KEARNEY — After Kearney entrepreneur Ben Loschen hurt his ankle playing basketball 10 years ago, he searched for ways to maximum his performance and build up his ankles.
In his quest, he learned about foot health and how it affects the entire body. He eventually turned to toe shoes, a style of barefoot shoes, to build strength in his feet.
“And in doing that, I really saw that I became a better athlete. It totally reversed all the issues that I’ve had from the injury,” he said.
Loschen, 28, then introduced his friend and now business partner, Isaac Mertens, 26, to natural movement and calisthenics in exercise. Mertens, who played soccer at Hastings College, also wore toe shoes when working out at the gym. But the shoes, which form around each toe, weren’t attractive enough for Mertens to wear outside the gym.
“Performance is crucial but they also need to look good,” he said.
So the two friends, who own Flux, a company that specializes in optimizing human performance, began to develop ideas for an attractive barefoot shoe — the Flux Adapt — three years ago.
Mertens scrolled through thousands of Instagram posts to find the perfect shoe designer, Zach Frey of Los Angeles. Finding Frey was an “act of God,” Loschen said.
Frey, too, had wanted to design a shoe with a natural fit, but the 30-year-old had dreamed of making the shoe for a longer time — since he was 10.
Frey and his older brother played soccer as kids in Charlotte, N.C., and realized that the shoes they were wearing weren’t the shape of their feet.
“We could look down at our shoes and like, hey, people play this sport barefoot. And these shoes don’t look like our bare feet,” Frey said. “That’s where the sport came from.”
So, Frey and his brother sketched ideas for a soccer shoe that would promote natural foot motion.
Skip forward 20 years, and Frey, who now lives in Denver, has designed a similar shoe with Loschen and Mertens.
The Flux Adapt provides the flexibility of a barefoot shoe but offers a little bit of cushion for flat, man-made surfaces.
Frey designed its 10-millimeter insole with the same technology from elbow and knee pads.
“It’s this honeycomb pattern of foam that allows your body to move and flex,” he said in a phone interview with the Hub.
The outsole is a reverse honeycomb.
“The honeycomb as a tread is operating as a grip system that also flexes a lot,” Frey said.
Flexibility is an important component in the barefoot shoe industry as well as for Flux Footwear. But other barefoot shoes are made only of rubber — no cushion — to achieve maximum flexibility.
“The problem with that is our bodies have evolved to walk or run on natural surfaces — grass and dirt,” Frey said. “There’s still a level of cushion that we need to recreate that the world around us actually gives us but we’ve kind of covered over with concrete and with hardwood floors and things that are stiff and rigid.”
Frey’s unique AdaptSol design still allows the wearer to feel the ground, which is an important benefit of barefoot shoes.
“The nerves and your feet aren’t activating your central nervous system with typical shoes,” Frey said. “You don’t want too much response because that’s pain, but you want enough response that you’re aware.”
Frey, Mertens and Loschen also believe their shoe, which is designed in a classic sneaker silhouette, is attractive enough to wear to class, to work or on a date.
“We feel like this is the first time, at least we have seen, a shoe that fit those two criteria of stylish and performance in a barefoot shoe,” Frey said.
The shoe is marketed to men and women ages 25-44 who consider themselves athletes or are health-oriented and are fashion conscious.
The Flux Adapt shoe comes in three classic color designs — black with a white sole, white with a white sole and black with a black sole.
Loschen, Frey and Mertens have sold more than 450 pairs of the Flux Adapt shoes and have made more than $40,000 in presales through their crowd-funding site.
They currently are preselling the shoes at a discounted price at fluxfootwear.com/kearneyhub. Shoes will be delivered in March.
The Flux Adapt will be sold directly to consumers from the Flux Facebook, Instagram and website at fluxfootwear.com at full retail price for $130 beginning in April.
So far, they said, test participants have loved the feel of the shoe.
“Consistently the reaction to it is kind of amazement. A lot of people will describe it as a massaging sensation they’re experiencing,” Frey said.
“There’s always a unique communication. ‘I’ve not felt a shoe like this before where this feels really good,’” Loschen said. “I feel like we’ve really nailed that this is comfortable, yet this is also healthy and functional.”
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