Jim Klavano founded Old Friend Footwear’s parent company, Australia Unlimited, Inc., in 1981, after an impetuous act turned into a life-long journey between two continents. Fresh out of college, Jim talked a fraternity brother into emigrating to Australia with little more than a sense of adventure and a burning desire to see that far off country. He was hooked.
He founded Australia Unlimited not knowing what he would do but certain his destiny resided somewhere within and between Seattle and Sydney. At the time, sheepskins were being used for medical purposes to prevent bedsores in bedridden patients, but also in neo-natal wards for premature babies. The sheepskin helped the preemies thrive because it prevented body heat loss. Jim imported the medical sheepskins and sold them to Children’s Hospital in Seattle (then Children’s Orthopedic Hospital). Later he imported sheepskin car seat covers that he designed.
Next a friendship with a Pioneer Square clog retailer in Seattle inspired him to design and manufacture sheepskin slippers. From the beginning, he designed all of the footwear himself. To keep the footwear affordable while creating a superior slipper, he innovated. His first innovation was to combine sheepskin inners with sturdy pigskin exteriors, sandwiching a layer of material in between, instead of the common method of using one piece of sheepskin. Later Jim branched into new areas of comfort footwear, including our popular polymer NothinZ™ clogs and reflexology massage sandals.
When Jim starting making slippers in 1989, he turned to China to manufacture his product. It took a year of persistence and his complete attention to process the first shipment. Given the language barrier, the newness of working in China, and the distance, the task was a daunting one. Jim opened that very first shipment of slippers and found every surface seasick green. Jim kept a pair to remind him of that time. Since then he has hired his own quality assurance staff and works with multiple factories to manufacture his ergonomic shoes, sheepskin slippers and massage sandals.
The massage sandals were easier because we started out importing them, not manufacturing them. Our massage sandals were originally the Maseur brand sandal. But after 20 years in the U.S. market, the Maseur brand was purchased by a large corporation, and the quality began to lag to the point that after 25 years as the importers, we called it quits. That’s when we developed our own reflex massage sandal. And we still offer the Maseur massage innersoles.
Jim still has a hand in design, and he consults with orthopedic specialists. Designing new shoes like our popular foam shoe NothinZ™ line took a year from conception to production, but Jim is committed to taking the time and care required to produce shoes, sheepskin slippers and massage sandals designed for performance and comfort.
Old Friend Footwear now has 835 SKUs and one-quarter million shoes in its warehouse at any given time. We have quadrupled our sales over the past five years, and we sell in every state in the U.S. and in markets overseas. Best of all, the Old Friend Footwear sheepskin slipper was recognized as the #1 Most Comfortable Slipper in the U.S. by Real Simple Magazine. Not bad for a slipper that started with a love affair!