Today we’d like to introduce you to Joseph DiFrancisco.
Joseph is a licensed Occupational Therapist and the founder of Friendly Shoes, an adaptive shoe company. He worked for more than a decade with patients ranging from toddlers to the elderly in NYC, NJ, and SD. While doing so he noticed a big problem affecting a lot of people across the age and impairment spectrum: difficulty putting on proper footwear, and difficulty finding attractive, medically accommodating footwear that encourages active living and community integration.
Putting on one’s own shoes is an essential act of daily living. Difficulty putting on proper footwear is a threshold barrier to staying active, engaging in the community, and getting necessary movement and exercise. For many mild to moderately disabled persons, inability to put on footwear signals the end of independence. With 1 in 5 adults suffering from some type of disability (per 2010 census), and Baby Boomers continue to age, this problem will keep growing. Common reasons people struggle with shoes include physical or neurologic deficits, such as: knee, hip, back/spinal issues; arthritis; weak grip; impaired fine motor skills (often due to autism, Alzheimers, Parkinson’s); neuropathy; poor eyesight; obesity; general weakness; advanced age; and more.
Joseph determined to solve this problem. He spent over five years designing and testing the Friendly Shoe as a solution for individuals experiencing difficulty putting on proper shoes. He learned that the solution had to be a comfortable shoe that provides proper support and traction; it had to actually be EASY for almost anyone to put on and secure in a flash (zip); it had to be stylish enough for anyone to want to wear so that users would be free of the social stigmas surrounding medically accommodating shoes; and it had to be innovative and useful enough to benefit everyone (because no one really likes tying laces, or spending minutes per day putting shoes on and off).
Joseph tested his designs on colleagues and patients, consulted a variety of medical professionals, and ultimately obtained intellectual property protection over his inventions. Along the way he built a startup team made up of another entrepreneur (a recovering attorney, Ryan), and a biochemistry PhD (Edwin), whose elderly father tested early Friendly Shoe prototypes while recovering from a total hip replacement procedure. The result? Supportive, lightweight comfort shoes that feel like a sneaker fit like a proper leather shoe, and go-on and zip-up in a flash! That’s Friendly Shoes! They’re easy, comfortable, stylish, and save everyone time, hassle, and energy putting on shoes.
Joseph, what else should we know?
We officially launched Friendly Shoes in March 2019 with a showroom in Hillcrest. We’ve gotten amazing input and feedback from customers of all ages. We’ve demonstrated that almost anyone (from toddlers all the way to moderately disabled super seniors) can easily slip-on and zip-up Friendly Shoes. We learned there is massive interest in Friendly Shoes from kids and parents alike (so we spent the last four months developing Friendly Kids shoes, which are coming soon).
Has it been a smooth road?
No…. it has not been a smooth road. Developing the patent pending ESA zipper portal and securing intellectual property over it was the initial challenge. Friendly had (has!) a steep learning curve in nearly every facet of the shoe industry (which is extremely competitive with dozens of publicly traded companies in every sector of the industry). Joseph was determined to develop a unique shoe around his invention so that no one would have to sacrifice comfort, support, or style for ease of access. That commitment is what ultimately led to the Friendly Shoe and our commitment to providing ease, comfort, and style at once!
The business challenge was creating a quality, sustainable component supply chain and identifying high-quality manufacturing. That process started in New York and the journey ultimately led Friendly Shoes to southern Brazil where some of the finest sustainable leathers in the world are produced and a craft leather shoemaking industry has existed for several generations. Joseph worked alongside these craftsmen to develop custom outsoles made of a soft rubber blend for maximum traction and somatosensory feedback. He visited multiple tanneries until he found one (of only 3 in Brazil) that has achieved a Gold Standard Sustainability Rating from the Brazilian government. This sustainability rating looks at factors ranging from carbon count to how well workers are paid, how water is treated, and the tannery’s commitment to diversity.
Now the challenge is staying afloat while we get our name and brand out there and simultaneously develop new styles and new products (Friendly Kids) as we learn more about our customers, what they want, and how they benefit from using Friendly Shoes. Selling shoes online is tough as many customers naturally prefer to try shoes (especially from a new brand) on first! We offer a 30 day return policy even if the shoes are worn (indoors only) so customers can make sure the shoe fits and works for them (but it only takes one use to fall in love with the zipper).
Please tell us more about the business.
Our innovation is making stylish comfort shoes easy for all! We specialize in adapting our ESA technology to multiple types of shoe styles. We are most proud when our product helps customers have life-empowering moments, that’s what makes us think we’re on the right track. Recently, our Friendly Shoe assisted a 15 year old young woman with moderate-severe autism with shoe donning. To her parent’s surprise, she was able to slip-on and secure her shoes herself for the first time in her life, making her parents bawl with joy. A chest-down quadraplegic who was able to put on his own (Friendly) shoes, with an adaptation, for the first time since his accident. Now he is looking stylish and feels proud.
What sets us apart from others is that customers ranging from 3 to 103 do not have to sacrifice style, comfort, or support for ease of footwear access. We think that makes Friendly Shoes one of one in this world.
How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
There’s a few shifts on the horizon. One, the Adaptive Fashion movement will go mainstream. Adaptive Fashion are shoes and apparel featuring technology or designs that are inclusive of disabled individuals. Most people don’t know what a struggle it is for disabled persons to merely to get dressed and how few options are available to them. We are extremely proud to be part of the Adaptive Fashion movement. Our ESA shoe technology can help bridge Adaptive Fashion to mainstream because everyone, disabled or not, likes and benefits from the adaptive technology that makes our shoes Friendly.
Second, we predict that Vegan leathers will improve and eventually mimic real leather’s ability to mold and adapt to each individual foot. That will be great for the planet!Today we’d like to introduce you to Joseph DiFrancisco.
- Our MSRP is $195.
- Address: 3609 4th Avenue, San Diego CA 92103
- Website: www.friendlyshoes.com
- Phone: 619-488-0066
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @befriendlyshoes
- Facebook: @befriendlyshoes
- Twitter: @befriendlyshoes