After recovering from a 2010 bike accident that broke his neck and back, George Pierce had another dilemma. The world champion duathlete wanted to make a comeback, but was losing a lot of time changing shoes during the races.
"I asked myself, 'How could I solve this problem? How could I get into the shoes faster, making up time and getting on the podium?'" Pierce said.
His solution: create a better-fitting, easier-to-wear shoe—the T1. Pierce's new running shoe improved his times, but it also sent him down a new track to help athletes, as well as everyday people, improve themselves.
Stepping Into It
Today, Pierce is the co-founder and CEO of Pierce Footwear in Bend. The performance shoe company is quickly gaining recognition for the T1, a uniquely designed running shoe that can be put on and secured with little effort. The shoe is tongueless and laceless, instead utilizing a fold over top secured with an adjustable strap.
"The patented design allows you to step into the shoe without any obstruction, keeping the shoe on the ground so that you can just step into it, and with one hand make the closure and adjust it on the fly," Pierce said.
Along with Tom Jelmyer, the company's head of engineering, Pierce built the first prototype in Palo Alto, Calif., four years ago. In 2015, Pierce hired Jim Tompkins, the former president of New Balance, to help develop the shoe. Over the next year the team improved the design, focusing on creating a comfortable fit.
"There are no seams anywhere on the toe area so it's very comfortable. It's a sock-like fit," Pierce said. "It has no plastic heel counter so it won't irritate your ankle bones. And it's adjustable in multiple positions according to your height. There's a lot of thought put into this shoe."
Pierce Footwear is still small. Currently only one factory in the world makes the shoes—but the company is off to a strong start. The company officially launched at the World Duathlon Championships in Australia last year, and began shipping shoes in March. The orange and blue T1 is available exclusively online for $130, but Bendites can use the promo code "insidebend" to drop the price to $99. The discount is Pierce's way of saying thanks for the community's warm reception when he premiered the shoes at this year's Subaru of Bend Outside Games.
"It's nice getting visibility in this community because people here like athletic and outdoor activities," he said.
Ease of Use for People with Limited Mobility
Although the shoe was originally built in mind for multi-sport athletes, it isn't only for that community. "We originally stumbled upon this better-fitting shoe to solve my personal problems, but I realized I'm not the only person that needs a better-fitting, easier-to-get-on shoe," he said.
While competing in multiple du- and triathlons around the world, Pierce got the initial batch of 400 T1s on the feet of many of his fellow athletes and friends, receiving "a thumbs up from everybody." The shoes were especially popular with kids, which led Pierce Footwear to provide shoes for several athletes at the 2014 Special Olympics. Today, the company works with the Special Olympics as a sports resource team member, and accepts donations for the winter events on its website.
Pierce also realized that people outside of athletics could benefit from his shoes, too. "There's a broad population of people with disability or limited mobility who can't get into their shoes easily," he said. "I met one woman who said that she had to lay on her back and put her shoes on in the air because her back was so messed up that she couldn't bend over."
The company now advertises directly to physically-handicapped individuals, hoping to provide relief from a normally simple task. One beneficiary: Pierce's own father, who needed a pair of T1s after hip surgery.
Ultimately, Pierce hopes to bring something new and helpful to the shoe game. There are designs for up to the T9, with variations aimed at hikers, bikers, caregivers and toddlers.
"We are a performance shoe company, and that's really needed after seeing what's on the marketplace," Pierce said. "We want to provide that performance fit for all activities."
2150 SE Harley Ln., Bend