The Doctor is in.
Ektio is an up-and-coming shoe brand pioneered by orthopedic radiologist Dr. Barry Katz. Katz, emboldened by his own playing experience and medical expertise, has created a footwear line that he believes effectively eliminates almost all risk of an ankle sprain. The Ektio basketball shoes are endorsed by former New York Knick John Starks and have gained attention due to their unique technological declaration and unorthodox appearances. Dr. Katz sat down with CounterKicks to discuss the mechanics of his sneaker line, current market trends in the basketball industry and where he sees Ektio headed in future endeavors.
CounterKicks: You describe yourself as a basketball player turned orthopedic radiologist. What medical experience do you bring to the footwear industry?
Dr. Barry Katz: I’ve been a doctor for about 29 years. I graduated medical school in 1982. I’ve always been interested in orthopedics and orthopedic radiology. I have a very good understanding of the whole orthopedic field, especially when it comes to the foot and ankle, and so I have a lot of knowledge of the anatomy and physiology and the mechanism of injury in ankles and understanding why ankles sprain, and that experience led me to want to figure out how ankles are sprained. It’s one of the only orthopedic injuries that is completely preventable. Ankle sprains are a completely preventable problem, and that’s something I’ve figured out — myself and a couple of other doctors I’ve been with. I’ve been reading MRI’s, CAT scans and I’ve been involved intimately with skeletal and muscular radiology for a very long time.
CK: Ektio maintains that an ankle sprain happens when the sole of a shoe goes in one direction and the foot in another. To combat this, your shoes feature a unique sole design. Can you briefly describe the basic components of the product and what it does for you that other footwear doesn’t?
Katz: I had a few serious ankle sprains when I was young and playing — three of them, all full grade-2. My son was a good basketball player and he had a couple bad ankle sprains. And I realized that the amount of injury you do to your ankle is way out of proportion to what should happen. I understand if somebody is in a car crash and they break their femur or if someone’s on a football field, with all the stresses, that they sustain injuries. I just didn’t understand with ankle injuries why it was so severe. You jump up a foot or two and you land on someone’s foot and all of the sudden it’s torn to smithereens. So, I figured out the problem was people wearing shoes. Because people in bare feet didn’t really sprain their ankles. So, it had something to do with the shoe and I figured out that if we could bring the shoe and foot together, and not let the shoe roll, then we could prevent all the stress from moving up to the ankle. If you can stop the shoe from rolling, which is the real culprit, you could stop the ankle from rolling.
CK: How is Ektio an improvement over a traditional shoe with tape or ankle braces?
Katz: You can talk to any trainer and they will say, ‘Yeah, tape and braces don’t really prevent ankle sprains either.’ Well there’s a reason for that: tape only lasts fifteen minutes — it loosens — and tape and braces are attached to your ankle and not to the shoe. So the shoe can still roll. If the shoe can still roll, you can still sprain you ankle whether you’re wearing tape or braces. So you can’t move well and it doesn’t help with ankle sprains. With our shoe, you can move great, and it prevents the ankle sprain. So it does everything you want in a shoe, plus it performs great.
CK: So one of the principles of your footwear is making the shoe, foot and ankle one?
Katz: Yeah, it’s kind of like a very light ski boot. With a ski boot, the shoe is so solid that whatever direction your foot goes your ankle is gonna go. But they’ve made it so much like that they’ve created knee injuries. We’ve projected from the get-go that we don’t expect to see any injuries move up to the knee or hip based on the mechanism of injury, which is just a jump, called an axial load, versus an ACL tear, which requires your foot to plant into the ground and then twist, so we didn’t think we’d see any knee injuries from this and we haven’t so far. So, we’ve protected the ankle and the injuries haven’t gone up to the knee or anywhere else. Preventing injuries is what we’re doing on a daily basis.
CK: When did inspiration for an ankle-protecting shoe first strike you?
Katz: Actually I can remember I was watching a Knick game, back in 1997, and I was on my exercise bike and I was gonna do a half-hour ride on the bike and I said, ‘By the time I get off this bike, I’m gonna figure out how to do this.’ And I got off the bike and I said, ‘I got it.’ And I got together with some friends of mine — an orthopedic surgeon and a podiatrist — and I said, ‘This is my idea and I think it’s gonna stop ankle sprains.’ They liked the idea, we kind of refined the idea a bit and then we built a prototype and came up with a patent.
It goes against the whole grain of what you hear these days: ‘Oh, an ankle sprain. It’s no big deal it’s only a sprain.’ Well, that’s complete bull. I mean, ankle sprains are very serious and people tend to re-sprain their ankles. They’re weak, they’re not the same when they come back, and they get arthritis when they get older and it’s a very serious problem. The other thing they tell you: ‘Well, it is just part of the game.’ It always was because nobody understood it could be prevented. But once you understand that it can be prevented, it’s not part of the game. Everything they do with tape and braces is really just a Band-Aid. Because the shoes are unsafe and they don’t really work.
CK: Who do you see as the ideal customer for your product?
Katz: Right now we’re about performance. Obviously we have a certain look to the shoe with the straps and the bumpers on the outside that don’t allow the shoes to roll, so that’s kind of an insurance policy for the strap. So we’re marketing in a performance way towards players of all ages. So people who have either sprained their ankle or are concerned about spraining it, and we want our shoe to be the shoe of choice for young people because if they want to play at the next level — playing high school, AAU ball, college or professional — they have to stay healthy. And you see people like Stephen Curry and you see people like Devon Harris and many other NBA guys who sprain their ankles many times and it takes something away. Steph Curry was operated on for his ankle. That was public information, and Devon Harris had a lot of problems and so have a lot of other pros. There were over 50 ankle sprains in the NBA this season.
So we want people to know that you can prevent this injury from occurring in the first place. Don’t only wear our shoe after your sprain because you’re tentative to play and your ankle is weak. Put our shoe on before you’ve ever sprained your ankle and use it as your go-to shoe whenever you play basketball. Now if it spills over into the fashion world because people like the look of it, then that will happen as a by-product of us producing the best performance shoe on the market. But we’re primarily focused on performance.
CK: Ektio is a company founded by a physician — not a sneaker executive or fashion designer. Does that give your company a unique position in the footwear game?
Katz: What’s gone on in the shoe industry before is that it’s about design and fashion and marketing using an NBA mega-star. And some of the things that are “technology” don’t really function as anything. They don’t function as anything protective; it’s really just the way you perceive it. For example, the Reebok Pump was meant to give ankle stability and Rebook will tell you that it didn’t work, but a lot of people believed it. Same thing with the air technology, it doesn’t really do anything. You can talk to the Nike people about this. It looks good and it certainly has a lot of sex appeal to it, but from a functional standpoint it probably does little. The same with the ZigTech outsoles, it’s a nice design and it had a good commercial look to it but it’s not functional. We have a true functional shoe.
CK: You’ve brought in some traditional talent from industry giants like adidas and Nike. Who did you recruit and how has their experience helped Ektio?
Katz: The technology was invented by doctors, but my shoe designer is designing shoes for many professional athletes including Gary Sheffield and Allan Houston. He’s worked with several professional athletes and he’s continually doing so. So he brings a design perspective and we combine the medical side with his design. We knew we had to build a shoe that was sturdy. So we’re using good materials — all patent leather and suede and mesh, so we can’t use a shoe with flimsy materials, it has to be solid in order to accommodate the technology of the built-in brace into the shoe. And I think we did that pretty well.
My manufacturing representative who works with us in Asia has worked with Nike and worked with K-Swiss and worked with many other companies, so he has been a seasoned veteran at this. So we wanted to bring in the best that’s currently out there in the basketball market and then basically just add our technology to our best practices.
CK: Former NBA player John Starks has been a big endorser for you guys, and you also have some other marketing efforts going on. How are you spreading word about the brand?
Katz: What we’re also doing is we’re giving out free shoes right now across the country. We’re going to parks across the country and putting the shoe on people and we’re finding that at least 95% of the people put our shoe on want to wear our shoes and they take whatever shoes they’re wearing and they discard them because they like our shoe and the feel of stability and the safety and the support. So we’re doing that, and we have more traditional advertising online and PR and some radio advertising we’re doing so we want to reach the kids, we wanna hit the high school kids, hit them early — and their parents too — to stress safety.
As we’ve seen before, you wouldn’t play baseball without a glove or a bat; you wouldn’t play football without a helmet or pads — so why would anyone go on a basketball court without adequately protecting their ankles? It’s the number #1 injury in basketball, by far, the #1 orthopedic injury in the world, by far. Does anyone know a basketball player that has played most of their life, into their thirties, that hasn’t sprained their ankle? It’s extremely unusual to meet someone who hasn’t sprained their ankle, that’s how common it is, and most of those people sprained it more than once.
CK: Because that risk of jumping up and landing on someone else’s foot, it’s always there.
Katz: It’s always there. Watch an NBA game. I might look for different things than other people watch for, but when I watch a game, sometimes you see eight guys in the paint all at once or a guy takes a shot and they’re all going up to block it, they’re all landing in a very small space and it’s very easy to land on someone’s foot.
Continue to Page 2 for Ektio founder Dr. Barry Katz’s thoughts on Nike’s low-top Kobe Bryant shoe line, footwear industry marketing, and where Ektio is headed in the future…