An unexpected perk of being a barefoot runner is all the free shoes. I just received a pair of Invisible Shoes to try and write about. You can make your own for very cheap, but I tried that and failed. Knowing a bad word from a highly respected member of the footerati such as I could undo all his hard work, Steven Sashen promised to make a pair for me himself. Actually, no he didn’t, I made that up. Anyway, I have a nice pair of sandals to review, but first a tangentially related rant.
I have advice to all the “barefoot shoe” manufacturers. I’ll set aside the fact that the term “barefoot shoe” makes me feel like my brain getting hit by a 2×4. This is a pure, sans-sarcasm offering to anyone who wants to profit from the growing market for simple, flat-soled shoes:
Sell your shoes for $10.
The whole point of a minimalist shoe isn’t what it does for a runner, but rather what it doesn’t do. You (dear shoemaker) need to find a way to communicate to customers this fact. Your shoe won’t influence the way we run, they won’t support anything, they won’t make us faster, they won’t make us run farther, they won’t make us trail wizards, they won’t make us run smoothly, they won’t make us feel like we’re running on puffy clouds, and they won’t make you a swimsuit model. Most importantly, they won’t make you immune to injury. All the shoe needs to do is make sharp things on the ground less sharp, keep the feet warm, and fit.
When I hear the price of something expensive, my usual reaction is “that better come with dancing girls!” You see, if I’m paying say $10 for a hamburger, I’ll say “I trust that comes with a side of dancing girls.” Because I expect more for my dollar, and it would be fun to watch the Can-Can on lunch break.
So what happens when a runner sees a “barefoot shoe” priced at regular running shoe prices? If they’re me, they’re going to expect dancing girls. If they’re a normal person, they’re going to expect the shoe to do something for them. Not only is that against the principle of what you’re trying to sell, but it will lead to runners getting injured wearing shoes they thought would make them injury free. For a runner to learn how to run smoothly, they need to expect very little from their footwear.
LESS SHOE, MORE YOU.
Go ahead, use it. That’s a freebie. If you want a limerick, though, it’ll cost ya.
Anyway, if you want to stand out from the rest of the minimalist vendors out there, sell it like you mean it. Tell the world your shoes are truly minimalist, and priced accordingly. Your competitors will be asked what their shoes offer that yours don’t, and they will have to either admit their products are not really minimalist (they offer lots of gimmicky bells and whistles), or that their prices are artificially high as a signifier of quality (“they’ll last forever!” yeah, well so do my $5 aqua socks).
Back to the Invisible Shoes. The fact that this is a small operation without access to the resources of a Nike or Adidas, makes the $50 pricetag of their custom-made sandals pretty reasonable. The fact that they sell the materials for $13 – $25 and give detailed instructions on how to make them yourself for free communicates the minimalist message nicely: the shoes are so basic you can make them yourself.
I should mention their tagline, “Better than barefoot.” When I first read that, I was all, “nuh-uh.” But that’s what a shoe company is supposed to say. They should be “better” than barefoot, otherwise why not be barefoot? So sure, I disagree (tactile feedback, etc), but I approve.
Re the shoes themselves, I think I’m going to like them once I figure out the best lacing method for me. The thin slab of sole is a nice buffer over gravel (where for me they currently are “better” than barefoot), and the toe thong doesn’t bug me when wearing toe socks. They’d be great for races like Umstead where there’s long stretches of rocky bridal paths. Not this year, though; not until I know how I tolerate the laces on the long runs.
Wait, I have a marathon in nine days? Shoot – I forgot to train.
Anyway, expect some more Invisible Shoe adventures in the future. And c’mon, shoe companies: LESS SHOE MORE YOU. Let’s do this thing.