Sandals spread the word, one step at a time

August 07, 2006|By JOHN WOESTENDIEK | JOHN WOESTENDIEK,SUN REPORTER

Kathleen Farrell has left a mark - thousands of them, in fact - on beaches she has never set foot on.

Farrell, who lives in St. Petersburg, Fla., wasn't at the beach, but vacationing in the mountains of North Carolina in 1996 when inspiration struck: a newfangled way to spread not just "The Word," but three of them.

Farrell, a clinical psychologist, sliced up an old inner tube, cut the pieces into letters, glued them backward on the soles of an old pair of sandals and then walked from wet grass onto wooden deck, leaving a trail of words behind her.

The word "Jesus" was left by the right foot; the words "Loves You" by the left.

She quickly realized how well the sandals would work on beach sand, and after a couple years of refinements and research, she opened her own company, Shoes of the Fisherman.

By 1998 the sandals were being manufactured in Thailand, and in 1999 they went on sale in some Christian bookstores. Two years ago, she sold the company to CSO Industries, a Tampa, Fla.-based holding company. It offers the original flip-flop version ($19.95) and a full sandal version ($29.95) on its Web site, shoesof thefisherman.com. Farrell said about 20,000 pairs have been sold.

At least one other company makes a similar product. Revelation Products, (revelationcata log.com) sells "Follow the Son" sandals that leave imprints of the words "Follow Jesus." The St. Louis-based religious merchandise company also makes Scripture-bearing golf balls and playing cards.

While the market for religious apparel is thriving, the imprint-leaving sandals don't account for huge sales at Delaware and Maryland beaches. An employee at Jack's Religious Gift Shop in Salisbury, which carries the "Follow the Son" sandals, said they are not a big seller. Sales of Christian T-shirts and tote bags are far more brisk.

Farrell, whose practice specializes in counseling the transgendered, gets royalties from the sandal sales but says what she would treasure far more is to see the words - left by someone other than her - while walking on the beach.

"I keep hoping that someday I will go to the beach and see that somebody else has left those imprints," she says.

john.woestendiek@baltsun.com

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