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Business Success Is American Made

Eight years of making shoes in America and counting, the owners of SOM Footwear have learned a lot about business success and customer growth. Whether you are interested in starting your own company or are curious what lessons nearly a decade of homegrown manufacturing can produce, our founders have five areas of advice to share.

Creative Solutions Prevent Gridlock

“Learning to make shoes was one of the first challenges Olie (Sense of Motion Footwear’s CEO) encountered,” recalled Nathalie (SOM’s CFO and Olie’s wife), “but this was probably the easiest one of the entire journey!”

He looked for investors to help with startup costs, and among those interested was his wife Nathalie. The two joined forces as co-owners, and one year later, had bought a warehouse, some equipment, and enough material to get SOM rolling.

Shoes made in Colorado, USA

Manufacturing shoes from scratch in the U.S. was no easy feat, especially shoes unconventional to traditional footwear. Despite knowing little about opening a shoe factory, Olie’s previous experience in ornamental sheet metal work had prepared him for the mechanics in setting up and maintaining a working factory environment.

He spent hours learning about the shoe industry, going to trade shows, and looking for as many Made In America suppliers as possible for the materials he would need for his designs. When fabric or equipment wasn’t available, he had to think outside the box, creating his own techniques to manufacture his vision.

Creativity is a must for anyone starting a business, in the shoe industry or in any other field.

There are few resources for making shoes in the US, but rather than stopping in their tracks Olie and Nathalie pushed forward with creative solutions to bypass manufacturing challenges, whether this involved fabricating equipment to meet their needs or utilizing materials unconventional to shoe making. Thinking differently and remaining flexible is the best way to continue innovating whenever barriers appear.

Maufacturing barefoot, minimalist shoes in America for over eight years

While Olie designs and fabricated the shoes, Nathalie’s role in this adventure involved the behind-the-scenes work it takes to run a business. Her degree in business administration, including bookkeeping as a trade, allowed her to understand and initiate the foundation for a solid business plan. SOM’s finances are in good hands with her, which is too often a challenge for many business owners.

Creating a Solid Business Plan

While Olie designs and fabricated the shoes, Nathalie’s role in this adventure involved the behind-the-scenes work it takes to run a business. Her degree in business administration, including bookkeeping as a trade, allowed her to understand and initiate the foundation for a solid business plan. SOM’s finances are in good hands with her, which is too often a challenge for many business owners.

It is critical to maintain focus and budget accordingly to navigate the ever-changing economic landscape.

As current inflation affects everything, from supplies to their shipping, the business must adapt and adjust to these rising costs in a way that is fair to both themselves and their customers. Sometimes, this means a creative solution rather than raising prices, like SOM’s creation of different shipping options with a yearly benefits plan called “SOM VIP” for added benefits. It’s always a plus to offer customers more options to better fit their needs.

Customers Come First

Nathalie’s greatest priority is the customer, from delivering a high quality product to creating a connected, customer service experience. SOM’s customer service philosophy comes from her, and Olie agrees that the key to any customer/business relationship is communication. If the customer is a part of your community, that person feels connected to the brand, sharing, listening, and staying involved as it grows.

Handmade footwear made in Colorado

Through social media, newsletters, and email correspondence, it is important to keep the lines of communication between company and customer open and active. By reading every comment and encouraging healthy discussion, there is always opportunity to learn and refine. If SOM can make something better or turn an idea into a future model, the company is greater for it, and it’s this connected philosophy that Nathalie and Olie share as they hire new members to their team. A strong work environment comes from everyone understanding the importance of their role and how it fits into the ultimate goal.

Olie and Nathalie maintain focus as their business grows and their team expands by ensuring manufacturing stays under one roof. SOM designs, cuts, sews, shapes, soles, laces, and boxes every pair of shoes. Their hands are always involved, and their eyes are ever-present for quality assurance.

The closer a worker is to the product, the better connected that worker is in its production.

If a problem is spotted, it is fixed or restarted no matter how far along it is in the process. If a customer emails or calls about an order, it’s only a few feet away to give them an update. They want customers to be as proud to buy American-made as they are to make it.

Over the years, Olie and Nathalie have seen others fail to understand the importance of taking care of customers, but to them, it’s the easiest way of doing business. Nathalie likes to say, “SOM Footwear has the best customers in the world, so they are easy to take care of.” She believes that happier feet make a better world and it’s our relationship to our planet that is of equal importance to the two of them.

Sustainability for Business and Planet

Just as their shoes would impact the lives that wore them, any manufacturer must address the carbon footprint their product will leave behind. For Olie and Nathalie, they believe healthy feet must also have healthy places to enjoy, so they pushed themselves to create sustainability through every step of the process.

SOM Footwear protects the environment with vegan shoes and recycled materials that outlast the competition

In addition to all of their models being vegan, by using as many America-sourced materials as possible, from their lace bands to their zero-drop soles to the SuperFabric and power knits fabrics that comprise the majority of our footwear, they supported manufactures held to a higher environmental standard than other countries.

Using fewer inserts and wrapping paper in their packaging, meant less to throw away and less to end up in landfills. They also reused packaging supplies as often as possible. By recycling shipment boxes, they lessened their need to order more (which lessened the need to produce and ship more), shrinking their carbon footprint. Saving money and protecting the environment.

Olie designed a unique feature into every SOM shoe, giving them the ability to be renewed through resoling. A shoe’s life could now be extended for many more miles of adventure, and a worn shoe would be saved from the landfill.

Resoling SOM shoes extends their lifespan multiple years, saving you money.

There are creative solutions and resources for incorporating green practices into any business. Not only is it the right thing to do, but customers are eager to be a part of it. People want to make a difference in the world, and by sharing these green opportunities, both companies and customers feel responsible for preserving the natural beauty of the planet.

Patience, Perseverance, and Taking Time to Recharge

One of the biggest lessons Olie and Nathalie learned in the early years of SOM Footwear was that accomplishments took time and perseverance. They had many reasons to give up, through supply shortages to a global pandemic, but it never was an option for them. Eight years later, SOM Footwear offers many new models for both casual and active lifestyles that offer a barefoot-feel and roomy toe-box to improve strength, balance, and well-being.

The future of the factory will depend on the adjustment to demand. Plans are in place to add robotics and automation, and Olie and Nathalie are confident they can sustain their growth for several years before they will need to expand. At the moment, all shoes leave the factory directly to the consumers and this makes SOM Footwear very unique in that sense.

In business, there will always be challenges, and the idea is to have the right attitude to face them. Nathalie and Olie are a good team because each one supports the other through every degree of decision. But equally healthy to their dynamic, is that they make time to recharge.

Owning a business and stress can walk hand in hand. Balancing work and free-time is vital for any hope of success. Olie and Nathalie stress this fact more than any other and make sure their team does the same.

If it’s good for the owners, it’s good for the employees, and that’s good for business.

Take a break and relax in SOM Footwear.


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