Virginia Postrel had links late last week to a couple of stories that are near and dear to my soul, I mean, soles: women’s footwear. Now, as anyone who knows me personally knows, in my simplified Principles-of-Economics utility function, there are two goods: shoes and yarn. Sometimes it’s shoes and pizza, but usually it’s shoes and yarn. Shoes are constant. I’m one of those folks who buys shoes, and then buys clothes (and knits sweaters, scarves and ponchos) and makes jewelry to go wtih my shoes. The shoes rule.
The variety of personal expression embedded in footwear choice is astounding. Footwear and its variety are a microcosm of the wonders of a dynamic, creative, free-market system. Not to mention that the perfect pair of queen-of-the-universe pumps totally rocks, as does the perfect pair of cute little black boots.
Unfortunately, for the past two months my poor soles have only occasionally been able to enjoy the bounty and splendour that is my shoe closet. I’m not quite sure how I got it, but in early June I developed a very deep bruise in my right heel, probably the result of spending two straight months moving house and renovating a house and working in the garden … and almost certainly exacerbated by a late-night game of capture the flag a few weeks ago, in which I made the ill-advised decision to play barefoot. In fact, it’s so bad that I can’t run for more than a half mile, which has meant that I have to pull out of the sprint-distance triathlon I was due to run this coming Sunday. I can swim and bike fine, but bike-run transition is an utter disaster.
This injury has meant that my usual wardrobe of summer sandals is painful, except for sandals with heel backs (and the only pair of those I have is my Tevas). Thus I’ve been living in my Salomon Tech Amphibian shoes, which have stunning heel support as well as being the perfect kayaking shoe. The footwear constraints have put a crimp in the wardrobe — no cute little Lilly Pulitzer skirts, no strappy sandals with cute flared jeans. And why bother to get a pedicure when you have socks on all the time? This heel thing is a total buzzkill. And it hasn’t gotten any better since I started really resting it three weeks ago.
So I was deeply interested in the two articles Virginia referenced. The first is a Washington Post article highlighting Insolia (their technology is in Amalfi shoes) and Oh! shoes. The challenge is to get an orthopedically acceptable, comfortable shoe without it being butt-ugly. Unlike some of the women mentioned in this article, I am all about comfort, yet also about having style. If I can’t fit an arch support and a gel pad in, I’m going to wear the shoe very infrequently. These entrepreneurs are trying to use technology to address the schizophrenic nature of the footwear fetishist — comfort and style.
The two companies have rolled out podiatrists and orthopedic surgeons to testify to the comfort of their wares. They have incorporated technology gleaned from military footwear, ski boots and hiking shoes. They have sent their pumps out for biomechanical testing in order to measure stability, cushioning and the rate of impact absorption. One male product developer has even clomped around his neighborhood in a pair of size 11 heels to get a firsthand understanding of what it means to walk in a pair of two-inch sling-backs.
They are very unlikely to break into the fashionista market or do anything to improve heels over 3″, but for the rest of us this is a hopeful application of technology and entrepreneurship.
The second article is a more focused profile of Insolia, the proprietors of which are MIT alums.
Research using F-Scan shows that women wearing a pair of conventional two-inch heels experience a 64 percent increase in forefoot pressure over the pressure exerted while wearing sneakers. Women wearing 2 1/8 inch heels with Insolia experience only a 22 percent increase in pressure. Blind studies also commonly result in Insolia wearers describing “this thick, wonderful padding,” says Hughes. “But there is no padding…it’s all geometry.”
How cool is that? I hope it’ll be more extensively available in enough time for next summer’s strappy sandals …
UPDATE: BTW, I know that it’s probably plantar fascitiis, about which I am in strong denial. Any suggestions welcome.