Interview with Asher Clark of Terra Plana

Footwear company Terra Plana has always been on my radar for their ethical stance regarding the Earth and the impact of design. Their aesthetic is anatomic without any “green” pretension. Their latest product, the Evo, eschews the consensus of what a good running shoe should be by going back to basics; running barefoot. My interview with Terra Plana’s Head Designer Asher Clark grabs insight into this growing movement and sheds light into the mind of this wunderkind.

Designer: Asher Clark for Terra Plana

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You grew up in a family known for footwear. Did you always know you’d stay in the “family business” or did you have other aspirations? What were they?

I grew up in cider country (Sommerset) in a town called Street, which is where the Clarks HQ is based. My dad was not a cobbler and not working for Clarks, so although I lived down the road, I never felt particularly close to the business and certainly never thought I would end up pursuing a life as a shoemaker. I was very into skateboarding and surfing and remember being fascinated by the brands and performance products that were specific to those sports. I went to London College of Fashion to do product design for the fashion industry and it all kinda came together. I knew I wanted to be a shoe designer and make crazy trainers.

Where did you learn your skills? Where do your creative instincts come from?

I went to LCF in London, I started working as a freelancer for Kenzo 2003 and worked with some amazing brands and designers and spent an ungodly amount of time in airplanes and shoe factories around the world. In 2008, I set up my own design company called AMC Design House.

Among other projects, we are most proud to be the design force behind Terra Plana and VivoBarefoot. They are the most relevant and important categories in shoe world and this keeps us on our toes, creatively energised and learning every day!

If you had to sum up the company’s ethos, what would it be?

Shoes are bad for you ;-)

Terra Plana footwear looks totally original. I sometimes see a hint of Clark DNA but for the most part, it’s unique. How would you describe the aesthetic?

21st century Artisan or Clarks on dope .

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Talk to me about the Vivo Barefoot Evo? What is it?

VivoBarefoot in the original barefoot brand and the Evo is our running shoe… It’s the best anti-shoe out there.

I’ve tried several shoes that simulate barefoot running; some are more successful than others. How is VivoBarefoot Evo different?

Like you point out, the barefoot thing is a hot topic of debate in the running world with existing products like Vibram Five Fingers, Feelmax, Nike Free etc… all promoting the benefits of barefoot and others set to follow with their version.

The VivoBarefoot patent lies in the puncture resistant layer between the thin sole and sock and is in all of the Vivo shoes. The Evo in our first running specific shoe and it is essentially an ultra naked minimalist foot sleeve that should simply protect the foot and lets it do its thing. It allows your foot to flex effortlessly in multiple directions and gives superb directional traction on every type of surface. The product promotes maximum breathability and free flowing natural movement.

This is a question I’ve always wanted to ask the pro-barefoot camp. Many runners pronate or supinate and require corrective orthotics. Can these runners use the Evo comfortably?

Most people have been in shoes every walking hour of there life since they were kids and it stands to reason that if you jump out of your shoes and run a marathon your going to feel pain in places that you didn’t even know existed. Absolutely, if you are new to barefoot you need to take it slowly and listen to your body, building up to longer runs and looking at improving your running technique with a like minded running coach. The

 hard soles of shoes actually cause a lot of foot problems and research shows that if you let you body move as nature intended, a lot of the problems you talk about can be corrected. For me personally barefoot just feels rite and perhaps is not for everyone but we were all barefoot once upon a time, right?

As head designer of Terra Plana, what inspires you? What do you do when you come to a creative block?

Am inspired to make things better…better to wear, better for the environment…just keep being better.

Most designers have unusual quirks. For instance I find the best collaborator is myself and often talk to myself to brainstorm ideas and solutions. What are your quirks?

Lets just say I think a lot on the toilet.

Another question I’ve always wanted to ask footwear designers are why the high heels in women’s shoes? Tons of studies show it’s terrible for the foot yet the industry perpetuates it.

Most women are always going to want the effect of a healed shoe. We battle with this all the time and know that you are of course better off wearing flat shoes – we make high heals and we all know that they are not good for you but we now only make heals that are max 5cm high, thin flexible soles, memory foam foot beds and eco constructions and materials. We have resided to the fact that if we are going to make heals we are going to make sure that they are as good for you as possible.

When you come up with new designs, do you try them on yourself to decide if it’s good, or do you have a team of people to test it?

We have other people to test the shoes, but I am sample size UK 8 so as long as it hasn’t got a heal on it I like to wear the hell out of them.

I started to run every day when we began to design the Evo so that I could get under the skin of the product and along with the people we consulted with, I could make sure that we were making the right choices during the critical stages of development.

Some designers say designing with Earth friendly practices and sustainable materials are too difficult. Since you’ve designed footwear for both the eco and traditional camps, what’s your take? Do you find it challenging or creatively limiting ?

Until genuine scientific lifecycle analysis for a bunch of different shoes happens – quite honestly – a lot of green initiative’ are just finger in the air kind of moves. 
With Terra Plana each concept is an evolution of thinking from the last. I guess a kind of snowball of knowledge picked up along the way that results in improvements to existing products or the promise of a genuinely exciting solution for a new product that are usually impossible to resist. 

Materials are ways we are always making improvements by using some fantastic post consumer recycled synthetics on upper nylons, air mesh, linings that not only have mind blowing eco creds but are super hi performance. We are also working with our sole supplier for SS11 (Spring/Summer 2011) developing a special high abrasion rubber compound that uses up to 50% recycled car tires – very interesting stuff

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We approach sustainable design through our in-house eco matrix – where we score every product based on five criteria.

  • Efficiency – how many components go into making the product, could it be less and could it be easier to make?
  • Sole – Durability, lightweight, flexible, recycled content and minimum glue etc
…
  • Upper – Made from eco friendly materials (recycled, high performance etc)
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  • Function – Is it a great product to wear, does it give you goose bumps when you walk in them?
  • Looks – The worst thing we can do is release products that don’t look good and we have been guilty of that more than I care to remember. 

Of course this is somewhat subjective but keeps us grounded to common principles and the goal is to create products that score high in every area because long production runs is good business and great products that tick all the boxes are what its all about.

Care to shed any light on upcoming Terra Plana projects or ideas you may be toying with? Com’on, don’t be shy.

I shouldn’t tell you this but we are developing 2 very exciting new barefoot projects for SS11. A Duel injected EVA running shoe and a very special single moulded running sandal.

Who are your favourite designers, regardless of industry? Would you ever consider a Terra Plana collaboration with an artist or another designer?

Would love to do a collaboration with Jonathan Ive if Mr. Jobs would allow it?

Finally, what’s your favorite color and why?

White, is that a colour?