The programmer who changed the way people think about footwear. “I wouldn’t wish the beginnings on anyone,” says Lukáš Klimpera
Lukáš, we’re going to start with a somewhat personal question. You experienced a burn-out, didn’t you?
Yes, I did. I was making a living as a programmer, and I was huge on computers. I had a successful company in Prague, we were programming systems for e-commerce, intranets and making apps. I was working long hours, simply because I was enjoying it.
“I wanted to throw my computer out of the window.”
And then it happened. I couldn’t even sit down at my computer, and when I looked at it, I wanted to throw it out of the window. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone – it was a crazy feeling.
How did you end up programming? Is it true that you didn’t study it formally?
I was self-taught by my mother and grandfather, who were both programmers. My grandfather did factory projects around the whole world for various mechanical and chemical manufacturing operations, and my mother was purely into math and physics and worked at the Hydrometeorological Institute.
At the time when the first computers and computer games were appearing, all of my friends were playing and I naturally wanted to as well. But my parents wouldn’t buy me a gaming computer or any games. My grandfather and mom taught me the basics of programming. Then I started programming my own games.
Physiotherapy had always interested Lukáš, and that’s why he decided to study it.
How did you get from programming to physiotherapy?
I’ve been doing yoga for a long time and I’ve always been interested in physiotherapy. So when I decided based on the inspiration from my yoga teacher Paramhans Swami Maheshwarananda that I would end my computer job after five years of hard work, I took up physiotherapy. I was 25 years old, I passed the entrance exams and went to study it at Charles University. The beginnings were crazy, but I found my place in the field.
And it was at university that you first encountered barefoot shoes?
That’s right. Our excellent physiotherapist Clara Lewitová taught us. She was talking about shoes that should be constructed to allow the foot to move freely and naturally. She even showed us the first prototypes, which she had sewn by shoemakers. In 1998, she had already published her groundbreaking paper On Shoes in the Rehabilitation and Physical Medicine journal, which was the first to define the parameters of barefoot shoes. This was long before barefoot shoes began to appear on the market.
“Clara Lewitová had already described the principles of barefoot shoes in 1998.”
Clara Lewitová is a prominent Czech physiotherapist and promoter of barefoot walking. Image source: www.bosybod.cz
So it was thanks to her that you began producing barefoot shoes?
She was an inspiration, but things didn’t happen that quickly – I didn’t start producing shoes right after graduation. First I started working as a physiotherapist. I found a job in the prestigious private Logo clinic in Brno under the direction of Kateřina Moráňová. It was here that I began to see a lack of healthy footwear.
“There was nothing on the market that I’d recommend to patients.”
Imagine that you’ve been working with a patient for an hour, you’re spending time with him, you manage to improve something, and at the end of the therapy session he slips back into the shoes that immediately throw him out of whack. Today I’d say: “You’re wearing the wrong shoes, these are causing you problems.” But at that time there was nothing on the market that I’d recommend to patients.”
Was it a clear decision for you to start making your own shoes?
No, I was looking for various opportunities. At the time, five-toe shoes were starting to appear in the Czech Republic, and for a while I thought about distributing them. However, I wasn’t able to verify the conditions under which they were made, and that mattered a lot to me. That’s why I was looking for other options.
Ethical production has always been fundamental to Lukáš.
I went around to Czech footwear companies, but they thought our requirements were absurd. Imagine a skinny young computer nerd walking into a noisy production plant and meeting with the experienced but pessimistic veterans there. Their pessimism and skepticism were understandable, because what’s happened to the footwear industry from Baťa until today is crazy.
“Czech footwear companies thought my requirements were absurd.”
The funniest thing is that even ČOKA (note: Czech Footwear and Leather Association), which backs all the traditional footwear companies, was against us. But now the majority of these companies also produces barefoot models and ČOKA naturally isn’t saying anything.
So you ultimately decided to go into your own production?
Yes and no. I literally glued the first prototype together at home on my knee. I modeled a foot from pieces of paper and glued thin paper onto this frame. Then I cut pieces out of it that I used to style the fabric. I glued a sole onto it with superglue, and my first handmade barefoot shoes were born. They felt great to walk in, and they proved to me that there was meaning in it. But the shoes looked awful. It was obvious that they’d have to be made by someone who understood what they were doing.
“I glued the first prototype together myself. They felt great to walk in, but they looked awful.”
The hardest part was finding people who understood shoe production, but the knowhow and footwear tradition had managed to survive here in the Zlín region. I’m very lucky to have found great and skilled people. Today we’re producing shoes for the whole world and making them exactly as I imagined them. By hand, aesthetically and from excellent vegan materials.
Today at Ahinsa shoes, we create both barefoot shoes and shoes with a special comfort insole.
Why has Lukáš always exclusively wanted to produce ethically and from vegan materials? And why are barefoot shoes also so important for your body? You’ll find out in the rest of the interview with Lukáš Klimpera.
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