Sam Barstow’s “skydive pitch” worked: this January, the Kickstarter campaign for his fledgling shoe company Forsake raised enough money to fund the first production run of their skate-influenced, all-weather footwear. It’s an encouraging sign for a promising young company with unique appeal for skiers.
Why would skiers care about shoes? It’s simple enough. Before we strap on our ski boots, we’ve got to have footwear to get us to the mountain. We know it might get sloppy in the parking lot, but most young skiers and snowboarders don’t want to bother with putting on winter boots just to get up the hill. So they wear normal around-town shoes instead: skate shoes, sneakers and the like. And the usual result: cold, wet feet and trashed shoes. Fashion prevails over function again, right?
It doesn’t have to, according to Sam and business partner Jake Anderson, who are focused on creating footwear that bridges the gap between weather-proof outdoor functionality and the urban, skate-influenced style that many young consumers want to see in their shoes. Though their task isn’t easy, the goal is simple: create shoes that can handle the active outdoor lifestyle while still looking good on the street.
“This is our setup at the Outdoor Retailer trade show in Salt Lake City, way in the back, right by the bathrooms. Turned out to be prime real estate once the beers started flowing in the afternoon!” – Sam Barstow
As passionate skiers, Sam and Jake both understand the demands that outdoor and action-sports fans put on their footwear. During breaks from college, both worked at Western ski resorts: Sam at Alta, Utah and Jake at Big Sky, Montana. When I met Sam at Mt. Hood a few years back, he was living with twelve people in a Government Camp vacation rental we called the Bro House, and bussing tables at Timberline Lodge to score lift tickets on the Palmer Snowfield. His friends all called him Trannyfinder.
While working out West, Sam and Jake both noticed the same problem. “We and all of our friends were walking around in skate shoes, or whatever our everyday shoes were,” Sam says. “We didn’t want to drop $200 on a pair of hiking boots that we would only use part of the time, and also we didn’t identify with the look and the style of hiking boots.”
After struggling to find venture capitalists willing to fund their start-up costs, they took their idea to Kickstarter, an increasingly well-known fundraising website for creative projects. Fundraising on Kickstarter is regulated by an all-or-nothing principle: if you don’t reach your fundraising goal, you don’t get any cash. After their first Kickstarter campaign in May 2012 fell short of its $225,000 target, Sam and Jake headed back to the drawing board, searching for ways to lower costs.
“This picture was taken in a board room at our factory on the last day before China’s New Years holiday. As you can see, they were ready for us to leave.”
“At the time we were working with a factory that had really high minimum order quantities, so we had to set our goal super high,” says Sam. After finding a new factory willing to make smaller production runs, Sam and Jake brought Forsake back to Kickstarter with a more modest fundraising goal of $100,000. Their second attempt was a success: in the first 24 hours they raised $30,000, and hit their $100K goal soon afterward.
Now the real work begins for Forsake: finding retailers to carry the shoes, seeing the first production run through, and delivering shoes to over a thousand Kickstarter supporters. They’ve already locked down deals with REI, Eastern Mountain Sports, and City Sports, who will all be carrying the kicks this fall.
Just this evening, your Freeskier contributor wanted to head out on the town with a few inches of wet, slushy snow on the ground. What to wear, the fresh skate kicks or my sturdy winter boots? A pair of Forsakes would have fit the bill perfectly.