Shaper: Galahad Clark

Show aired on 9th May 2015

Transcript

Elliot Moss
The iconic sound of Mr Marvin Gaye with I Heard It Through The Grapevine. It hardly needs an introduction but I gave it one. Hello, this is Jazz Shapers, with me, Elliot Moss here on Jazz FM. Jazz Shapers the place where you can hear the very best of the people shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul alongside their equivalents in the world of business, a Business Shaper. My Business Shaper today is Galahad Clark of the famous Clark family of shoemakers or cobblers as you will be hearing a little bit later. Galahad is also the founder of Vivobarefoot, of United Nude and of Worn Again too; he is a prolific entrepreneur, you will be hearing lots from him and all about his endeavours very shortly. In addition to hearing from Galahad you will be hearing from our programme partners at Mischon De Reya some words of advice for your business and as well as all of that of course, some brilliant music from the shapers of jazz, soul and blues, including Albert King, Olivia Trummer and this from GoGo Penguin.

The gentle and hypnotic sound of Chandi Ki from GoGo Penguin. What a great name. As I said earlier here on Jazz Shapers my Business Shaper is Galahad Clark of the famous Clark clan, they make shoes that most of us at some point have worn I am sure. He is the founder of Vivobarefoot, he’s the founder of United Nude, he’s the founder of Worn Again – many many things and actually if I delve deep and find another thing he is founder of – I think he founded Woo Shoes which apparently was another brand in the States – you can tell me if that is right or not. Galahad thank you so much for joining me.

Galahad Clark
Thanks, good to be here.

Elliott Moss
Now tell me you obviously, seventh generation Clark – were you always destined to go into the shoe business? Do you think it was, it was written in the stars?

Galahad Clark
Well yeah people often say I was born in a shoe box, my father was actively worked in the shoe business all his life and he always said to me ‘look you don’t have to go into the shoe business but you at least need to know about shoes’ so I spent a lot of my childhood in various inappropriate child labour situations on shoe production lines all over the world actually in Europe, England and in Asia.

Elliot Moss
And do you think and we will come on to what you actually then went and launched and we will just quickly so people understand what they were – did you feel though at a young age I kind of like this, I like the smell of the leather, I like the way the factory is set up – was there a sense of being, feeling very connected to it?

Galahad Clark
Well I think I came through all of that and probably was determined not to go into shoes honestly but it is a bug you get and you know, people often say trying to make the perfect shoe is trying to make the perfect woman and its never ending, maybe thankless task.

Elliot Moss
Now you studied Chinese and anthropology. Is that right?

Galahad Clark
That’s right yeah.

Elliot Moss
Yeah and I think it was in the States and you got a scholarship which means you are good at sports apparently which is all very nice but – is that right?

Galahad Clark
Well I wish I was a sports scholarship…

Elliot Moss
But it wasn’t.

Galahad Clark
…but it was a yeah…

Elliot Moss
Just a clever scholarship?

Galahad Clark
Something like that.

Elliot Moss
Something like that. And it sounds like you started even at that young age to think about doing your own stuff. I believe you founded something called Students for Students International which is all about helping disadvantaged students in Africa to get to great secondary schools and on to University. So there was a sense of doing your own thing, sometimes people that have been in a big family do quite the opposite. Where do you think that came from that entrepreneurial thing?

Galahad Clark
Yeah you are right, I mean I am an oldest child so there is a sense of responsibility and you know I guess my father was even though he worked in a big business all his life, I think he hankered not to so he probably inadvertently instilled that in me that – he, he moved to Australia and was living and working running Clarks Australia and decided to stay in Australia and leave the business and he wanted to go into art and be a painter and he got a famous letter from my grandmother saying ‘you will not be staying in Australia you will be getting on the next boat home and coming back, you’ve got a shoe business to look after’ and so I think he had a sort of begrudging notion of that his whole life and perhaps that trickled down to me.

Elliot Moss
Now there have been lots of things that you have done that have indeed trickled down to you but just in a nutshell describe what Vivobarefoot does which is the main focus of your day to day life. What exactly is Vivobarefoot for those people that might not know?

Galahad Clark
So Vivobarefoot is a shoe business and we make shoes, a quest to make the perfect shoe and if the definition of a perfect shoe is a shoe that lets your feet do its thing then Vivobarefoot tries to make shoes that allow your feet to feel like they are barefoot.

Elliot Moss
And this is sold in this country? Around the world?

Galahad Clark
Sold all over the world yep.

Elliot Moss
Big business now?

Galahad Clark
Getting there.

Elliot Moss
Getting there.

Galahad Clark
It’s all relative. It is just shy of ten million pounds turnover.

Elliot Moss
Pretty fantastic. Now you are going to be finding out a lot more from my Business Shaper, Galahad through the course of the program and it isn’t just about Vivobarefoot either. Time for some music this is from Albert King and it is Born Under A Bad Sign.

That was Albert King with Born Under A Bad Sign. Galahad Clark is my Business Shaper, he is the founder of Vivobarefoot, founder of United Nude and the founder of Worn Again and we have just been listening to Galahad, you talking about what Vivobarefoot is – so essentially it is like as if you are not wearing a shoe, it is essentially like as if your feet were not encumbered by stuff around them but it gives them the sort of protection they might need and the comfort they might need to enhance the act of walking?

Galahad Clark
That’s right yeah, you know we would never have left Africa if it wasn’t for shoes seventy thousand years ago and crossed the Alps and been sitting here in sunny old London if it wasn’t for shoes but the only two reasons to wear shoes are for protection from heat and cold and protection from puncture wounds because unfortunately we don’t have hooves or pads so you know, it was always a tool that humans made to get around the planet but those are the only two reasons to wear shoes and so the idea is that all the shock absorption and fancy technologies and motion control basically do more harm than good and the modern shoe industry have sold us a big lie and so we try to make shoes that allow your feet to do their thing.

Elliot Moss
Now you, I mean, whether it was advertent or inadvertent, you ended up I think in China and Taiwan studying production techniques, connected to design and you know, you sound a bit like a scientist then which is a good thing. That sense of history, you just went back seventy thousand years and things, you really mean it don’t you? It sounds like you are on a bit of a quest beyond making a buck. Is that a fair thing to say?

Galahad Clark
Absolutely. I think you know, we are on a mission to change the shoe industry. We think the template is wrong and there should be a sort of new gold standard for the way shoes are made in the future, especially for children but obviously also for adults and yeah, it’s a, you know, rather like one of my forefathers was on a quest for the Holy Grail, I think we are on the quest for the Holy Shoe.

Elliot Moss
Now obviously the Clark’s name is part of the big, the big establishment on, you know, part of the establishment of the shoe business. You are inside that business. Is it, are you able to affect the change that you want as well in the bigger businesses that are maybe encumbered by lots of legacy and other challenges?

Galahad Clark
Well we are trying. We… change arguably never comes as fast as you would like it and we are talking about some of the biggest companies in the world with some of the snazziest marketing budgets and those big ships are not going to turn on a dime so we are chipping away at it but I truly believe and you know, I meet a lot of global shoe executives and I know a lot of them actually do believe that barefoot is best but they have to move their ships in a gentle coordinated way.

Elliot Moss
Now of course moving ships in gentle and coordinated ways in terms of being more eco-friendly, caring about the planet, worrying about CO2 emissions and other types of unhealthy emissions. That’s another big part of what drives you and I think if I understand that the, the Terra Plana business which the family bought and then you kind of took on, totally focussed on being eco-friendly. Has that business then morphed into United Nude? Is that right?

Galahad Clark
No United Nude was completely separate business that we founded with a Dutch architect friend of mine at the time and he is really the driving force behind that business. His name is Rem Colas but he is the nephew of his rather more famous uncle with the same name.

Elliot Moss
And you still play an active role in that business? Or are you slightly less…

Galahad Clark
Less and less and it was through sustainability and studying sustainability was one of the reasons why I came to focus more and more on Vivobarefoot and realised that you know, ones definition of sustainability is that humans and life on it should flourish then I realised that wearing barefoot shoes has a sort of more immediate positive impact on humans enjoying their time on earth than just about any other shoe and therefore by definitions of sustainability I really believe that Vivobarefoot are the most sustainable shoes in the world. Aside from the fact that we use a lot of eco-friendly materials.

Elliot Moss
So would you, you have only a yes or a no answer this time and we are going to move to the traffic and travel in a minute but are you a revolutionary?

Galahad Clark
Yes.

Elliot Moss
Good. I hoped you’d say that. Stay with me for more from my revolutionary Galahad Clark, he’s a shoe maker and a lot more than that too. Latest travel in a couple of minutes and before that some words of wisdom from our program partners at Mishcon De Reya for your business.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss. I get to interview a brilliant person from the world of business every Saturday morning here on Jazz FM from 9.00 till 10.00am. If you have missed any of my superb guests then go into iTunes and put in the words ‘Jazz’ and ‘Shapers’ and you will find over a hundred and sixty there. CityAM.com is also a destination for you if you haven’t quite yet got to iTunes. Galahad Clark is my Business Shaper. He’s seventh generation Clark but more importantly than that he is an entrepreneur and if you were listening earlier you would have heard that probably his father was slightly a frustrated one who was in a big company and maybe didn’t have quite the opportunity that Galahad has created for himself and Galahad has created three different businesses; Vivobarefoot which is going very strongly, United Nude and Worn Again. Let me just help me understand the Worn Again theme. Just tell me in a nutshell what that is about?

Galahad Clark
Worn Again started when I had a really inspiring talk by the lady I set it up with, a lady called Cyndi Rhoades who ran something called Anti-Apathy which was trying to inspire young people to get off their arses and change the world and ran cool events in nightclubs throughout London and stuff and we started making upcycled shoes and bags basically out of rubbish and it’s evolved you know, massively inspired by Cyndi over the years to now become a new technology business based around coming up with clothes, loop solutions for the clothing industry in particular but potentially other industries as well so I… it has a chemical solution where you can take a polyester and cotton shirt and re-polymerise the polyester and make a new shirt out of the old shirt.

Elliot Moss
And I believe that you, that the brands like Virgin Atlantic, Euro Star, Royal Mail, Virgin Balloon Flights, Marks & Sparks and McDonalds are all involved in some way with this business. Is that right?

Galahad Clark
That’s right. Well we’ve all… we have made shoes and bags out of all of their rubbish.

Elliot Moss
All of them okay.

Galahad Clark
And actually now in the current state H&M are a partner in the business and so are Caring and the business is really focussed on coming up with this big industrial solution to come up with clothes loop fashion.

Elliot Moss
And clothes loop fashion is that if it is not… you may think it’s dead but it’s not dead? It comes back again. Is that what it means?

Galahad Clark
Yeah it means not making things out of virgin resources so…

Elliot Moss
Okay.

Galahad Clark
…basically all new stuff in the world will be made from existing old stuff.

Elliot Moss
Now if you are listening to this and you are going well how does this man do it though, he’s got his big business in the middle, he’s still got an interest probably financial as well as time in United Nude and of course you have done this, this is a revolutionary idea, this Worn Again thing. Is your involvement that you talked to Cyndi on a regular basis, do you do more than that? I mean what? How much… because the ideas are brilliant or are you more of the Mr Incubator, you say here’s what we should do and you let someone else do it?

Galahad Clark
I regularly meet Cyndi and we have meetings but you know, she is really the driving force behind the business on a day to day level and she is building a wonderful team around her and we have an amazing partner in H&M who are really involved and they are truly inspiring sustainable pioneers in the fashion business.

Elliot Moss
You must feel good about everything you do. I mean you strike me as a very relaxed happy person. Unless you are just a really good actor Galahad.

Galahad Clark
Well.

Elliot Moss
But seriously, I mean a lot of people search for the ability to make money and to feel inspired. It sounds like you found something you really are you know, able to do both on.

Galahad Clark
No, I definitely feel lucky in that way and you know, we you know maybe, we’ve got a long way to go though.

Elliot Moss
But is there a sense that you are – do you do it because you know it is the right thing to do or do you do it because there is this sense that you are helping people. I mean or are the two very very similar points anyway?

Galahad Clark
Yeah I think it’s the same thing yeah.

Elliot Moss
He’s put me in my place. It is the same thing, you are absolutely right. Time for some more music before we come back to Galahad Clark, my Business Shaper. This is Nina Simone with the lovely upbeat Brown Eyed Handsome Man.

I promised you it would be upbeat and it was, Nina Simone with Brown Eyed Handsome Man. Galahad Clark is my Business Shaper and we have bene talking about doing the right thing like helping people about making a buck. I did say you look relaxed and I imagine it is not always relaxed running one business and being involved in a couple of others. When it is not, how do you ensure that you get back to being relaxed, when it’s stressful, where do you go to to de-stress?

Galahad Clark
Well one of the joys of Vivo is that we are into movement and making shoes that people can get out of the cities and go up mountains and down to oceans and so for example this week I have just come back from Sweden where we were working with a guy who is one of the most inspiring trail running people in the world and so he took me up a mountain on Tuesday and we were running around some of the most beautiful landscape I have ever seen overlooking the Swedish Archipelago just south of Stockholm and so that was, you know, an amazing day in the office that keeps the sort of, I guess the stress bags away.

Elliot Moss
And over the years have you observed people that you really respect and rate and that who have formed the way you behave as a person in business?

Galahad Clark
Yeah I think you know, I’m inspired by great leaders and one of the ways I deal with stress I often think about people doing much bigger jobs where people’s lives are really on the line and you know, thankfully decisions I make in the morning don’t have much impact on whether women and children and innocent people die anywhere in the world and so you know, I think just keep it in perspective and in perspective of other great lives helps me get through the day.

Elliot Moss
And do you think you impart that perspective to the team around you? Would they say ‘yeah Galahad does that’; helps us keep it grounded and clear versus losing his rag?

Galahad Clark
I’d like to think so yeah. They you know, I think if the person in charge is losing their rag and climbing up the walls then it is probably a lot easier for everyone else to.

Elliot Moss
We will have our final chat with Galahad plus hear some music from Olivia Trummer, that’s after the latest traffic and travel here on Jazz FM.

That was Olivia Trummer with Gotta Miss Someone. I hope you enjoyed that as much as I did. Galahad Clark is my Business Shaper just for a few more precious minutes and we have done quite a lot in under an hour, we’ve talked all about the different businesses, we’ve talked about the big family business. Looking forward now, where do you want to be in the next few years? What’s in store for you and for your different business interests and for doing good things for the planet?

Galahad Clark
I have a fairly single minded goal around Vivobarefoot which is to grow Vivo into a much bigger business. I fundamentally think it is a good thing for the world and the more people, especially children that wear less shoe, the healthier and better movement that will be going on in the world and you know, it’s a big problem in the world today. People have stopped moving and kids are sitting around playing games on video consoles and stuff instead of outside enjoying life and hopefully we will play a small part in helping change that.

Elliot Moss
You are interested also I believe in kind of offering people the opportunity to get into the world of business. I think you have been if I am not mistaken, I think you were talking to a group of students at Explorium who are based in Somerset about things that they might, they might tackle. Do you see that as a big thing that you might scale and offer more to students and more education in this world of foot ergonomics and outdoor pursuits and stuff like that. Is that something you are going to do more of?

Galahad Clark
Yeah we’d love to. We just done an amazing project actually with a lady who has done a triple PHD in anthropology, biomechanics and design and we are just at the end of the project now, it was a five year project where she has gone and lived with three different tribes around the world, studied their shoe making, studied the biomechanics of how they move and then done a design interaction to learn from them and both ways for example, the Sami Reindeer people in Lapland make the most, make shoes out of reindeer skin just below the knee and those shoes are fifty percent warmer and fifty percent lighter than the most advanced hiking boot on the market. They have perfect barefoot biomechanics and no foot problems. But as part of her studies she sort of found out that as fashionable shoes are coming up from the South and they are starting to wear sort of modern shoes, they are starting to get back problems and knee problems and there’s an old wives’ tale going around in Lapland that says ‘Look whenever your back is hurting, just go back to your traditional reindeer skin moccasins’ and you know, clear it all up.

Elliot Moss
Well that’s a fantastic way of looking at things. Now just before I let you go, I mean it strikes me that if I could think about one word about you it is focussed. I mean you really are into making shoes that make sense and that do all the right things and look after you. What would be your one piece of advice or one word of advice if you like, for some budding entrepreneur now thinking of doing their own business? What will mark out someone who is going to be successful from someone who is not?

Galahad Clark
I think single minded determination. It’s you know, people often… I get a lot of people coming to me saying they want to start new shoe businesses and you know, I always say ‘are you mad?’ because it’s been a hell of a ride honestly and it’s you know, there aren’t that many new shoe brands that make it unless a lot of money is thrown at them and so you know, you’ve got to be prepared to put it all on the line.

Elliot Moss
Thank you, that’s really good advice. Just before I say goodbye to you and you have been a pleasure to interview, thank you so much. What is your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Galahad Clark
Well this is linked to a shameless product push, Vivobarefoot have a new shoe coming out called the Motus and we were going to call the Motus Ah Um after the Charles Mingus album that this song comes from and Get It On Your Soul is a song about reconnection, it’s a song about Charles Mingus growing up in LA and back to his sort of gospel roots and you know, he’s one of the great sort of revolutionaries in jazz and Motus means movement and this song is about reconnecting with your roots, reconnecting with your soul and I like to think Vivobarefoot is about reconnection too.

Elliot Moss
And that’s got to be one of the best reason I think I have heard in four years for why you have chosen your song. Here it is, thank you so much for being my Business Shaper.

Galahad Clark
Thank you.

Elliot Moss
That was Charles Mingus with Better Get It In Your Soul – the song choice of my Business Shaper today, Galahad Clark. He was a passionate man, someone who loves the idea of making shoes and making the perfect shoe and he will continue to strive to do that and also incredibly versatile, not just his own business but also thinking about the wider issues around children’s health and related stuff. Brilliant. Do join me again, same time, same place, that’s 9.00am next Saturday morning for another Jazz Shapers. In the meantime stay with us here on Jazz FM, coming up next it’s Nigel Williams.

Galahad Clark is a 7th generation shoemaker.

Galahad’s unique heritage meant growing up immersed in a world that honored tradition and pushed boundaries of design innovation. As a teenager, he spent summer holidays on various shoe production lines in Europe learning the family’s trade. After finishing school at Millfield in Somerset, Galahad was offered a Morehead Scholarship at the University of North Carolina, where he earned a degree with honors in Chinese and Anthropology. While there he founded ‘Students 4 Students International’, an organization created to help disadvantaged students in Africa go to the best secondary schools and onto university. There are now three such projects thriving around the world.

Galahad’s degree led him to Taiwan and China, where he studied the language and researched technical shoe production and, when back in the US, he created ‘Wu-Shoes’ for hip-hop trailblazers, Wu Tang Clan.
In 2003, Galahad took over Terra Plana and set about transforming the brand by introducing new concepts. Every product was designed with a sustainable concept in mind, and eco-friendly materials were actively sourced from all corners of the world. According to Galahad, “sustainable design is just good design.  Products that work in the world today – are efficient, durable, lightweight, appropriate, functional, beautiful”

From the base of Terra Plana Galahad launched UNITED NUDE, WORN AGAIN and VIVOBAREFOOT.  And as of 2012 focuses on VIVOBAREFOOT: the original and authentic barefoot shoe with a patented, ultra-thin, puncture-resistant sole that allows the body to move as nature intended.

Galahad continues to serve on the boards of  United Nude, Worn Again, Soul of Africa, Born to Run and the Crossway Foundation.

Outside of work, Galahad lives in a Rurban retreat just outside London with his wife and two children.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

“…people often say I was born in a shoe box…”

“I spent a lot of my childhood in various inappropriate child labour situations on shoe production lines all over the world…”

“Vivobarefoot tries to make shoes that allow your feet to feel like they are barefoot…”

“We are on a mission to change the shoe industry…”

“Well one of the joys of Vivo is that we are into movement and making shoes that people can get out of the cities and go up mountains and down to oceans…”