FARRELL, Pa. (AP) - Andrew Rademacher enjoys taking shoes apart, tearing off the soles, ripping out the tongues and cutting out the toe caps.
That gives him a better view of what's inside and that, in turn, helps him design better footwear.
"I decided that, in order to create a shoe I was satisfied with, I had to start from the ground up," said Rademacher of Hermitage, Mercer County, founder and owner of Lems Shoes, based in Farrell. Lems stands for "live easy & minimal shoes."
"The goal of developing a shoe that would mimic the natural shape of the foot became my motivator for every step of the design process," he said.
After dozens of prototypes, hours of research, years of designing and constant dedication to proper footwear, Lems sold its first pair in September 2011.
"Although there is much work to do, my No. 1 priority is, and always will be, the design and development of each Lems Shoes product," Rademacher said.
He teamed with friends Brad Maniscalco of Hermitage, who handles marketing and public relations, and Steve Perna of Sharpsville, designer and vice president of sales.
Lems Shoes, which specializes in casual footwear that mimics the shape of the foot, aims to implement minimalistic-shoe features - previously limited to running shoes - into more versatile styles, including boat shoes, boots and, now, dress shoes.
Rademacher noticed shoes didn't always fit like a foot looks. "But no one wants to wear a pair of athletic shoes to the office," he said. "The Nine2Five (collection) gives them more versatility without sacrificing any of the barefoot features."
The company recently released a leather dress shoe that shares many features associated with minimalist running footwear. The Nine2Five features a wide toe box and zero drop design that allows more room for toes and healthier, overall posture. Created using genuine leather, the Nine2Five is built on an air-injected rubber outsole that allows the shoe to be rolled into a ball because of the compound's flexibility.
Three of the five Lems designs are unisex and come in three to four colors. Some are made of leather and others of vegan materials. Prices range from $80 to $125. Lems Shoes are available in 35 retail locations across the United States, Canada and Europe and online, where they ship worldwide.
Anita Kerlek, owner of Vince's Family Shoes in West Middlesex, was willing to give Lems Shoes a try in her store because she fitted Rademacher and Perna for footwear when they were little boys. She has been selling the line for a year.
"Lems are perfect for the person who wants the natural motion of walking barefoot," Kerlek said. "They are wonderful for that. People who buy them really like them. The business relationship has been working out fine, and it is growing, because more and more people are hearing about Lems Shoes."
"They are extremely durable, lightweight and collapsible," Maniscalco said.
The three pride themselves in having a business in their hometown and with providing the best product and service to their customers, whose feedback they welcome.
Customers appreciate the attention Lems gives to the foot, Maryjane Morgan of Jacksonville, Fla., said. She was diagnosed with plantar fasciitis eight months ago and spent weeks doing rehabilitation and spent hundreds of dollars on orthotic-style shoes.
"My feet were still killing me, and my knees even began to hurt, and people who have plantar fasciitis told me they just live with it," Morgan said. "It was extremely discouraging because I love running, hiking and walking. ... After a month or so wearing Lems, my plantar fasciitis is nearly cured. I can actually put my foot on the floor in the morning with no pain. My knees are completely cured. Aside from the comfort and healing properties, they are so cute, and I get a lot of compliments."
Perna said the goal is to bring the natural fit to shoes. He often tests the products and shares his experiences with customers from how they handle running a marathon to their durability while hiking.
"We try to model our footwear after what contemporary footwear is about," Perna said. "People are a lot more conscientious about their footwear and they also want comfortable shoes."