to be mildly annoying and say to people, especially when people are complaining that we have to get out of China or make things in America, I go, “Yeah, it’s literally not possible in the same way that it’s literally not possible to have this conversation on a device that is made in America, but you’re not throwing your computer away and yelling about that.” It’s just tricky.

Now, the part that people can’t wrap their brain around, one of the towns with one of our factories is not too far from yours. I’ve been going there for now 10 years, and 10 years ago it was kind of a dump. I mean, there just wasn’t much going on, although there was one thing going on that was wonderful then and even better now that I’ll mention in a sec.

But 10 years later, this is a thriving middle class town that I would love to live in, ignoring Chinese government and politics, all the rest, just the town itself and the people. Amazing, wonderful place and utterly delightful. One thing that has been delightful since day one and continues to be is the food. There’s two parts to that. My favorite Chinese restaurant in the town that we are in is not a restaurant. There’s an area where every night it’s a night market.

There was one guy out there who had two big cauldrons of broth and then 50 different things you could do with that and a couple of woks. I am starting to point at the things that I want. And he quickly just kind of waves me away and realizes that I was pointing at all the vegetable stuff and nothing with meat. He just shoes me aside and then shows up five minutes later with this giant plate of the most incredible Chinese food I’ve ever had, and it was 75 cents and barely more expensive now than it was then. So that was utterly delightful.

But the really fun part, there was a bunch of people who were making footwear in that area way back when, who they realized there was no really good food in the neighborhood. A bunch of these people were Italian. So they decided to get out of the footwear business and go into the restaurant business. They opened up a bunch of Italian restaurants. Some of the best Italian food I’ve ever had and best pizza I’ve ever had is in this weird little part of China.

One of my favorite parts is the waitresses, they speak English with a Chinese Italian accent, which as much as I would love to be politically incorrect and imitate it, I just can’t. But it is utterly totally one of a kind. Anyway. So right now, is it just you?

Emily Jancic:

Me and a couple freelancers, yes.

Steven Sashen:

Gotcha.

Emily Jancic:

That’s how it’s going.

Steven Sashen:

Oh, those were the days. What you’ve done, I really appreciate, because we lived through it. It’s like a lot of people, they way overcommit on day one and are not even confident that they have… Well, let me take it back. Every entrepreneur is confident that what they have is a brilliant idea, and many don’t figure out whether it is or not until it’s much too late, meaning that it’s typically not.

It sounds like other than having to deal with product things and get things made, you’ve done a fine job of being organic about this and not overcommitting, which frankly, that is the number one cause of failure is just you think it’s going to be way bigger than it is, and then you’re not prepared when it’s growing differently than what you expect.

Emily Jancic:

Yeah. Spread yourself too thin. Yeah.

Steven Sashen:

What were you doing before this?

Emily Jancic:

I’m a New Yorker, so I was working at L’Oreal, I was working as a copywriter. Started as a proofreader and then got promoted a couple times to be a senior copywriter. I love marketing, advertising, fashion, all of that. Yeah.

Steven Sashen:

So it sounds like a bit of a perfect storm in terms of all of your history working for what you’re doing now.

Emily Jancic:

Yes, absolutely. I’m having so much fun. I love to think of styles and colors, and definitely that’s the fun part of it. Yeah.

Steven Sashen:

I know this is a crazy question to ask because you’re still really getting started, but I’ll ask it anyway. Well, it’s two ways of asking it. One is kind of what’s next? The other is what do you imagine? What do you want based on…

Let me do this in a totally different way. Based on what you know now, how does what you want for the future differ from what you thought on day one when you didn’t have the information and experience you have now?

Emily Jancic:

Well, I think I imagined that I would just roll out all these styles and colors and sizes, but I’m realizing now that I think it makes more sense to zero in on even just a minimum amount of colors and maybe just two styles and just let it go from there. And then eventually more colors and definitely more sizes, because as the kids grow out of our shoes, we get emails and the moms need a bigger size or they want to stick with something minimal on the children’s feet.

And then actually, we’ve gotten a lot of emails from people with children with disabilities, children that are maybe in a wheelchair or different things like that, and they need some kind of really flexible, comfortable thing on their feet. So I would really like to do larger sizes. That’s on my mind.

Steven Sashen:

Managing inventory is by far the most challenging thing. What I can tell you is that if you’re looking for investment capital, finding people who understand and are okay with the idea of an inventory heavy business is a challenge.

Emily Jancic:

Really?

Steven Sashen:

Just FYI.

Emily Jancic:

Thanks for the tip.

Steven Sashen:

Backing up to just the whole phenomenon, for me, what I knew going in on day one was a little bit about the whole value of natural movement, but obviously what I’ve learned over the last almost 14 years, whole different story. What’s your evolution in that world or that aspect of this world like?

Emily Jancic:

My knowledge about the natural movement has evolved because yeah, like I said, I’ve learned more about it just from talking to people. But I was wondering if you heard this, that mother’s in Ethiopia don’t put children’s shoes on the children’s feet until the age of five. A researcher attributed this to the reason why they have so many fast runners and Olympic athletes. Do you know that?

Steven Sashen:

I didn’t hear about the mothers not putting kids in shoes until they were five, but I definitely know of athletes who grew up running, playing soccer, playing baseball, playing basketball, playing whatever barefoot. And then they come to America and they’re super strong, and then they get put in big, thick shoes, and the next thing you know they’re having foot and ankle and knee problems. I’ve seen the other end of that quite a bit, but it surprised me.

I mean the real value is about strong feet and responsive feet. If you want to find people who have strong responsive feet, go somewhere where they probably don’t have indoor plumbing, and they also probably won’t have podiatrists because there are going to be few having problems with their feet. That seems to be borne out by the research as well.

Emily Jancic:

Yes. Another thing that it just came to my mind is that when children have a shoe on, they have to look down because they can’t feel what’s underneath them as you do with bare feet. Your body is just sort of picking up those signals without you looking down. But when a child has a shoe on, especially a small child, they have to sort of sense with their eyes what’s underneath them and around them and look straight down, and it makes them fall. So it goes down the whole process of learning to walk.

Steven Sashen:

There was a study I read way back when about students in a Japanese preschool where the gist of it was the ones who were barefoot developed more quickly socially than the ones who were in shoes. The theory was that they had to be more attentive to what they were doing, where they were walking, what they were stepping on, stepping in, and to each other than kids who just couldn’t feel anything and away they went. I thought that was very interesting. I don’t know that it’s been replicated.

Emily Jancic:

Wow.

Steven Sashen:

It doesn’t sound like a surprising result.

Emily Jancic:

Right, yeah. Seems natural. Yeah.

Steven Sashen:

Well, I hate to do this, but since we’ve been having just a boat ton of connectivity problems, I want to bring this in to a nice soft landing, and we can have another conversation another time. But do me a favor, tell people how they can discover what you’re doing for them… I was going to say for themselves, but if for themselves, they’d be really precocious because they’d be two-year-olds who know how to get online and order things.

For their family, for their children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren, or however, if you’re living somewhere where everyone in your family has kids by the time they’re 15, great-great-great-great-grandchildren, how can they find you, Emily? That’s where I was going.

Emily Jancic:

Okay. The website is hartsbootees.com, H-A-R-T-S-B-O-O-T-E-E-S dot com. I made a discount code called Movement with just capital word Movement.

Steven Sashen:

Well, I’d say that’s perfect. At least you made it through. HARTS Bootees, H-A-R-T-S-B-O-O-T-E-E-S dot com. Movement will be the discount code people can use. Thank you for doing that. And of course, on social media, where do they find you there? Ah, the hell with it. Go to your website, you’ll find it there.

Emily Jancic:

TikTok, Instagram.

Steven Sashen:

This is one of those things. I mean, we’ve all lived through these.

Who knows why? I don’t care. But anyway, thank you for everyone who’s put up with our technical whatevers. I hope you just get the most important thing, which is it’s a real thing to be getting kids, letting them stay natural as long as you can be possible is the bottom line. We are doing things to help with that as well, but I’m thrilled that you’ve come from the very far other end, if you will, to give kids for just getting started walking, something to give them that natural experience with the protection and comfort that they need also. It couldn’t be more important.

For everyone else, just a reminder, go to www.jointhemovementmovement.com to find all our previous episodes, how you can find us on social media, how you can leave a review and give us a thumbs up and a like and a hit the bell icon on YouTube. You know the drill.

More importantly, if you have any questions, suggestions, recommendations, people you think should be on the show, or if you or someone you know wants to tell me that you think I have a case of cranial rectal reorientation syndrome, I’m cool with that as well. In fact, one of the things that I’ve been trying to do for years is to get somebody on the podcast who vehemently disagrees with me and have a conversation. I have not had the luxury of somebody being willing to take me up on that offer, and I’ve made it quite a number of times.

But anyway, if you know someone, pass it on. So move, M-O-V-E at jointhemovementmovement.com is my email address. Happy to hear from you, but most importantly, go out, have fun and live life feet first.

 

 

 

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