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A pair of broken flip flops led a Napa fourth grader to invent a new kind of shoe, one that he hopes people everywhere will want to wear.

Carter Waugh, who is 9 and attends Willow Elementary School in Napa, explained how his shoe invention was born.

While on a family vacation at the beach two summers ago, “I was trying to explore,” said Carter, but his flip flops broke apart.

He then put on his Croc shoes but “they made my feet sweat and gave me, like, 20 blisters. I didn’t like that.”

“That’s when I had an idea,” Carter said. “Let’s make a cool shoe for everyone that’s comfortable” and secure enough to stay on your feet while doing things like running, jumping and climbing trees.

It’s called the Flip-Critt, or Critts for short. The name Critt comes from Critter, Carter’s nickname.

The Critts shoe is like a combination of a flip flop and a slipper, one that includes a special “toe bar” inside to help keep the shoe on the foot. The Vibram shoe sole is durable. The foot bed is leather and the inside of the shoe is lined with a “special soft material” made of neoprene.

“It’s more comfortable than flip flops,” Carter said.

Critts comes in bright colors with ventilation holes punched out in the top of the shoe in the shapes of different “critters,” like dolphins, bats and butterflies.

The shoe was made for “adventurability,” said Carter. “Flip-Critts will be a great shoe for all critters.”

Thanks to his dad, Ryan Waugh, entrepreneurship comes naturally to Carter.

“I’m a serial entrepreneur,” admitted Ryan Waugh. He’s worked with a variety of projects and brands in the wine industry. Waugh also owns Waugh Family Wines.

“He’s helped me a lot,” Carter said of his dad. Instead of placating him, “He listened to my idea and believed in me.”

With the support and encouragement from his dad and family, Carter said he realized “I can actually do this.”

Within months, Carter and his family met with a shoe designer, shoe manufacturer, created a prototype, trademarked the name, created copyrights and filed for a patent.

The whole family, including Carter’s mom, Crystal, and Carter’s brother Jordan, traveled to a factory in China over the winter break to create samples.

“It was an incredible experience,” especially traveling as a family, said Crystal Waugh.

They created a website that includes videos of Carter talking about the shoes. The family also connected with an attorney, a marketing person and other business people. This summer, Carter and his family will launch a Kickstarter campaign to help raise awareness about the shoes. They could be available as soon as spring 2020.

Prices could range from $40 to $45 per pair. The shoes should come in both child and adult sizes.

Ryan Waugh said the family has invested between $75,000 and $150,000 in Flip-Critts so far.

“This is a serious operation,” he said.

Investors are also taking notice, said Waugh. That means that the shoes could become widely distributed. “It could explode to be on the shelves on every Target or Foot Locker,” said Waugh.

Meanwhile, Carter has been speaking to different groups – both adults and students – about Flip-Critts and being an entrepreneur. Carter admits he gets “kind of nervous” about public speaking, “but once I get to the middle part, I calm down.”

The idea is to show people, including kids, “you can create something from nothing and what it means to be an entrepreneur,” said Ryan Waugh.

Flip-Critts sounds like an invention that would be a good fit for the entrepreneurial-themed reality show “Shark Tank.”

Carter said he would like to be featured on such a program. “I’d just tell my story,” he said.

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Business Editor

Jennifer Huffman is the business editor and a general assignment reporter for the Napa Valley Register. I cover a wide variety of topics for the newspaper. I've been with the Register since 2005.