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A Company With Sole

Alexander Elnekaveh was desperate to help his nephew after a cancerous growth was removed from the heel of the 14-year-old boy. Disappointed in his search to find a shoe that would ease the pain, Elnekaveh determined to create one himself. The Sherman Oaks resident said he assembled a team of engineers, podiatrists and industrial designers to develop footwear to reduce the impact of walking. Several years later Gravity Defyer Corp. was the result, and in 2009 the company began selling athletic and comfort shoes online. “We have pain relief shoes that are among the best shock absorption shoes in the world,” boasts Elnekaveh, a 53-year-old mechanical engineer who previously founded a high-tech gadget ecommerce site. “The focus of the product is to help people with pain.” The Pacoima company is best known for its line of G-Defy athletic shoes for men and women, which start at $100. It has expanded into casual and dress shoes for men and women, priced at $70 and up. Gravity Defyer has received a good deal of media attention for such a young company, but not necessarily for the most positive of reasons. During its first year, the company was ridiculed for its “seed of life” logo which resembled sperm – prompting a change after an extended controversy. The company also recently settled a trademark infringement suit it brought against leading athletic apparel and shoemaker Under Armour Inc. Despite all this – or perhaps because of it – Gravity Defyer’s brand recognition is growing with its product line, now sold at 100 brick-and-mortar retailers. They include J Stephens, a Valencia-based regional footwear chain, and Footwear etc., a Sunnyvale-based chain, as well as other specialty stores across the country and Canada. Kim Thomas, principal of Kim Thomas Consulting, an L.A. footwear and handbag consultancy, said the company’s growth has been impressive, but it could run into difficulties while trying to grow its brand with innovative designs. “Depending how they choose to expand, such as with new technologies for new styles, costs can spiral out of control quickly,” she said, recommending the company keep a strict technology budget and maintain good partnerships with factories to keep a lid on costs. Defying gravity Competitors in the comfort shoe category include New Balance, in Boston, and ECCO, in Bredebro, Denmark. So Elnekaveh knew if his company was to stand out it would have to boast some sort of technological calling card. The shoes feature what is called the “VersoShock” sole, which is said to act as a mini trampoline that absorbs the pressure feet endure on contact with the ground. To develop the shoe, Elnekaveh said he used seed money generated from Gadget Universe, a Sylmar ecommerce site now moribund that sold items as varied as watches, defibrillators and lie detectors. The shoes are manufactured overseas in Asia and Europe, with warehousing and shipping handled in Pacoima. The company advertises heavily in health magazines such as Diabetic Living, Health and Weight Watchers, as well as National Geographic, which has a readership with an older demographic. Most Defyer customers are adults between the ages of 35 and 40. During the early stages of the company, Gravity Defyer’s “seed of life” logo resulted in the loss of a handful of retailers. Elnekaveh defended it, stating it represented the new pain-free experience his customers would have when they wore the shoes. But by the end of 2012 the logo was changed. “The original seed of life logo had become somewhat polarizing for consumers,” said Chief Executive Tim Wallace, 28, who has been with the company for six years. Gravity Defyer shoes are sold at Jigglin George, a specialty store in Branson, Miss., alongside other athletic footwear. Owner George Berlin said he has been selling the shoes for more than three years due to customer demand. “(The shoes) are very exciting,” he said. “If a customer has not tried on a pair before, the moment they stand up its like ‘Wow,’ they are astonished at the initial feel.” Infringement suit In October, the company put another challenge behind it when it settled a lawsuit brought against Under Armour, the Baltimore, Md. maker of sneakers and athletic wear. Under Armour released its Micro G Defy lines of shoes in early 2012 to big retailers, including Footlocker, Dicks Sporting Goods and Sport Chalet. Because the name was so similar to Gravity Defyer’s G-Defy athletic shoes, Wallace said that when customers searched online for Gravity Defyer products they were bombarded with advertisements from Under Armour. “It was a really big deal for our company – them having our G Defy on their shoes for a good period of time,” he said. On Oct. 7, nearly five days before the case was to go before a Los Angeles federal court jury for trial, Wallace said, the companies reached a settlement that required Under Armour to remove the line of Micro G Defy shoes from stores. “In general (the settlement) was in our favor,” he added. Under Armour did not respond to a request for comment. Gravity Defyer sales are expected to reach $24 million by the end of the year, with much of the growth coming from retail stores. The company maintains an outlet store at its 30,000-square-foot headquarters in Pacoima, and has plans to open its first Gravity Defyer-branded retail stores early this year. “It’s going to be in the Valley – one in a shopping mall and one in a strip mall,” said Elnekaveh. “From there we are going to start mushrooming all around the country.”

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