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SOM Footwear takes hiatus from shoes to make masks for community

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Feeling the ground beneath the feet and giving the toes an opportunity to spread out as they should makes Sense of Motion Footwear (SOM) casual sneakers a local source for minimalist footwear.

Founder Olivier Marchal’s passion to offer quality casual shoes in America turned his vision into a reality as he opened SOM in Montrose to change his health and his community’s health for the better. Even through the pandemic, Marchal and his team continue to support the community’s health by producing face masks on top of shoe production.

“Although COVID was bad, it didn’t hurt us,” Marchal said.

Nathalie Bouchard, chief financial officer of SOM, said the business has stayed busy throughout the pandemic.

“People wanted to support more American-made businesses is what we heard a lot from customers,” she said. “So, 2020 was a good year in that sense.”

During the summer of 2020, Bouchard said tourists frequented the shoe factory to see the company’s shoe making processes. Due to the size of the facility, social distancing was not a challenge. Another plus for SOM was the company’s online presence, which allowed them to continue serving customers by shipping more shoes. Still, sales and production slowed down.

“When COVID hit, we didn’t know what was going to happen,” she said. “We were worried for our crew and overnight in March we had no more sales and no more customers.

“That was stressful and we could tell something was happening.”

SOM staff members were sent home as orders stopped, leaving Marchal and Bouchard in the office to brainstorm a new business strategy. Bouchard began contacting businesses in the medical industry, the City of Montrose and Montrose County to inquire about using their shoe facility to make medical masks.

“At one point, the county and the city were looking for mask makers and we went to see them and said we are able to produce more masks because of our equipment’s ability,” she said. “We designed a mask pattern and it was approved by the doctors who worked in the area. It also wouldn’t fog up the glasses.”

Bouchard said the transition from shoemaking to mask making was stressful as the crew learned how to make face masks and the company changed its materials.

“It was stressful because we had to figure out how to make masks that worked,” she said. “In the beginning, the pattern was a little more complicated. We wanted to make it more efficient, which was stressful because we were worried we wouldn’t be able to deliver masks quickly enough and the pandemic will be over and we have all this leftover material.”

SOM manufactured over 5,000 face masks for local first responders throughout the spring and summer and an additional 400 for firefighters in November. Most of the masks SOM manufactured were used locally.

“We have always been very supportive,” Bouchard said. “We’ve been supporting different nonprofits from the beginning. During COVID it really was about how can we be more helpful and provide stability?

“When something happens all over the world, all you can do is really help your neighbors,” she added.

As first responders began receiving SOM’s face masks, Bouchard and Marchal received positive feedback about the material and how the mask doesn’t cause eyeglasses to fog up. Bouchard said she respects the jobs of first responders and appreciated the opportunity to help them.

“I have a lot of respect for (first responders),” she said. “Knowing that our masks are being a little bit helpful in their day-to-day lives and when they call or and email that says, ‘Nathalie, we have your masks. Thank you so much. They’re great.’ It’s a good feeling.

“I cannot help them in their day-to-day job, but knowing that the mask could help, it was a rewarding feeling,” she added.

Resurgence of shoe market

By mid-April, orders for footwear started to increase. It had been a month since SOM Footwear had transitioned from making shoes to making face masks, so the company had limited inventory in stock. Then one of the machines broke down, so customers had to wait six weeks or longer to have their orders filled.

Through these challenges, SOM employees continued to fulfill mask orders for the community for several months. By early June, SOM transitioned away from making masks and focused solely on shoe production.

“It was so stressful at the beginning,” she said. “We were rushing like crazy to make masks and by the time we were able to restart the shoe production, we were exhausted.”

While SOM Footwear has transitioned to focus on its products and new designs, Marchal and Bouchard remain connected to their community and were grateful to be in a position to give back to their neighbors during the pandemic.

Lauren Brant is a staff writer and digital content coordinator for the Montrose Daily Press.

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