Life is too short to wear cheap shoes.
This could be the unofficial motto behind Cooks Flips, a custom footwear company founded by Travelers Rest native John Walker.
The idea behind developing a line of robust, well-made and comfortable flip-flops began about 10 years ago during a surfing excursion Walker and a friend went on to Nicaragua, where an epic flip-flop fail left him with painful memories of scrambling over jagged rocks.
The experience stuck with him, especially as someone who grew up going barefoot as often as he could get away with and who views wearing flip-flops as the next-best alternative. Over the next several years he learned to sew and tinkered with numerous designs and materials before settling on what would become the company’s flagship product, flip-flops that would never “blow up on someone.
“You want a flip-flop that’s really substantial,” Walker says. “In my ideal world I’d wear flip-flops every day.”
Unfortunately, he adds, most people view flip-flops as their “throwaway” shoes, and he discovered that this attitude is also reflected among manufacturers around the world who tend to make flip-flops that are designed to wear out after a short period of time. It took the better part of two years to find factories in Mexico that could meet his standards for craftsmanship and durability.
Walker explains that much of his flip-flops’ ruggedness is due to the type of leather used, which comes primarily from free-range Texas cattle. The quality and character of this leather also eventually led him to develop a range of wallets and capacious tote bags made with the same durability in mind. The shoes also use cotton fiber straps with leather liners and feature a longer thong, which Walker explains makes for a better fit and substantially reduces “flop.”
“I call these the working man’s flip-flop,” he says. He adds that selecting the right materials to go into the shoe is akin to cooking, hence the company’s name. “It’s like putting together a recipe; everything has to look right and taste right.”
The challenges of breaking into the high-end flip-flop market have been a bit daunting, Walker explains. Similar products featured at outfitters are made by brands that tend to have high consumer loyalty, and competing against that type of name recognition is an ongoing challenge.
“It’s been such an emotional roller coaster trying to get this business going,” he says.
Another challenge faced by virtually every business in the past year has been the coronavirus pandemic. While online traffic and sales on the company’s site, cooksflips.com, have increased due to people spending more time at home, the virus took a heavy toll on the families of workers at the Mexican factories where Walker’s products are made.
Despite these difficulties, Walker continues to work on product improvements, including plans to shift to an algae-based material for use as shoe soles and expanded use of natural materials like jute and cork.
For more information on the company and its products, visit www.cooksflips.com.