In a recent post, I discussed the impending revolution in the shoe industry and which companies seemed to be in a position to be winners and losers. It’s purely speculative and based on nothing but my own observations (i.e.- no real data), but it’s fun tossing out predictions.
One that note- here are ten reasons the shoe revolution will occur:
1. The revolution in running form. POSE, ChiRunning, Evolution Running, Good Form Running, Bareform Running, barefoot running… all of these ideas support one concept- running with a shorter, faster stride. Quality running coaches (high school, college, and professional) all teach the same basic idea- there’s a right way to run and it doesn’t involve overstriding with a heel strike. The fact that some companies are actively teaching this (Merrell, New Balance, Vibram) is a sign that “good form awareness” is spreading. Once people recognize there’s a right way to run, they will begin seeking shoes that facilitate good form, which are lightweight shoes with a minimally-cushioned sole and near-zero heel drop.
2. The Nike factor. Nike IS going to do something… it’s just a matter of time. The Free line clearly is not going to be their lone foray into the minimalist shoe market. As the most powerful force in the athletic shoe world, they alone have the power to affect the tipping point between the old “motion control/stability/neutral” paradigm and the new “natural running shoe” paradigm. I don’t think the Valiant research was meaningless. I predict Nike will release a true minimalist shoe (not like the Free) and market the Hell out of it. They will also push the new paradigm hard. Why? They can immediately dominate a new market by redefining it, which will leave their present competition in the dust. Don’t be surprised if they recruit some powerful allies in the barefoot/minimalist community.
3. The New Balance factor. New Balance is making incredible strides in shoe design. Their new Minimus line and the MT110 should be significant improvements over the previous models. Good design is a major plus. New Balance’s real significance, however, lies in their pedigree. As a running shoe company, they already have strong in-roads to running specialty stores. Running Specialty is going to be the last holdouts for a paradigm shift. After all, they’ve sold the “foot coffin” paradigm for decades. If Nike doesn’t act, New Balance will be the agent of change that will provide minimalist products in your local running store, teach about good running form, and ultimately be the “Trojan Horse” that ultimately opens up the minimalist market in local running stores.
4. The social nature of running. The barefoot running movement has been a grass-roots phenomenon fueled by the Internet and friend networks. It works like this- one person learns about barefoot running, tries it, has tremendous success, then tells all their friends. Eventually their friends try it, too, fall in love, and continue spreading the word. The Internet serves as an educational tool that supports that expansion. This trend will continue at an exponential pace, especially since so many institutions are beginning to either actively spread the idea or passively support the concept. The introduction of the “barefoot shoe” idea opens the concept of barefoot running to a MUCH wider audience. As more manufacturers begin selling shoes marketed as “barefoot shoes” more and more people will pick up the idea. Exponential growth facilitated by peer networks… this is what has and will continue to fuel the movement.
5. The start-ups. The idea of minimalist shoes is not new… they’ve been around forever. However, the shoes being marketed as minimalist shoes appears to be a new idea in the minds of consumers. That new shoe concept is being fueled by tiny startups that are defining the market. Companies like Stem, Skora, Altra, Kigo, etc. are creating products that larger companies will eventually copy. This is how most innovation works- tiny companies spring up, take HUGE chances on innovative products, then larger companies use the ideas once the market decides which ideas will be successful. We’re at the point where the startups have pretty much defined what constitutes a good minimalist shoe. We’re seeing most of the major manufacturers producing shoes that fit this new paradigm. Some are better than others. Over the next year, we’ll see a refining process as the good shoes succeed and the bad shoes fail. The market will help cull the good offerings from the shit, and the small startups will help define what is a “good offering.”
6. Empirical research. The current body of research supporting the ideas of barefoot and minimalist shoe running is fairly impressive. There are A LOT more studies supporting the idea than studies refuting the idea. It’s safe to say the idea is valid. Since Lieberman’s Nature study was published, I’ve been contacted by no less than six researchers or assistants for guidance on developing studies related to barefoot or natural running. And those are just the researchers that reached out to me. Over the next year or two, well see a flood of empirical research that will help teach us the specifics of natural running. Groups like the Natural Running Center will help spread the word about the emerging research. This research will serve a critical purpose- it will help sway the medical community.
7. The changing medical community. Supported by emerging empirical research, the medical community is becoming increasingly supportive of the premise of barefoot and minimalist shoe running. Based on conversations I’ve had with people in the medical community, one specific idea has swayed their opinion. Barefoot and minimalist shoe running strengthens anatomy, while traditional shoes immobilize anatomy. If a traditional shoe is thought of as a cast, suddenly this idea makes a lot of sense. If someone has suffered an injury and need immobilization to heal, traditional, supportive shoes will allow them to heal. Once healed, however, it’s logical to begin a strengthening program. What strengthens? Minimalist shoes! I’ve found most doctors prescribe orthotics because patients are too lazy to do the required rehab exercises to strengthen their feet and solve the problem. They’re aware that orthotics will never solve the problem, only temporarily alleviate the symptoms. They recognize this is a way to actually solve problems. As such, they’re beginning to support the idea en mass.
8. The effects of standing. People that stand on their feet all day have a tendency to buy excessively cushioned shoes that provide a ton of support. Unsurprisingly, this group experiences significant foot, leg, and back problems related to foot immobility and changed posture due to raised heels. This group, for the most part, has not discovered minimalist shoes. When they do, the idea will spread like wildfire. All it will take is one nurse at a hospital to make the switch and experience immediate benefits. Or one cashier. Or one hairdresser. This application of minimalist shoes will be far more powerful than the effect on the running world. After all, only about 3% of the population runs. Imagine what will happen when people recognize the benefits outside the realm of recreational physical movement?
9. Born to Run- the movie. Jake Gyllenhall + the story line of Born to Run = blockbuster. This could be bigger than the previous eight factors. The cinema has the power to reach a HUGE audience, including the international community.
10. Momentum. All of these factors are occurring at the same time. This movement started as a trickle. It grew steadily for a number of years. Over the last year or so, it really began to build momentum. I don’t have the exact figures, but shoe sales can be one such measure. Motion control shoes increased in sales by something like 2-4% in the first quarter of this year. Minimalist shoe sales grew several hundred percent in the same time frame. That’s just one objective measure of growth. There are others: the number of barefoot or minimalist stories appearing in the media, number of blogs dedicated to the topic, number of Barefoot Runners Society chapters, number of different shoes released by different manufacturers, the number of minimalist SKUs on the walls of shoe stores, etc.
There are other reasons we’re going to see a significant revolution… these ten are just a partial list. All point in the same direction- how we think about human movement is changing, and that change is being led by the barefoot/minimalist shoe movement.
By now, most people with some sense of objectiveness acknowledge this change. Still, many believe change will be slow and methodical… taking perhaps years.
I strongly disagree. Change appears to be slow today, but that will change. Any study of epidemics will show the typical progression of growth, and it’s not linear. Something will happen that will cause sudden and dramatic growth. I’m willing to bet that “something” will be any one of or a combination of the ten factors above.
What do you think?