Like most small businesses, SOM, began with a passion and a problem. Olie Marchal, an avid runner, suddenly began suffering from back pain that made enjoying the activity he loved impossible. Determined not to let his back pain beat him, Olie started researching shoes that would support his back as he ran. Inspired by Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run, which encouraged barefoot running as a way to preserve your body’s natural alignment, Olie set out for his morning run, sans shoes. What he discovered from his first barefoot run was no matter how great barefoot running was, or is, everyone needs something to protect the bottoms of their feet from the sharp and unpleasant obstacles they encounter while on the move.
After finding no suitable substitutions for his bare feet, Olie decided to build his own shoes. His first step was classic R&D followed by years spent in Paris studying under master cobblers. Start to finish, Olie’s first prototype took seven years, and by the time he made it to his second prototype, his homemade shoes were gaining a bit of notoriety among ultrarunners.
Upon completion of his apprenticeship, Olie and his wife, Nathalie Bouchard, returned to the U.S. to find that manufacturing shoes here was much harder than they had anticipated since most of the shoes on Americans’ feet today come from overseas sweat shops. As before, Olie and Nathalie came up with their own solution and opened a U.S. shoe manufacturing company right here in Montrose.
We had the pleasure of visiting the SOM manufacturing facility in Montrose, however, we also made the mistake of asking Olie what his shoes were best for during the interview process. His answer was like that of any purest, passionate about their craft. “Isn’t it obvious what you do in shoes? You put them on and wear them,” Olie answered matter-of-factly. He continued, “The only thing you need to do all your activities is two feet, two feet and some protection on the bottom of them. Our shoes are best suited for everything from walking the dogs to climbing 14ers and everything in between. They are made for seven to ninety-four-year-olds.”
We also noticed a few distinguishing elements of all SOM shoes on our tour. The most noticeable is their distinct shape. All SOM shoes are manufactured with a roomie toe box that allows your toes to spread, and which in turn, allows your body to balance on its own. Additionally, they have no arch or heel support. In fact, they are completely flat. According to Olie, this allows your brain to adjust naturally as you go about life instead of over compensating for all that cushy arch support other shoe brands insist you need. In short, SOM shoes are made with “none of the stuff that we don’t believe the foot needs.”
When asked how Elevate has helped support SOM’s vision, Olie and Nathalie were adamant about the necessity of local support. “When we had problems with our previous service provider, customer service was complicated and non-existent. So, for us, as a business that hosts all of its sales online, we need the support locally to resolve issues quickly.”
Our interview concluded with an invitation to the community from Olie and Nathalie. “Come in and tour the factory. See how our shoes are being made right here in your own community, not thousands of miles away. And buy a pair while you are at it! We ship all over the world.”