Fighting Work Place Stress With Flip Flop Shops President & Co-Founder

Flip Flop Shops President Brian Curin spends quality time with his daughters at the beach.

At age 38Flip Flop Shops President & Co-Founder Brian Curin considered himself a fit, fast-moving entrepreneur. His drive and motivation at work undoubtedly propelled him to the top on a business level, and although his daily schedule was fairly jam-packed, he still managed to get time in surfing, riding motorcross, and paddle boarding. It wasn’t until late last year, after several particularly grueling workouts, that Curin began to experience chest pain and become unusually fatigued. After some routine checks with his doctor, Curin failed an exercise stress test and went in for an angiogram. The shocking verdict: 100 percent blockage of the main artery—also known as "the widow maker"—and a near complete blockage in three other arteries, requiring immediate open-heart surgery.

 Months after his lifesaving surgery and recovering exceptionally well from the experience, Curin was left wondering how he could have missed the tell-tale signs that he needed to slow down. With a family history of heart-related problems, Curin never thought twice about taking steps to reduce stress in his life and recognize signs of his own developing heart disease – until it was nearly too late. In response to what he sees as a growing problem, and in hopes of preventing others from going through a similar ordeal, the young executive has launched the “Heart To Sole: Creating a Stress-Free America” campaign, which is designed to raise funds to support the American Heart Association's My Heart. My Life healthy living initiative as well as the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.
“I think the best way to address this is to proactively educate companies to recognize that stress levels are increasing in the workplace—as well as in life in general—and help them understand the driving factors and how stress is linked to heart disease and many other health problems,” says Curin. “Armed with knowledge about what causes stress, companies can then take steps to evolve their cultures in ways that will reduce the stress levels in the workplace.”

Some campaign initiatives, aside from donations, include encouraging companies to set up Flip Flop Fridays for the month of June and donate $2 to the AHA for every employee pledged to wear flip flops, commissioning a study by research firm of Alexander Babbage that measures the stress levels of those who wear flip flops vs. closed-toe footwear to work, and partnering with Sanük to organize “Life’s Too Short To Wear Shoes” protests in June that speak out against the “all work and no play” culture. Protests will be held in Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Denver, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, and Vancouver.

“This really is about supporting our partner in this cause and standing behind them on something that means a lot to them and their organization, because they’ve been such great supporters of us and what we do here,” says Sanük President Jake Brandman about the brand getting on board with Flip Flop Shops’ campaign. “Something that has been a part of Sanük culture from day one is living that work-life balance. It’s an important ingredient in our environment to reduce stress. It’s already existed here in this culture and has been a big part of it—it’s hard to be this brand and have this culture exist without it.”

As Spring officially kicks off, and Flip Flop Shops gears up to put many of its new initiatives into place, we caught up with Curin to hear more. 

First off, what an amazing story to share with the world and to help make a difference in corporate America and the increasing amount of stress being placed on employees everywhere to work harder, get more done, and all with less resources than ever before. What do you think is the best way to address this at a corporate level?

First, business leaders should get involved with the American Heart Association or the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada to get educated.

Once this step is taken, there are so many great programs and tools that can be easily implemented to help reduce stress among their executives and other employees and create a better work/life balance. Companies often get caught up in moving at the "speed of business." What they don't realize is that, just because people appear to be busy, working longer hours and working harder does not necessarily mean better productivity. I advocate for working smarter, not harder. I firmly believe that a culture of health, balance and happiness can result in more getting done, in less time, with fewer resources. We have certainly proven that at Flip Flop Shops with the “Live…Work…Play with Your Toes Exposed” mentality that we embrace and live by.

I would also love to see companies make annual stress tests mandatory for all employees. A stress test, sometimes called a treadmill test or exercise test, helps determine how well your heart handles work, and can show if there's a lack of blood supply through the arteries that go to the heart. In my case, this was the only test that detected my heart disease. All other tests came back "normal." Had it not been for the stress test, I may not be alive today. If companies provided access to annual stress tests for their employees and made them mandatory, it would save them a ton of money in sick time and lost productivity. It will also save money for insurance companies by saving lives and preventing major medical events.

Hurley’s Ryan Hurley, Flip Flop Shops CEO Darin Kraetsch, Bob Hurley, and Flip Flop Shops President Brian Curin.

Besides the specific campaigns you are launching in conjunction with Sanük, what else are you doing within your company to gauge your employees and their levels of stress?

We are Flip Flop Shops. We all work from home on our own schedules. Our hardest decision every day is what flip flops to wear. We are pretty low stress. And of course now, with my experience, I am helping to get everyone very focused on the "pace" not "race" approach to business, and life.

 I understand that as a result of your experience, some of the major action sports retailers are considering implementing annual stress tests for employees at their companies to set an example for other businesses.

Yes, that's true. I've been campaigning for this ever since my surgery. I think that this is one of the single most important things a company could ever do for the benefit of its employees and the company as a whole. In my case, after experiencing some unusual feelings in my chest and exhaustion after an intense workout, I went for standard tests like an EKG and blood tests, which all came back normal. It wasn't until I took and failed an exercise stress test that doctors recommended an angiogram, which showed 100 percent blockage of the main artery and near complete blockage in three other arteries, requiring immediate open-heart surgery. That's why I'm pushing to make it easier for people to get stress tests taken. The workplace is an ideal place to start. Companies should really look into this. Mandatory stress testing will show that you care as a company. It boosts morale and could potentially save a life.

On a personal level, how do you know when you’re experiencing too much stress, and what are strategies for making changes to your lifestyle both at the job and off the job?

For me personally, I have always listened to my body—maybe not as much as I should have based on what happened, but now I'm definitely more aware that small changes can tell you a whole lot, and even save your life. I'm lucky, I get to wear flip flops for a living, which definitely gives me a freeing feeling and relieves stress. I also take a lot of deep breaths throughout the day. It's amazing how such a little thing like being able to take a big, deep breath can be taken for granted. I also stretch throughout the day and eat lots of blueberries—they obviously have great health benefits, but I also feel very relaxed when munching them. It's also important to know when it's time to take a break and free your mind, then come back to the assignment or problem with a fresh perspective. Really, it's all about how you approach your day. You should enjoy your work and go into it with a positive attitude, making it a point to smile throughout the day, not sweating the small stuff too much.

What outlets can people look to? Are you thinking about incorporating yoga classes, meditation, healthy cooking classes, anything along those lines in a company health plan? Do you think plans like this should be mandatory nationwide?

At Flip Flop Shops, our company works from home on our own schedules, so running out to a Bikrams Yoga class or a quick paddle is a great stress reliever. Even just getting away from your desk and sitting in the sun can be so therapeutic. I absolutely think that there should be more of a focus on the health of people in the workplace and a mandatory program that encourages, allows, and possibly forces your staff to take more time for themselves. Companies need to get educated about the link between stress and heart disease, as well as the negative effects that stress has on productivity, and do something about it.

On the business side, how will this new campaign be built upon and expanded? What other ideas do you have for the future in increasing awareness around this issue?

This is our launch year, which is such an emotional and special thing for me to drive. We never do anything small or quietly. I want to make sure that I deliver this message and create awareness to the day I die and beyond— which hopefully will be a very long time from now. We're lucky to have created such a great concept that has attracted so many incredible people to be our shop owners that have the energy and willingness to support this program. We are equally as lucky to be in this insanely awesome industry which keeps us young. With all of their help, we will expand on doing more studies at a medical level to show that flip flops reduce your stress levels. We will also work with more of our brand partners on coming up with creative ways to create more awareness of the "pace" not "race" message and to raise funds for the cause. We will also be creating more and more noise out there as we continue to expand our retail presence in more markets to help deliver the Heart To Sole ideas. It would not be out of question to see Flip Flop Shops "chill zones" throughout the country during the campaign, along with hammocks at bus stops and Flip Flop Shops street teams trading out people's shoes for flops. There are also some amazing stories in our system from our shop owners and in the industry that we will incorporate as we grow this.

Curin and his family.

What personal lessons have you taken away from this experience?

Slow down and listen to your body. The "pace" not "race" rule really makes sense. If something does not feel quite right, it probably isn't. Stop and enjoy life because it can be gone in the blink of an eye. Focus on what really makes you happy in life and once you know what that is, give it all you got.

How have you changed your lifestyle and business routines as a result?

I make more time for myself and for people around me, especially good people: When you find them you put the effort into keeping them. I also jump on the elliptical every night. I just don't feel right if I don't. And I smile more. It's really important to smile and make an effort to smile. Also, most of the "big things" that would be really easy to get worked up about really are not that big. In our industry, relationships are everything, and I have worked hard to develop and maintain those. I now look forward to deepening many of those relationships for the rest of my life.

What do you hope others take away from this story and the new campaign?

I hope anyone who reads this stops and takes a really deep breath and appreciates it for what it is, and does everything they can to protect that from ever going away from them and the people around them.

Any closing thoughts?

I can't thank the industry enough for the outpouring of support I have had before, during and after my heart surgery. This industry has truly embraced me and has become an extension of my family. If only everyone in the world could wear flip flops…