“I couldn’t look at what patients were wearing.” Lukáš Klimpera on why he started making barefoot shoes

After founding an IT company, Lukáš Klimpera suffered from burnout and eventually found himself working in physical therapy. But how did he get the idea to sell barefoot shoes at a time when almost no one was wearing them?

Lukáš, let’s start with the hard part: Why barefoot shoes, and why didn’t you choose to make another kind?

This all has roots in my physiotherapy studies. The biggest inspiration came from my yoga master Paramhans Swami Maheshwarananda and physiotherapist Clara Lewitová, who taught me at university about how shoes should be designed to allow the foot to function freely and naturally. She even showed us the first prototypes that she had made by shoemakers. This was long before barefoot shoes started appearing on the market. 

“You would work with a patient for an hour, successfully make an improvement, and then they would slip back into shoes that throw everything off.”

After my studies, I started working as a physiotherapist. I got a job in the prestigious private clinic Logo in Brno, working under Kateřina Moráňová. It annoyed me when I saw that you would work with a patient for an hour, successfully make an improvement, and then they would slip back into shoes that throw everything off, and the whole effect of the session is lost. I said to myself, “They shouldn’t wear shoes like that, but what else is there?” There were very few barefoot shoes in our market at the time. 

Were barefoot shoes a solution for all your patients?

I wouldn’t presume to say that. Of course, there are diagnoses like diabetes, peripheral innervation disorders, and various injuries where classic barefoot shoes are not ideal. I also wouldn’t recommend them to people who don’t have the time to devote to their musculoskeletal system and how they walk so they don’t injure themselves, especially with heavy footsteps. For them, the best and safest option is wearing a pair of our Comfort shoes with a soft insole or walking barefoot on a soft surface like sand at the beach.

What do you mean by heavy footsteps? Does that mean we’re walking the wrong way? 

You could say that.

If a person walks their whole life in regular shoes, their body isn’t used to barefoot walking. They’re not able to step gently and can injure themselves in barefoot shoes. 

The body throws the lower leg forward from the pelvis, hip joints, and lower back and then comes down on it. The physiological movement in barefoot walking is completely reversed. The rebound force comes from the toes and is carried to the rest of the body, so you can move the foot forward while stabilizing the torso. The stride is soft, gentle, and sensitive, allowing the foot to make firm and stable contact with the ground and form the ideal foundation for the subsequent push off the toes. 

“If a person learns how to walk unnaturally as a toddler, they carry this habit for the rest of their life.” 

You can see this with children when they start walking. They have a firm and compact torso, and they bounce with their feet. That’s what the movement should look like. But when a child gets shoes that don’t let their feet function or a big diaper that makes it difficult to take a step, the stride starts coming from the pelvis.

So, can we learn healthy walking as an adult? 

Yes, we can “reprogram” our brains. The way we walk is a movement program in the brain, which we can correct with the right rehabilitation. The Czech Republic, currently at the forefront of rehabilitation, works with neurophysiological programs that return the body to its natural state. This is sometimes called neurophysiological programming. 

How do you learn to walk heathily? Get started today. Download Lukáš Klempira’s free ebook Step by step to healthy walking.

What are barefoot shoes exactly? Do they just have thin soles?

It’s not just about thin soles. Barefoot shoes are made to allow the feet to function as freely and naturally as possible. This means they cannot restrict the foot in any way. Typical restrictions can include a narrow toebox (often, even the entire shoe), rigid and inflexible materials, high weight, and the aforementioned thick sole. Such shoes limit a person’s foot from operating correctly: we can’t use our toes or bounce naturally. 

A proper barefoot shoe is there the exact opposite. Lightweight, roomy to allow your toes to move naturally, and flexible in every direction. I’ve come across many “barefoot shoes,” which only have a thin sole, but these don’t fulfill the basic principles of barefoot walking.

More reading: 14 myths about barefoot shoes. Why are they more than just “thin-soled shoes”?

Today, barefoot shoes are a big trend, but what was it like in the early days? 

There was no such trend back then. My original plan was not to make my own shoes. I was looking for different options. At that time, five-finger shoes were just appearing in the Czech Republic, so I considered distributing them. However, I couldn’t verify the conditions in which they were made, which was very important to me. That’s why I continued looking for other options.

You’re not a cobbler. How did you make your first pair of shoes? 

I modeled a foot out of strips of paper, glued a thin piece of paper on top of this skeleton, cut it out, and created a fabric pattern from it. From there, I glued a sole to it, and my first handmade barefoot shoes were born. They felt great to walk in and helped prove that my idea made sense, but they looked terrible. It was clear they needed to be made by someone who knew what they were doing. 

“They felt great to walk in, but they looked terrible.” 

So, you started looking for “professionals”. How did that go? 

It was hard. I was still working as a physiotherapist, and in my free time, I went around to companies and tried to get them to create shoes based on my vision. It took about three years, and it was crazy. Either the quality was awful, or the price was way too high. 

I tried just about every shoe manufacturer in the market until I finally found a company that had a reasonable price and good quality. I got all the materials, components, templates, and everything else that was needed. Then, they made the shoe according to my specifications. But they were so busy themselves that they didn't have much time to make it for me.

“Either the quality was awful, or the price was way too high.”

Today, your shoes are worn by people all over the world. How did you manage to get your first customers?

It was insanity! Even without advertising and marketing, the sales took off. Back then, I'm sure we would have sold more shoes than we did if we could have increased production. But I pride myself on the fact that we handcraft our shoes to the highest quality.

In another interview, you mentioned the possibility of printing shoes on a 3D printer. Will this help you boost production? 

This is more about custom production than higher volume. My idea is that a customer anywhere in the world can take a photo of their feet with their mobile phone, and an app composes a 3D model from the photos, which they submit to us online. We can then print their feet and use it to create a bespoke pair of shoes or 3D print an entire shoe on the printer based on their measurements.

Is this a project you’re planning to launch in the near future?

I don’t know. Everything is ready, we have a special printer, we found fantastic material, we even have a very well-designed model, but unfortunately, there hasn’t been time to finish it. I thought we would launch 3D printing this spring, but we had more urgent projects to complete. 

You said that barefoot was not a trend when you started. What about today? 

Now, there is extreme competition. Unfortunately, the market is full of so-called barefoot shoes that are not barefoot at all. But there are also some cool barefoot models, which I’m always happy to discover and offer great inspiration to help push Ahinsa shoes forward. Plenty of companies are including vegan models now, which is wonderful, especially when it’s truly based on their values and not just trying to jump on a trend and make a buck. 

“There are also some cool barefoot models, which always make me happy.“

What is the interest in barefoot shoes like abroad? 

There’s a lot of it. Apart from the Czech Republic and Slovakia, we sell a lot of shoes in Germany, Austria, Benelux, and Sweden, but also in Australia and the USA, where there is a huge interest in this type of footwear. 

A lot of people in the West are also interested in our ethical and handmade production. Barefoot walking attracts the most customers, but I can see that in Germany, for example, veganism is making a big impact. The Germans are not only interested but have no problem buying high-quality, ethical products. 

More reading: The programmer taking over the Czech Republic  The first part of the interview with Lukáš Klimpera.

Thank you for the interview, Lukáš! Readers, you can look forward to the next installment where I chat with Lukáš about the ethical side of barefoot shoe manufacturing.