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Washago woman shares soleless-shoe venture on TV show

By Sara Carson, Orillia Packet & Times

Sue Kenney, 57, pitched her soleless shoe invention to CBC's Dragons’ Den Wednesday. The Washago woman created Barebottom Shoes so she could walk barefoot in public.

Sue Kenney, 57, pitched her soleless shoe invention to CBC's Dragons’ Den Wednesday. The Washago woman created Barebottom Shoes so she could walk barefoot in public. SARA ROSS - THE PACKET & TIMES

Sue Kenney has touched a dragon’s foot.

The Washago woman pitched her idea of soleless footwear to CBC’s Dragons’ Den and the show’s five high-profile, millionaire entrepreneurs Wednesday afternoon.

“I got to touch all their feet,” Kenney, 57, said Thursday. “I don’t know how many other pitchers can say they touched a dragon’s foot.”

Inspired by a desire to be barefoot outdoors, Kenney created Barebottom Shoes, a foot cover made of suede with minimal coverage. The sole is bare except for a small piece of suede under the arch.

“I got them all to put on a pair of shoes,” she said. “It was actually quite hilarious.”

As the shoes hook over two toes, the dragons had trouble figuring out how to put them on.

“I had to run from dragon to dragon and help them to get these shoes on,” Kenney said with a laugh.

The dragons tested the shoes on carpet, flooring and fake grass.

“They thought they were really different, really interesting,” Kenney said. “They loved the colours, they loved the feeling of the different sensations.”

Dragons’ Den is currently filming for its September 2013 to April 2014 season.

Kenney cannot say if she got a deal. She won’t know if her episode will air until two months prior.

Though pitching to the dragons was intimidating, Kenney enjoyed the experience.

“It was quite an experience,” she said. “Just the idea of actually going on the set of Dragons’ Den and that whole experience was surreal.”

Kenney began walking and jogging outdoors barefoot nearly two years ago. She found going barefoot helped strengthen her feet and improve her flexibility and balance.

While running in the woods caused no problems, Kenney faced challenges in society.

“Sometimes when you expose your bare feet, it’s not accepted in society,” she said. “A lot of stores and restaurants would ask me to leave or put shoes on.”

That inspired her to create a soleless shoe. The shoe provides no support. It is meant to look like Kenney has a shoe on when her sole is actually bare.

“People can’t tell. Now I can get into stores and stuff,” she said.

The material fits snug around the foot and gives the impression one is wearing a shoe, Kenney said.

“Instead of trying to get people to do something that felt awkward, it would make them feel like they wanted to do it,” she said.

Kenney decided to take her idea to Dragons’ Den “on a whim.”

“I realized people were so interested in my shoe,” she said, adding women would stop her on the street and inquire about them.

She first pitched her idea to the producers Feb. 18.

“I hadn’t even sold one single shoe when I auditioned (for) Dragons’ Den,” Kenney said. “At that time, I only had prototypes.”

By March 22, Kenney and some friends had hand-made 100 pairs.

It takes about 90 minutes to make one shoe. A pair is sold for $48.

To the dragons, Kenney pitched the shoes for yoga, pilates and nia.

“I tried to stay away from walking outside barefoot because so many people are afraid of doing that,” she said. “What really surprised me is all of the dragons had some level of understanding of earthing and grounding.”

In March, Kenney sold 60 pairs at the Toronto Yoga Show.

“Anybody that does yoga knows one of the biggest challenges is reducing the slippage,” she said. “Women love this because they can dress up their feet.”

During the show, she was approached by Roots Canada.

“Roots is getting into yoga,” Kenney said.

Asked if the retailer was considering selling her product, Kenney said, “We’re talking.”

Kenney has reached her first deal.

Her shoes will be sold by Glamma Gal Tween Spa’s four franchises.

Despite all of this excitement, Kenney’s dream is still simplistic.

“My dream is to get people to put their feet on the ground,” she said. “If we put our feet on the ground, we will be happier and we will be healthier.”

Twitter: @Sara_VRoss

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