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Pediped: Young kicks be free

Minimal footwear is all the rage. Pediped is turning the trend into kids’ stuff

The human foot is a marvel of Darwinian engineering — 26 bones, 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments of one-of-a-kind ambulatory innovation, the very advancement that enabled Homo erectus to erectus and stand head and shoulders above primate peers.

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Only recently, though, has the lowly foot gotten some respect. We’ve spent centuries trying to “fix” it with all manner of shoes and boots, but now many experts argue that footwear isn’t the solution to our problems. Footwear is the problem.

Barefoot and minimalist-footwear movements are taking off. You’ve probably heard of the 2009 bestseller “Born to Run,” which extols the unshod sole. These days, on just about any jaunt through Red Rock, you can expect to see a hiker with those strange toe-glove things that look like alien feet. Even shoe giants like Nike are trying to co-opt the anti-shoe mantle with purportedly minimalist lines.

Barely-there options exist for running, walking, hiking and climbing — but what about taking your first steps?

Angela Edgeworth heard about the benefits of barefooting it back in 2004 and sought a forgiving first pair of shoes for her baby, Caroline. Even with Santa Monica boutiques at her disposal (not to mention the Internet), she came up empty-footed.

“There was nothing,” she recalls. “Everything was very rigid, very hard. A lot of the styles were basically adult styles that were taken down and shrunk.”

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Into that void steps Pediped footwear. The start-up that Angela launched with her husband, Brian, to provide minimalist footwear for the most minimal of feet has quickly become the second-largest kids’ shoe brand in the country. Last year, they shipped more than a million pairs.

Ex-shoes me

Years before the birth of Pediped, Rudy Glocker, the avid hiker who would become the company’s COO, commemorated his graduation from business school by tackling Mount Kilimanjaro. He ascended in top-shelf stiff and sturdy hiking boots, only to be outpaced by local guides in five-dollar drugstore flip-flops.

Perhaps they were on to something. New research suggests that maybe we should blame our aching insteps, trick ankles and gimpy knees not on the ravages of time, but on the shoes of our youth.

“(The guides) didn’t wear shoes, so their feet had developed — their feet are wider, their toes are so much stronger, they’re much more athletic,” Glocker says. “The science is basically that if you let your feet grow naturally, they’ll be great.”

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Feet can be molded into adulthood and are particularly malleable in the first five years.

“If you squeeze a baby’s foot, it feels very similar to your ear, because all those bones are still cartilage and can be shaped,” Brian explains. That’s why you can’t cram a kid’s toes into an adult-style shoe, and why most foot problems are a fait accompli by age 18.

Pediped partnered with researchers at Harvard Medical School to make sure their ergonomic designs are breathable, flexible, adjustable and roomy. These kicks retail in the $50 range, but they’ll mold to your kid’s feet, not the other way around.

And just because Pediped earned a stamp of approval from the American Podiatric Medical Association doesn’t mean they look like orthopedics for babies. Nor do they feature the cutesy cats and dogs typical of baby brands. Under Angela’s creative direction, Pediped issues two versatile collections a year and keeps pace with fashion — martial touches are out this season, indulgent bows and appliqués are in.

No mean ‘feet’

Coupling science and style with adult-sized durability (“they use this material in the U.S. military for desert boots,” Angela notes, dangling a pair of pink shoesies) is a straightforward concept. Making it happen, however, was no mean feat.

Angela was just 31 when she decided to launch into a industry dominated by multi-billion-dollar multinationals. She had some entrepreneurial moxie — she started a cosmetics company in Taiwan right out college that was a valuable learning experience (“It failed miserably,” she says) — but had zero background in clothing or footwear.

“Starting up a company is an immense amount of work. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody,” she says, jokingly.

Maybe half-jokingly. She and her husband still remember when — after 18 months of designing, producing, and pitching their teeny prototypes — the first batch revealed a critical weakness in the soft-sole stitching.

“We had to mulch them,” Angela recalls. “We couldn’t even save them, it was that bad. And then we had to start over again, and that was a very painful decision.”

“We thought the company was over,” Brian adds. “It was devastating.”

Angela immediately hopped a flight to the factory in China; Brian sat down with a heap of fabrics and threads. They tried every kind of material they could think of, even fishing line. In the end, the solution turned out to be in keeping with their ambitious little enterprise: They over-ruled the old wisdom, chucked out the patterns, and simply invented a whole new method of stitching things together (the patent is pending).

They were off and running. By 2006, the need for space and the desire for a better quality of life for themselves and their employees lured the Edgeworths from Los Angeles to Southern Nevada. Many of their workers happily made the trip with them. (Take that, L.A.)

The nearly all-female staff of more than 40 (it’s a mom-oriented company, Angela explains) does just about everything in-house and under one roof. Their Henderson headquarters handles everything from shipping and service to design and marketing, and now retail, with the opening of what they hope will be the first of many company stores.

The Edgeworths credit this close-knit culture with allowing their company to be nimble enough to expand rapidly and then endure the downturn that doomed many independent shoe stores that carried their product. At the end of their first year, Pedipeds were sold in 350 retail stores, the next year it was 1,200, then 2,500 … and then still 2,500. Even amid tough times, they’ve managed to donate more than $1 million in products and cash in their company’s young history, and they celebrated the grand opening of their company store by awarding the first contribution from their recently established Pediped foundation to a local charity, the Children’s Heart Association of Nevada.

Meanwhile, Pediped keeps growing in step, quite literally, with the Edgeworths’ daughters, Caroline and Lauren — after starting with only baby shoes, the range of sizes and styles has expanded to accommodate their feet.

“We couldn’t have started with shoes any bigger because we didn’t have kids that big,” Angela says. “Who would we test them on?” 


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