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An experienced snowboard boot designer and a former wetsuit designer have teamed up to create a new sandal brand called Freewaters.
Freewaters has two main focuses: To provide drinking water to those in need and to make great product, said Eli Marmar, a founder and partner in the brand, who graduated from the Art Center College of Design and previously designed wetsuits at O’Neill.
Some Freewaters men's sandals
Martin Kim, who designed snowboard boots at DC and Burton, is the other founding partner along with Martin’s father, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who provided Freewaters with seed money.
Martin and Eli wanted to start their own brand, and settled on sandals after studying the market. While there are a lot of sandal brands out there, the two felt the category was underdeveloped in terms of styling and that there was not a lot of technical innovation.
Also, they believe sandals will become more and more accepted in the larger world as society continues to become more casual. And while there are lots of sandals brands in the surf space, the partners think the more sophisticated, streetwear market is underserved.
The humanitarian aspect came into the brand in part after Martin and Eli were inspired by how Toms was giving back while creating a successful business at the same time.
Currently, Freewaters is focused on building wells in Kenya, and has built five so far, providing clean water to an estimated 5,000 people.
I asked Eli if he worried at all that so many other companies seemed to be following in Toms’ footsteps by incorporating a humanitarian aspect into their core business plans.
He pointed out it's a good thing if more companies are giving back and helping others. The important thing is to create original product that stands out, he said.
Freewaters house shoes come with a removable, washable liner
Freewaters’ entry-level sandals, called Plus Class, range in price from $28 to $35, focus on comfort, and do not require breaking in, Eli said. Its middle tier, which it calls Bizness Class, retails for $38 to $50 and includes an ergonomic footbed that makes the sandal supportive and lightweight. The First Class tier contains running shoe architecture and retails for $60 to $100.
Freewaters offers 11 women’s styles and nine men’s styles, in addition to house shoes than include a removable, washable liner.
A few women's styles
Freewaters is currently sold in 100 accounts in North America and seven European Union
countries. Right now, the focus is on solid boardsports and outdoor accounts that can pay their bills, Eli said, and the brand recently hired an LA sales rep to target boutiques and department stores.
Eli and Martin are based in San Francisco, while Jeff Osthus, who heads up sales, is based in Huntington Beach. The brand’s warehouse is also located there.