There are many ways to be mindful. Moving mindfully is one way, and mindful consuming is another. There is "how you vote at the polls" but often less considered is "how you vote with your dollars." Because most of you wear minimal shoes, I thought it would be nice to provide greater insight into the structure and motivations of some of the companies making these products.
First up is Terral Fox, Founder/CEO of Unshoes Minimal Footwear. Terral first emailed me in October 2012 for feedback on a new line of shoes he was designing. That was interesting I guess, but what really stood out was HIS NAME. My first reply to his email: “Seriously, I think it is awesome your name is Terral, because that is so close to terra (ground), and so are one's feet in your shoes.”
Sometimes your name is your destiny. Like our local dentist Dr. Payne or, and I’m totally serious here, my sister’s oral surgeon, Dr. Slaughter. Dear Mr. Slaughter, Are you insane? Change that freaking name!
But, back to the man who slinks around close to the ground...
So, Terral. Have you always been into feet? What made you start a shoe company?
I wasn't always into feet. I was just never into shoes! As a toddler, I had very wide feet (which is funny because now they are very narrow) and my parents couldn't find shoes that fit me. Because of that, I went barefoot for the first few years of my life. Looking back, I see it as a blessing!
Even after my feet got more "normal" they were still difficult to fit. I found sandals that were very adjustable and they fit my feet so I became a very loyal customer. I was loyal until I found that my adventures in the desert were destroying them faster than I could afford to replace them. The sand was getting between the layers in the sole and sawing away at the straps. I began taking them off to hike barefoot because I was afraid they were going to break. Once I started going barefoot again, everything changed. Suddenly they were too heavy, had too much arch support, and were not flexible enough for me. I began my search for the perfect sandals and that is when I discovered minimalist footwear and the barefoot movement. It all just made perfect sense to me!
I found huaraches and nearly bought a pair but at the time they were only available with laces. While I loved the concept, I just didn't think I could pull off the gladiator look. I had this thought in the back of my mind that said, "just make your own!". I had recently been laid off so I had some extra time to tinker. I went to the local climbing store and bought some webbing then I went to work. My intent was never to start a shoe company! I had some extra materials and since I didn't have a steady job at the time, my wife suggested that I make more and sell them on etsy.com. To my surprise, people actually bought them!
You’re clearly playing a part of the “natural movement” movement. How does that play out in your own personal practice?
I've always been aware of movement although I have only more recently become aware of how I should be moving. I was never competitive enough to play organized sports so I gravitated towards outdoor activities like hiking! I also like climbing things. I'm not necessarily into rock climbing but I have always like to climb things even though my friends thought it was weird. I can't count the number of times I've been called a monkey. I have actually become more "exercise-y". Mostly because so many runners buy our sandals that I felt like I was a fraud because I was not a runner. When it's all said and done, I'd much rather be hiking.
Ok, so back to the shoes. One of the common complaints I see regarding minimal footwear has to do with cost. Many think they should cost less being minimal and all, but often cost more. It seems these folks are assuming that the cost of a shoe should be equal to the cost of the materials, but it’s obviously much more complex than that. Can you walk us through the cost argument?
Minimalist footwear is difficult to make. Period. The fact that there is less material is what makes it so difficult. For example our thinnest sole is 5mm thick and it is made of a very soft rubber which gives the best possible ground feel. To attach the the strap under the toes we actually bore out part of the bottom of the sole for the plug to counter sink into. If we don't cut deep enough the plug sticks out which makes it wear out more quickly and the user will feel it digging into the ball of the foot over and over. If we cut it too deep, it will tear through the sole. The difference between the two is less than a millimeter! We have to be very precise and errors do happen.
Conventional sandal manufactures can simply sandwich/anchor straps between two thick layers of sole. It is so much easier! I tell my employees that manufacturing minimal shoes is walking a tight rope. It has to be perfectly balanced and executed or else it will fail.
Another factor is the fact that most minimal footwear companies are not multi-million dollar corporations that have huge advertising budgets and buying power. They don't have sweat shops overseas. Most of them are hand made and there are a lot of expenses involved. We are so used to a Walmart culture where everything is standardized and mass produced. The larger shoe companies that make minimal shoes are not as passionate
about our health. They see that supply is low and demand is high. For them it is an opportunity to price the shoes higher.
So, if I read that last answer clearly, the reason for the "high" ($45.00) price of your handmade-in-the-USA shoes is so you make tons of money operating your shoe company?
This is the car I drive (when it's not broken down).
Nuff' said! Unshoes is "bootstrapped." The money to start it all came from my pocket and pretty much all of the revenue still goes back into operating costs. When people ask me what I do for a living I'm not really sure what to tell them because, "I own a shoe company" sounds way more glamorous than it really is! I'm sure you understand how that goes. What do you tell people when they ask what you do?
Well, sometimes I say I teach alignment. And then they say "Oh, so you're a yoga teacher?" And sometimes I say that I'm a writer, and then they say "Oh, so you're poor?" And sometimes I say I'm a biomechanist, but then there's just a lot of silence. Now I just say I say something vague like "I work from home" and keep an air of mystery. I don't make many friends this way.
But back to you, can we see what your work space looks like?
This is where the production takes place. It used to be in a leaky, unfinished room under an apartment.
In case you were wondering, I'm the skinny balding dude at the table in the middle of the room.
Your shoes are handmade based on the individual’s specific foot shape (again, for $45 bucks) and I imagine you’ve received some interesting request. What's the most-interesting pair of Unshoes you've created?
We've seen some pretty interesting foot shapes. I think the best was one that looked like a giant lima bean! We used to base our sizing on tracings. This was the best tracing we have ever received...hands down.
Do you only wear your shoes or do you have a other brands in your closet?
Pretty much all of the shoes I wear are shoes I make myself. I like to re-purpose materials like old tweed coats from second hand stores. Some of them don't work out so well but they are getting better. I have had my eyes on the Boulder boots from Lems Footwear but they are a little pricey for me. I also wouldn't mind trying out some of the Merrell Barefoot line sometime.
We have a footwear list for people who live in freezing and wet places, Shoes: The (Winter) List. I’m wondering what you wear when it's cold?
I live in the southern part of Utah. It is considered a "high desert.” It does get cold and snowy in the winter but it's usually pretty dry. If it snows then I wear my own homemade shoes. If it's not snowy then I usually wear sandals. I admit that I'm guilty of breaking fashion rules and wearing socks and sandals during winter months!
You emailed me a couple years back. How did you find my blog and do you still read it?
I do! One day I was looking through our website analytics (I've become boring like that) and I saw an increasing number of visitors from this mysterious website called katysays.com. Out of curiosity, I visited your site and the rest is history.
Ah yes, the infamous Shoes: The List post! I’m glad it directed people to your shoes. So, since you’re a KatySays reader, what have you learned so far?
It's hard to pin down one favorite tip! I didn't realize until I started reading your blog how important it was to keep my feet pointing straight forward while walking. I had been walking duck footed for many years. I still have to watch myself but it's much easier now. Reading your blog has also helped me to better understand how interconnected body mechanics are. One small alignment issue can affect so many other parts. I'm constantly watching to make sure I'm not tucking my pelvis or thrusting my ribs out. I already knew that but I have come to understand it on a new level.
My family has made a goal to walk and stretch every day as part of a larger to for more frequent and natural movement. Reading your blog has really opened our eyes to some bad habits so we are working to change them.
Awesome, and thanks for reading by the way. So now, what everyone wants to know: When are you going to make some DRESS UP sandals?
All my life I've felt a bit guilty that women wear uncomfortable shoes to feel attractive. The idea had been in my head for a few months but it wasn't until a customer asked us to make her wedding shoes that I seriously thought about making nicer shoes. She wanted a barefoot wedding but it was just too cold so she needed some kind of sole. She sent us a pair of barefoot sandals that they use for beach weddings. I basically took them apart and re-engineered them with a thin sole. They were far from perfect but I realized that it was possible. Since then we've been researching shoes that are cute or attractive and combining a list of the elements that make them cute. Many of these elements can be applied or modified to work the same way without compromising foot health.
You guys: I got to help give some feedback on the construction of the new “cute” prototypes. They’ve been working on design for the last year and a half and I’m stoked to say that they’ve nailed the perfect combo of MINIMAL PRETTY and PRETTY MINIMAL in this pair right here.
Attractive is in the eye of the beholder, but for this gal -- who can no longer wear regular shoes, wants something pretty, but also doesn’t like a ton of flair -- these are fantastic.
If you’d like to support Unshoes, they’ve just launched a Kickstarter campaign to get these PRETTY, HEALTHY shoes out in the world!
Full disclosure: Hey, don’t you know me by now? No, I didn’t get any free shoes or compensation for writing this. That’s not how I roll. I’ve paid (or traded products in one case) for my shoes, just like you do. If you're reading about something on this blog it's because I think it's awesome. Period.