Natural foot care is enjoying a moment in the spotlight right now, something we can thank early pioneers for who persisted in raising their voices when people were uninterested or even antagonistic. The foot health experts behind Natural Footgear are two such early adopters who have been championing a functional approach to feet for over 10 years.
Learn more about their story and what their business has to offer in this Q&A with Marty Hughes of Natural Footgear!
- How did you get introduced to natural foot care?
- Was there an evolution in your thinking?
- How did Natural Footgear come to be?
- What’s it like owning and running a business with your partner?
- What is your favorite part?
- What is the hardest part?
- What are your dreams for the future with Natural Footgear?
- What do you recommend to someone who is struggling with foot pain and doesn’t know where to begin?
- What are you most proud of in your career?
- What are the most helpful resources/services you provide that you want my readers to know about?
How did you get introduced to natural foot care?
My first experience with natural foot care occurred in 2005, when Dr. Ray McClanahan—now a friend and mentor as well as the creator of Correct Toes—came to my chiropractic college, where I was a student at the time, to deliver a guest lecture on the topic. The information Dr. McClanahan was presenting about natural approaches to common foot and toe ailments was new and novel to all those in attendance, myself included. Indeed, Dr. McClanahan’s talk created a lot of buzz in the campus community, and it prompted a number of discussions amongst students and instructors over the following months about how various foot issues ought to be handled in the student clinics.
A few years later, my soon-to-be wife, Robyn, did a preceptorship in Dr. McClanahan’s sports podiatry practice just prior to her graduating from naturopathic college. During this preceptorship, she got a solid introduction to natural foot care techniques and witnessed firsthand how incredibly effective the approach was for Dr. McClanahan’s patients, all of which she excitedly relayed to me. The common-sense approach to feet and foot care practiced by Dr. McClanahan and shared with me by Robyn made intuitive sense, and I began incorporating these techniques into my own life and my visits with patients. This was in 2008-2009, just prior to the publication of Born to Run, which really helped project the concepts of natural foot health into the collective consciousness.
Was there an evolution in your thinking?
I suppose there was. Being in the field of manual medicine, feet and foot care were always on my radar, to some degree. But we were taught more standard or traditional approaches to addressing foot problems in the chiropractic college curriculum, and the emphasis wasn’t really on prevention per se. This is not to say that new ideas and approaches were shunned, necessarily; it’s just that more “conventional” methods of “addressing” foot issues (e.g., insoles, orthotics, motion-control footwear, etc.) were prioritized (at least at that time). After becoming more familiar with Dr. McClanahan’s approach and putting his ideas into practice in my own life (and seeing very positive results), my perspective on feet and how to care for them changed rapidly. I’ve never looked back, and I personally continue to engage in the daily act of foot and toe rehabilitation—a lifelong process for many of us.
How did Natural Footgear come to be?
Did you ever envision yourself being an online business owner?
Natural Footgear started as an adjunct to Dr. Robyn’s foot-focused naturopathic practice here in Asheville, NC, where we live. Because there is often a common origin when it comes to foot problems, and because a natural approach to feet and foot health addresses so many foot issues, she found that she was sharing a lot of the same information and product recommendations with patients. Having an online resource base she could refer her patients to seemed like it would be helpful, especially because naturopathic patient visits tend to be quite comprehensive and there is often a lot of information to absorb in one sitting. So we set out to create a site on which patients could peruse various foot health-related resources—and shop for the footgear that Dr. Robyn was frequently suggesting—at their own pace and on their own time. Online seekers of alternative foot care approaches soon found the site, and building it ultimately became both of our full-time jobs.
I think it’s safe to say that neither Dr. Robyn nor myself ever envisioned being an online business owner. Both of us were gearing up for a multi-decade career in patient care, as this is what we had trained for and fully intended to pursue. Life is full of interesting twists, though, and through our work at Natural Footgear, we have had the incredible opportunity to reach far more people with our message and mission than we otherwise might have in practice. We celebrated our 10th anniversary as a business about a year ago, and in honor of that milestone, we put together a blog post called The Humble Origins of Natural Footgear that goes into more detail about the (sometimes comical) process of transitioning from seeing patients to overseeing an online venture.
What’s it like owning and running a business with your partner?
You are a husband and wife duo like Justin and I are!
In a word: great! I am so incredibly fortunate to have, in Dr. Robyn, a dedicated and whip-smart partner, both in life and in business. We encountered the usual, and perhaps expected, challenges of working together as a couple early on as we were finding our footing in the new business, but we quickly came to understand our unique aptitudes and interests and how to apply them to the business. In the course of building the Natural Footgear site, we found that Dr. Robyn gravitated more toward the administrative side of things, and I found myself drawn to the content creation end of the business. Though there is some crossover in these activities from time to time, that’s a division of labor that we’ve continued to this day. We defer to each other on decisions that fall within our respective spheres, and we have a great deal of respect for the skillset the other brings to the table.
What is your favorite part?
My favorite part of operating Natural Footgear is the opportunity to put my education and training to use in the service of others on a daily basis. It is such an incredible privilege to reach people with the kind of information and resources that truly make a difference in their lives and to hear back from folks who have benefited from a more natural approach to feet and foot health. Also, the relationships we’ve formed with friends in the industry (including partner companies, with their passionate founders and hardworking teams) and the people we work with every day in our business (shoutout to Andrew, Paul, Alyssa, Bobby, and Lester!) have been phenomenal. The natural foot care community, of which we’re a part, is full of positive and uplifting people—practitioners and foot health advocates, alike—who are doing the good, hard work of educating folks about the inherent strength, resiliency, and potential of their own bodies. It’s a true joy to be contributing to this outreach in our own unique way.
What is the hardest part?
As mentioned above, in our business, we have the great fortune of working with a number of very talented individuals, whether it be in the realm of graphic design, website development, online marketing, or other areas. Being small business owners, though, Robyn and I still wear many hats, and there is only a small amount of time available (after taking care of the nuts and bolts of the operation and managing our lives in general) to work on projects related to the business. We therefore have to be very selective in the application of our time and efforts, focusing on the activities that we feel will have the most impact. So, I would say the hardest part of running our business is accepting that what we can individually accomplish is actually quite limited—and that we need to be constantly reevaluating what our priorities are so that we’re spending our time wisely. Trying to stay up-to-date in an ever-changing digital marketplace is also a challenge, as is keeping our various site resources and offerings current and relevant to a wide swath of readers.
What are your dreams for the future with Natural Footgear?
Well, I guess the ultimate dream for the future is that our work and services will no longer be required; that the level of understanding, when it comes to feet and foot health, will reach a point where the things we talk about on our site will just be common knowledge and the baseline standard. It probably sounds strange to say that we’re trying to work ourselves out of a job, but our goal, coming from the healthcare backgrounds of chiropractic and naturopathy, is always, simply put, to get people better. That is the highest calling. A quick look around any public space will reveal that there is still much work to be done and that there is still a long way to go in terms of raising the level of understanding when it comes to how best to care for the feet, with the vast majority of people still (unfortunately and unintentionally) opting for footwear that injures the feet and causes musculoskeletal problems.
What do you recommend to someone who is struggling with foot pain and doesn’t know where to begin?
Thank you for posing this excellent question, Anya, as it’s a very important consideration! For those struggling with foot pain who don’t know where to begin, our first recommendation is always to read the writings of the late, great Dr. William Rossi, a podiatrist who was at the forefront of natural foot care approaches and a true pioneer in the field. Dr. Rossi’s common-sense approach to feet and footwear is probably best embodied in the following articles he wrote during his career:
- Fashion and Foot Deformation
- Why Shoes Make Normal Gait Impossible
- Footwear: The Primary Cause of Foot Disorders
- Children’s Footwear: Launching Site for Adult Foot Ills
Once a person has this foundational understanding under their belt, the next best thing, in our opinion, is to continue expanding their natural foot health knowledge base by diving into the various blog articles on our site, watching the educational videos created by Dr. Ray McClanahan, reading Whole Body Barefoot by Katy Bowman, and digging into the many fantastic footwear review articles on your very own website.
If folks are then inclined to take the next step, so to speak, we would encourage them to try out the footgear we feature on our site, bearing in mind that it’s important to start off with a metered approach when incorporating these products into a daily foot care regimen. Many people who find our site have worn conventional footwear for many years or decades, and so it can take some time to unwind the various foot issues that are associated with injurious footwear. It’s important for those who are new to natural foot care approaches to understand that a slow, gradual approach—when implementing the tools we recommend—is usually best and that true foot and toe rehabilitation is often a years-long process.
What are you most proud of in your career?
I would say that I’m most proud of consistently showing up in the business, even through all of life’s ups and downs and challenges of all kinds. More than anything else, whether it be crafting new content, researching helpful new products to offer readers and customers, or making our website more user-friendly, I think consistency—and really putting in the work—is the key to a healthy long-term venture. There are so many things in life that can knock you off your stride, and it’s easy to become distracted or complacent in the face of such perturbations. So, if Robyn and I have done anything well, I think it’s the ability to compartmentalize the various aspects of our lives and just keep chipping away, every day, doing the work we know to be helpful and necessary.
Also, over parts of eight years, I wrote a novel (that has nothing to do with natural foot care) that I’m really proud of. It focuses on the experiences of a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal—a country and a part of the world that are near and dear to my heart.
What are the most helpful resources/services you provide that you want my readers to know about?
We have created a number of free email courses that focus on different natural foot health topics, everything from common feet and footwear myths to natural foot health for athletes to the impact of fashion footwear on feet and foot health to how to get the most out of Correct Toes toe spacers. We also offer e-courses on a variety of specific foot health issues, including bunions, crooked toes, plantar fasciosis, and neuromas, as well as a digital guide on how to safely and successfully transition to minimalist or functional footwear.
Some articles from our blog that readers may find particularly helpful include the following:
- Correct Toes Review
- How to Shop for Shoes
- Top 10 Benefits of Correct Toes
- Top 10 Foot Health Tools & Tips
- Six Ways to Restore Foot Health After Surgery
We’ve also created a Glossary of Terms page that defines key concepts and ideas in the realm of natural foot health. Of course, readers are always welcome to reach out to us directly through our website’s contact form with questions about natural foot health concepts, approaches, and/or techniques!
Thank you Marty for sharing your expertise with us! Be sure to use the resources above if you’d like to get connected with Natural Footgear.