Tuesday, June 14, 2011


I just spent $160 for two pairs of Vibram Fivefingers shoes, one pair of Komodos and one pair of Classics. The Komodos are designed for sports, including parkour, that involve lateral motion  and balancing on the forefoot. I liked the way they felt. Even though the soles were a bit thicker and more padded, I still had plenty of freedom of movement in my feet. I will see how they do in the next parkour session. They are also supposed to be more rugged; hopefully they can handle the abuse that I inflict on my shoes.

The classics were on sale for $50. They will not be able to handle any serious activity, but they will be good for everyday use, and should be fine for light jogging. I had a ratty old pair of sandals that I wore when I did not feel like putting on my KSO's, but the classics are so easy to put on that I will not need to wear them anymore.

I am very frugal; I live more cheaply than anyone I know. I hate wasting money. But when it comes to shoes, I will gladly pay for quality. Your footwear has a huge impact on your quality of life. You will spend at least half of your life in your shoes, and with every step you take, they will do either good or bad things to your feet, ankles, knees, legs, and even your hips and spine.  If people put more thought into choosing the shoes that are right for them, and were willing to spend the money, they would have a better lifestyle and fewer health problems.

My mom's mother is 93 now, and still active and moving around. One of the reasons for this is that she refuses to buy 'little old lady' shoes. She goes to the kid's section of the shoe store and buys sneakers made for little boys. They are bright and colorful and comfortable and meant for moving around and have convenient velcro straps rather than laces.

My dad's mother, by contrast, is much younger but seems to have more trouble moving around. The main reason for this is that she will often wear horrible flip-flops that make it impossible to move well. Some of her family were considering getting her a scooter. My family did our best to convince them that this would be a terrible idea and that getting better shoes so she could actually walk around would be much better.

Part of the effect of shoes is psychological. Putting on little kid's shoes makes my grandmother feel younger.  Studies have shown that this makes a difference; if you surround old people with things that remind them of their youth, their health actually improves. Of course, when my grandmother was young, running around being a tomboy and playing sandlot baseball, nobody had shoes like that. But in her mind, those shoes equal youth, and so she is healthier and acts younger.

I freely admit that part of the effect of my Vibrams may be psychological. They press all the right buttons: they are new, well-engineered, and high-tech, but not associated with a traditional shoe company and all of their annoying celebrity endorsements and manipulative ads. They are affiliated with the outdoor sports and natural fitness movement. 

In a way, I like the attention they bring. I like signaling that I am the kind of person who tries new things, is willing to push social boundaries, and wants and needs shoes designed for an active and unconventional lifestyle. From a standpoint of practicality and biomechanics, this is irrelevant rubbish, but I have a primate subconscious like everyone else, and these social things matter to it. The feeling I get from wearing my Vibrams is probably the feeling that most people get when they wear designer clothing or other status symbols, and for the same reason.

In a few years, there will probably be a cheaper brand that works just as well. The popularity of Fivefingers is bringing lots of competitors. This can only be a good thing; being the only provider of these kinds of shoes allows the Vibram company to extract monopoly profits from me. We will only see the full potential of minimalist shoes when we have a competitive market with lots of options, and lots of companies trying to outdo each other to deliver better value.

But if Vibram manages things well, they will retain their cachet and all of the benefits it brings them. It will be interesting to see if I stick with that company or switch to a different brand.

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