Starting a business isn’t easy. It takes years of logistical planning, the passion and drive to persevere through rough spots, and buckets of blood, sweat, and tears. Fortunately, Geoffrey Gray has all those things in spades. Gray founded Heeluxe in 2009, a biomechanical research and development company that focuses on feet. More specifically, Heeluxe studies the human gait and works with shoe companies to create inserts that alleviate bipedal discomfort.
Gray’s interest in the foot and ankle became evident early on in life. He was a runner and triathlete during his time as an undergraduate at UC Santa Barbara. He earned his doctorate in physical therapy at Simmons College in Massachusetts in 2003, and just months later he returned to Santa Barbara and joined Elite Performance and Rehabilitation Center, where he was able to gain experience working with patients who had foot problems such as plantar fasciitis and bunions, to name two.
After nearly 10 years working on the clinical side, Gray chose to pursue his dream of beginning a footwear company. “Heeluxe really started as one of those garage companies,” he said. Before launching, Gray did a great deal of research in sports biomechanics, which uses the laws of mechanics — from such disciplines as mechanical engineering, clinical neurophysiology, and electrical engineering — to better understand how the body moves.
Heeluxe’s first product was the Talus Heelbed. Created specifically for use in high-heeled shoes, the Talus Heelbed shifts pressure from the ball of the foot to the heel, allowing the foot to rest without sliding forward in the shoe and thus supporting the heel’s natural angle. “It’s done relatively well for our first product; I’m very satisfied with that,” said Gray.
Last February, Heeluxe moved to a warehouse in Goleta and opened Luxe Lab, where Gray and his research team can study foot mechanics in action, like a runner’s stride for example. “One of the most unique things about this lab is that we’re testing the most natural environment as possible to the real world,” said Rob LaRue, Heeluxe’s lab assistant and marketing manager. “[We] have an uphill and a downhill with force plates built in; we have rock beds for testing hiking; we have Astroturf for testing cleats.” The lab is peppered with a variety of technical equipment, such as motion-capture cameras and high-speed video cameras that allow the team to study a person’s form while running or walking.
Gray has a clear vision when it comes to the future of the company. “Ultimately, I’d like for Heeluxe to have its own shoe line [in] dressy-casual-type shoes. … Dress shoes have that nice handmade quality appearance, and it would be so great if we could allow them to … get a little more scientific on how the body works. A lot of men and women’s dress shoes really haven’t changed in 80-100 years, so it’s totally ripe to try and do some new and innovative things — but still really maintain that classic look of a high heel or a men’s loafer or something like that.”