Freshy founder Scott Willman Source: Courtesy of Freshy

EDGE Interview: Thinking Outside the Shoebox, Freshy Makes its Mark on the Community

Timothy Rawles READ TIME: 7 MIN.

"Shoes Shoes Shoes, Oh my God, shoes." Those were the lyrics to comedian Liam Kyles Sullivan's viral song back in 2006. I was reminded of the tune while talking to Scott Willman about his brand Freshy, an all-inclusive shoe company he created in 2015 and launched in 2020. His brand is part nostalgia, perhaps a callback to the Keds suede sneakers of the '70s and the nonconformity of modern style. Either way, his brand catalog is more colorful than a bag of Skittles and just as varied. But why shoes?

"The short answer is that I'm a shoe whore," Willman tells EDGE with a laugh. "I've always kind of been a designer. I designed some architecture. I've been building what I call the Freshy Castle, the house that I've lived in for about twenty years now. It has a lot of gothic influence and a lot of organic and flowing lines; it's got two geodesic domes on top of a hill here."

He lives in California within the foothills of Sacramento, halfway between the city and Lake Tahoe. It is a picturesque part of the state with plenty of outdoorsy things to do like hiking, jet skiing, and bicycling. In the winter, snow lovers come from all over the world to ski and do winter sports at the many resorts in the area. Willman says Freshy is a slang word taken from snowboarding, it means untouched powder.

"It's always been in my vernacular since I was a young pup," he says. "I've been a snowboarder for thirty-five years and so I was like, 'let's go, let's make some freshy lines in the snow. Let's go get some freshy pile.' It just represents something that's not stale and old. It's fresh and new. That's kind of where I was going with [the shoes]. Just something different than everyone else."

Snow may be colorless, but there is plenty of it in Willman's shoe line, especially the very trendy and vibrant line called Brites. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Willman was inspired by Gilbert Baker's original Pride flag. The shoes come in Cherry Bomb, Orange Peel, Lemon Fizz, Lime Cordial, Blueberry Pie, and Grape Vine. They are an eye-popping statement for those whose assertions are muted otherwise. But Willman's tinctured expressiveness seems innate.

"My mind's always been a very colorful place," he says. "I love texture and bright primary popping colors. I'm thinking outside of the box, I don't really like to be trapped in an ordinary mundane life. I like to stand out and take my own path."

As a consumer, the designer found something missing in the shoe market, he couldn't find anything interesting or unique. "Most shoes look like everybody else's shoes walking around. I just wanna create something special."

Whether that distinctive design is as bold and mercurial as the Brites, or as he calls it, the "casual sophistication" of the Kingpins line, Willman's vision includes everyone. He even adds little "Easter Eggs" in every pair. Don't be surprised if you find a bearded unicorn under the tongue, or the word "Freshy" embossed on the outer sole, they are designed to make you smile.

Source: Courtesy of Freshy

"The devil's in the details to me you know," he contends. "Our brand is about not taking life too seriously; really embracing life and embracing the joy and not letting life pass you by because you're worried about too many things. Something I do take extremely seriously is our quality and our comfort. If it's not comfortable, we don't make it."

Some people may find being comfortable a difficult task, especially if they have their whole lives ahead of them, for instance, seniors at the Harvey Milk High School in New York. "I donated shoes to all the graduating class there to kind of give them a little encouragement as they step into the world of adulthood. And, go on their journeys, they're just brilliant, brilliant kids going into all kinds of cool, artistic schools and stuff after this."

To further his philanthropy, the brand is currently developing Freshy Cares a non-profit arm that Willman will use to extend his charitable reach, not just for the LGBTQ+ community but anyone who needs a new outlook on life. As much as he wants his shoes to comfort the soles of the feet, he also wants to comfort the souls of people who are feeling defeated. And talking with him, it doesn't feel like Freshy Cares is a social climbing tactic, he genuinely wants to share his success. One of the ideas he has is to help kids aging out of the foster care system. "We want to support them and we wanna donate a bunch of shoes to them so that they can have some fresh new kicks to make them feel confident as they're entering into a new chapter."

The shoe designer used to get asked if being a gay kid had any sway over his creative side. He admits he didn't used to have an answer for that in the past. Eventually, Willman realized his being gay was separate from anything else in his life.

"It's a very personal thing," he says recalling part of the speech he gave to the Harvey Milk graduating class. "You know, it gets very personal for everyone to ask personal questions to gay people these days. But some of the kids I know it seems like it's an enormous part of your life, obviously. But, being gay is the least interesting thing about each one of you guys. It's not gonna say on your tombstone, 'so and so is gay.' It's gonna say 'So and so was a kind, generous person who respected people and loved people and they're a great brother, great mother, great father, great sister, a great friend.' You know, these are the things that people are gonna remember about you. So, you know, I was just encouraging them to not focus too much about it. That's just your personal relationships that you have with people, it doesn't define who you are."

That brings us to June, a month that's supposed to be a time for LGBTQ+ people to define and celebrate themselves. So much so that big box retailers like Target and Walmart bring in the Pride merchandise for what seems like an opportunistic yearly cash grab. Fanny packs that read "I Love Gay People," or a set of folding rainbow camping chairs, or a heart-shaped rainbow cat scratcher are just some of the things you will find. It's 30 days of retail support that some conservatives hate and is arguably being bought by a handful of well-meaning allies. Conversely, Willman's shoes are available all year long, and surprisingly as a gay business owner, he doesn't mind Pride products sold at high-volume retailers during Pride.

by Timothy Rawles

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