August 12, 2014

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Article

Minimalist Sandal Company Taking Big Strides in Southern Utah

By Rachel Madison

August 12, 2014


Cedar City – If the shoe fits, wear it. This common expression rings true for Terral Fox, whose custom-made sandals have gained popularity among outdoor enthusiasts for their minimalist look and comfort.

Fox, who is the founder and CEO of Cedar City-based Unshoes Minimal Footwear, grew up in Cedar City with a love for the outdoors and hiking. For years, he was a loyal customer of a popular brand of sport sandals but eventually found they didn't fill his needs as much as he wanted them to.

“I began searching for an alternative but I couldn't find anything that suited my needs in a sandal,” he said. “I've never really liked shoes and I loved the concept of allowing the foot to move. I always wondered why humans have an arch if it needs to be supported all the time. Eventually I discovered a few small businesses that were making sandals called ‘huaraches.’ They were based off of primitive sandals made by a tribe of Indians in Mexico.”

Fox almost purchased a pair of the sandals, but decided they looked too much like something from Gladiator and he didn’t think he’d wear them enough to justify the cost. The other issue with the shoes was the customer had to put them together.

“They shipped you a piece of rubber that you cut out on your own and then laced the sandals up yourself,” he said. “It was a DIY kit. I've always had a knack for making things so I figured I could make something like that on my own.”

Fox’s background is in graphic design, so it was a natural fit for him to make his own sandals. That’s when Unshoes was born.

“I had recently been laid off so I had plenty of time to tinker,” he said. “I went to work making prototypes out of leftover climbing webbing, cardboard and duct tape. Eventually I came up with a design I liked and I bought a piece of soling rubber and made the first pair of Unshoes. I still have that first pair—I use them for yard chores.”

Fox’s wife suggested he start selling the sandals on Etsy.com, an online market for handmade goods.

“My first reaction was that I didn't think anyone would want to buy my homemade sandals,” he said. “However, I had leftover materials and thought there wasn't anything to lose so I photographed them and listed them on Etsy. To my surprise, they sold within a few days.”

Fox took the earnings from his first few sales bought another sheet of rubber and a few more yards of webbing. He continued to sell more and more sandals, using his profits to buy more materials.

“It was all supposed to be a side job to help us until I could get another job in design,” he said. “However, as orders increased, I knew I would have to make a decision. I needed to either pursue it full time or close it down. I knew nothing about business but I decided to go ahead and make it a legitimate business.”

Fox designed a website and began selling Unshoes from his own site. He made each pair of sandals in the unfinished basement of his apartment, but eventually hired a friend to help with sewing straps.

“It soon became apparent that I needed a better place to make the sandals,” he said. “I didn't quite have enough money to move into a shop but I won an award with the Cedar City Small Business Development Center and the cash I won was just enough to get us out of the basement and into a small industrial storage unit. We have since hired on more people, purchased machinery and moved into a larger and nicer workshop with a small retail space.”

Since the company’s small beginnings in 2011, sales have continued to increase each year, with both local and international customers. At first, each pair of sandals was custom made according to foot outlines that customers submitted. This worked great for Fox while the business was small, but as it grew, he knew they wouldn't be able to do that forever.

“Each time I received a new set of tracings I would save the final sole shape that I made,” he said. “Eventually I began to see patterns. Even though everyone has a slightly different shaped foot, I was able to use the same basic sole shapes and modify them only slightly. I used these sole shapes to come up with a series of sole templates that would fit the majority of people. Now we have a patent pending sizing system with several sole shapes to choose from in each size.”

Customers are able to print these out and step on the template before they purchase. They can also choose a location where the strap between the toes is placed. That way they get a semi-custom fit and Unshoes can use standardized shapes to save time and money, Fox said.

From the beginning, Fox’s goal was to make the sandals look good and function well—something he believes has allowed Unshoes to stand out from competitors.

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