‘Barefoot’ Yorkshire couple changing the way we think about shoes

Andrew and Sarah  Picture: Taylor GreenAndrew and Sarah  Picture: Taylor Green
Andrew and Sarah Picture: Taylor Green
A husband and wife team from North Yorkshire are changing the way we think about shoes. Catherine Scott reports.

North Yorkshire husband and wife team, Andrew and Sarah Jackson, are passionate about the engineering miracle which is our feet.

As a keen walker and runner who spent eight years in the infantry, Andrew knows only too well the importance of good foot function.

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After a career in the Army Andrew spent 25 years involved in the development and improvement of performance footwear throughout the UK. It was, however, when he looked at the foot, instead of the shoe first, that the lightbulb came on. He also suffered from lower leg and foot problems himself.

Keen walkers Andrew and Sarah Jackson launched Freet nine years ago at their home in Richmond Picture: Taylor GreenKeen walkers Andrew and Sarah Jackson launched Freet nine years ago at their home in Richmond Picture: Taylor Green
Keen walkers Andrew and Sarah Jackson launched Freet nine years ago at their home in Richmond Picture: Taylor Green

Instead of footwear which restricts foot and ankle movement, he wanted to make shoes which allow the feet to strengthen and move naturally.

Sarah came to the same realisation as she watched her own children’s feet developing.

“There is nothing more beautiful than a small child’s foot and the way it flexes and reacts as they learn to walk,” she says.

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She hated the thought of putting them in shoes which would restrict movement and sensory reaction. As a primary school teacher and mother she saw how children delight in taking off their shoes and using their feet to their full potential.

FREET Mudee boots Picture: Taylor GreenFREET Mudee boots Picture: Taylor Green
FREET Mudee boots Picture: Taylor Green

“It felt sad that, as we get older, we lose the delight in using our feet to their full potential.”

It was this desire to make shoes so that old and young could re-engage with their feet which led Sarah to leave teaching to join her husband in his new business.

The result is Freet Barefoot, set up in Richmond, North Yorkshire in 2011 and now selling to retailers and consumers worldwide. The underlying principles, which never change, is to interfere as little as possible with foot function. Freet produce shoes with a naturally wide toe box to prevent feet cramping, a flexible outsole so feet can move naturally and with no heel to prevent distortion of posture.

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Backed up by some early work with Exeter University, Freet believe strong feet and ankles are healthy feet and ankles. If your feet are right, you should have less problems with your knees and back.

By Sarah and Andrew’s own admission, the early shoes were ‘unusual’ but over the past nine years they have worked hard on design to produce 15 different styles of everyday and sports footwear for adults and children.

The result is shoes which are praised for style as well as comfort. Sarah says they never lose the thrill when people put on their shoes and are amazed by the comfort of the Freet shoes. “We say to them, we are just selling you back your feet.”

The idea of going ‘barefoot’ is particularly relevant at the moment as people spend more time at home. “We have had numerous people getting in touch because they have got used to going barefoot and are now struggling to get their shoes back on,” says Sarah.

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All Freet shoes are designed in North Yorkshire and then personally tested rigorously in the wilds of North Yorkshire and worldwide. The new Kidepo, for example was developed from time spent trekking in Uganda and Cambodia where Andrew and Sarah needed cool feet while keeping out all the grit and dust. The Mudee was developed as a comfortable lightweight, water resistant walking boot for the Yorkshire Dales.

“Sometimes I wish the hall was less cluttered with shoes at different stages of trial,” says Sarah, “but it is really the only way to make sure our shoes are as good as they can be and it does ensure, Meghan our rescue dog, gets plenty of exercise in all conditions.

“We complain of knee injuries and problems with our feet, but we are effectively strangling the astonishing network of muscles, ligaments, tendons and nerves which were designed to respond to our movement requirements. We spend most of our lives in shoes with our feet unable to flex and move naturally.

“Our barefoot shoes have ‘less shoe’ in them, deliberately. But we combine the best materials, components, and design to make your experience the best balance we can between natural movement and fitness for the job you’re on – whether hurtling along a hill trail or practising yoga.

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“Our mission is to allow feet to operate naturally whilst we go 
about all our activities. Free your feet from the confines of unyielding shoes!”

Freet are keen to stress that they make no specific claims for their shoes improving any aspect of wellness or health. They are, however, delighted when people tell them that Freet shoes have helped to get them moving again.

“We all start at different points, and Freet shoes will not suit everybody but the potential of getting your foundations sorted through your feet is surely worth a try,” says Andrew. “Take it easy to 
get used to this different way of moving and make your own mind up.”

The couple are very principled about the ethics of their business. As their website puts it: “We hate unfairness, intolerance, pomposity, lack of integrity as well as any wasted use of our shared resources.

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“We design and develop our products in North Yorkshire and test them in different terrain all over the world, modifying designs if necessary.

“We have a warehouse in Cramlington, and we work very closely with our manufacturing partner with whom we have worked for ten years.”

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