We live in an age where soft sneakers is the norm on people’s feet, and unfortunately this cushioning slowly seem to gain traction also in the classic shoe world. The problem is that our feet are not built to be walking around in that environment, and this risk leading to serious feet health issues.
During the largest part of the evolution of Homo Sapiens, a species that’s been around for about 300,000 years, we’ve been walking barefoot. This on various types of ground, all from soft soil to hard mountains, where the muscles, tendons and ligaments worked extremely hard all days. Now, this obviously meant problems in some regards, for example with constant risk for injuries. Hence, one eventually started covering the feet in various ways, to protect them. Fast forward a few thousand years, and here we are, spending most of our days walking around on only hard floors and pavement, and we do it to a larger and larger extent with our feet embedded in cushions. It’s not natural in any way, and unfortunately our feet are paying for it, even if many are yet to find out. I’ve touched on this topic before, and intend to go much more in-depth in a coming article, here I will focus on how the softness and cushioning has taken its way over also to the world of classic shoes.
This area surfaced my mind again when I saw a video where the American bootmaker Red Wing presented a new model, and more or less proudly showed the “new improved” insole structure, where their excellent thick vegetable tanned leather soles, one of the real pros of their shoes normally, has been exchanged to an insole made of Texon (cellulose fibre board which have a significantly lower lifespan than real leather insoles), a mid layer in Poron (a polyurethane plastic based foam, which don’t breath, despite what some marketing says. The “open cell” structure of Poron doesn’t have anything to do with letting air through it, in fact it’s a material used for sealing high-pressure gaskets etc.) and on top a sock lining of chrome tanned leather (cheaper than veg tanned sock linings). So, basically three shortcuts that makes for a cheaper shoe (I haven’t even mentioned the foam mesh material they line the vamp and toe with, instead of leather), hidden under the hood of “comfort” (I mean, if the cushioning is only what you’re after you could do that with a vegetable tanned insole and veg tanned sock lining). All this presented while the Youtuber happily acknowledge it all, while I wish he would ask questions about why they’ve removed a thick, proper veg tanned insole which one have used for insoles in shoes for hundreds of years, and exchanged it to this. And when the likely reply from Red Wing comes, being something like “this is what customers want today” or similar, he should have asked “yeah, and what do you think about his, do you see any problems with it?”.
Now, Red Wing is certainly not alone in going this route, today you see it from many brands making traditional Goodyear welted shoes, mainly in the budget and midrange price segments, but also a couple of higher end brands have followed the trend. Cause trend, that’s what it is. Footwear in general has become more and more cushioned and padded, all for that instant comfort, but without any thought on what this does with our bodies in the long run. Again, I will go into this much more in-depth later on, but studies from among others Harvard shows serious issues for our feet occurring. Cushioning is like sugar, it’s instant gratification, feels good at first, and the more we have of it the more we want. But – it’s not good for us (at least not too much of it).
Now, there’s no problem to walk around in soft, cushioned sneakers or so every now and then, but if our feet never are used the way they are intended, they will not function the way they are intended. And worth noting, also walking around in perfectly fitting bespoke shoes with superb support, even if it leaves your feet relieved and not tired at the end of a long day walking, would not be ideal to constantly walk around in. Feet have to work, thankfully here in Sweden and in many parts of the world we walk barefoot (well, in socks, that is) indoors, which makes a huge difference, but also here we should go barefoot outside more than we do, and everyone should, as with the rest of our body, do training with our feet to keep muscles and ligaments in trim, not least to avoid feet health issues and problems when we grow older. And no one should embed their feet in foam and cushioning (which also doesn’t allow your feet to breathe) all the time, so don’t.