There are few shopping areas in the city as highly coveted as Main Street from about Broadway up to East 30th.
So it was something of a massive step late last month when Braden Parker and Kevin Reid opened the doors to their sizeable shop on Main just south of King Edward Avenue after spending over two and a half years making shoes out of a basement.
But, as the pair of late twenty somethings will tell you, they don’t see Casca as just another retail outlet to peruse while you make your way up Main, kombucha in hand. And, walking into the sleek storefront, it doesn’t feel like one either.
Sure, it’s got the minimalist design and wood finishes that dot many of its contemporaries along Main. But instead of Foster the People blaring in your ear, you’ll hear the low hum of a 3D printing machine in the corner.
And as Parker and Reid rip back the curtain, they lead me to a back room with over 30 more of these contraptions, all working away. Am I about to find out that the two plan to use the machines to take over the world, starting with this particular stretch of Main Street?
Thankfully, no. They simply want to make your feet feel good.
To that end, the printers are churning out custom soles that they insert into their state-of-the-art shoes. It’s part of their play to bring many of the trends that have defined athleisure in the last few years to the foot.
“When we started this I think we really wanted to take a step back from what the industry does and look at all the big problems in it,” says Reid. “Comfort and the user experience, obviously, but sustainability has been a thing and there’s so much technology that allows us to completely revamp how we make shoes.”
Parker adds that living in Vancouver gave the duo a perspective they might not have had somewhere else.
“The problem stemmed from something that we were both feeling in the city. In a day, we’ll go from sun to rain to wind, going to business meetings and biking everywhere, then going for drinks with friends, and we felt like there weren't any shoes that could do all those things. With athleisure happening at the same time, it just felt like shoes weren’t keeping pace.”
With Parker’s business background (he has a Bachelor of Commerce from UBC and worked at real estate company Low Tide Properties) and Reid’s more than 10 years of experience as a designer in the industry, the pair wanted to set themselves apart.
“People wear Adidas and running shoes because they’re supportive, but they’re ultimately designed to shave seconds off a lap time,” notes Parker. “And then you have Converse and Vans, with zero support. And then there’s Common Projects and premium sneakers, but there’s no technical capabilities and they’re still sort of in line with what was made 80 years ago.”
Whether you agree with Parker’s assessment, there’s no denying that Casca’s footwear is definitely not in line with what was produced back then.
Currently, the company has two models, the Avro ($198) and the Avro Knit ($178). The former is a waterproof sneaker complete with leather from “one of the most sustainable tanneries in the world,” according to Reid.
The latter is a breathable, meshed version.
Both shoes come with Casca’s “Lift OS System”, which they developed from working with an orthopaedic lab. It gives the sneakers a little hump in the middle because, again according to Reid, “you have five bones right there and your bones get all bunched together and it kind of kills the nerve ends. So it’s added support.”
They also use the company’s FootB3D technology (an extra $50 per pair), in which inputting three photographs into Casca’s app generates a 20,000-point 3D model of your feet, which is used to craft a custom sole.
Of course, the main reason the pair could afford the convenient store location, nevermind all the technology and instruments, was the different investments that have poured in over the years.
After receiving some funds from friends and family, Parker and Reid were able to secure $4.66 million in venture funding, led by American venture firm Khosla Ventures and Shopify founder Tobias Lutke.
“Our entire platform is built on Shopify, so we wanted to send a pair to Tobi Lutke as more of a thank you,” recalls Parker. “Wrote him a note, sent a pair, next thing you know we’re having a conversation and he ended up investing as well.”
Things get a little scary when you’re playing with that much capital, but if Parker and Reid are afraid, they’re not showing it. They have a steadfast belief in their product, so much so that all Casca shoes come with a lifetime warranty.
And this is just the start—the two founders see Casca innovating in other styles of shoes very soon.
“This is our first silhouette, but we see potential for a number of different styles that take on the same approach,” Reid says as he looks down at my feet to see what may soon be a rival.
“We’re working on some styles, like a Blundstone. Because yes, these are fantastic, and you look around Vancouver and tons of people wearing them. But there’s also a lot of room for innovation. It’s exciting.”