Soft Star Shoes
Review, originally posted 2008-06-18 on tjepster.com
Style: Men’s & women’s
Sample Size: EU43 / UK9 / US10
Design: Soft Star Shoes (USA)
Country of production: USA
Weight per shoe*: 165 gr. (5.82 oz.)
Thickness of sole*: 6 mm. (0.236 in.)
Upper material: Leather
Outsole: Leather & T-Rex (rubberized non-slip surface)
Price: $78 (around €50 or £40)
*Weight and thickness are always measured without insole when possible (since I usually recommend losing the insole, thus making the shoe more minimal). The weight is found using electronic scales from OBH that weigh down to 1 gram. The thickness is measured with a one-handed bar clamp. Thickness and especially weight are of course dependent on shoe size (See above). NB. Soft Star shoes have no removable insole.
After reviewing the Feelmax shoes I was really interested in testing a pair of “real” moccasins. I searched the internet and one day I stumbled upon the company Soft Star Shoes. The info on the site leaves no doubt that the company is all about promoting natural shoes that support a healthy and unconstrained development of the foot. The target group is mainly babies and toddlers – or more precisely adults who are interested in buying healthy footwear for their young ones. However, Soft Star also offers moccasins for the adults themselves, which is nice. Many companies make healthy footwear for children, because everybody wants to give life a good start, but very often the products aren’t available for adults. This makes sense, though, because the adult world is much more critical, hard to please or perhaps just too conforming in many ways. Still, there are people who are interested in continuing the healthy development through adulthood as well.
The marketing approach of Soft Star is of course influenced by the young target group. It is in fact highly skilled elves from Köln in Germany who make the shoes overnight. They have found their sanctuary in the Soft Star workshop where they manufacture moccasins in exchange for pints of ale and fudge brownies. Let’s not ruin the story but instead note that the shoes are in fact handcrafted in Oregon, USA, by a very family oriented company. Whether the cordwainers are elves or not won’t be challenged.
The good thing about the elves in Oregon is that they let you design the exact shoe style you want. For instance you can choose a suede or a leather upper and combine it with a rubber sole or just a rubber sole coating. The possibilities are many and you can choose color as well. There are also pre-designed shoes though, and originally I went for the Grippy Suede Roo, but the owner of Soft Star, Tricia, suggested the more durable and water repellent leather upper instead, and I ended up with a Smooth Leather Grippy Roo that I had to design myself. This designing was a brilliant experience, and I was thrilled with the concept. The fact that you can design your own shoes makes you able to put your own minimal shoe ideas into action. The Smooth Leather Grippy Roo fitted my objective completely. The T-Rex rubberized layer is not really a sole – it just ads more durability to the leather bottom without weighing as much as a rubber sole would. But if you are more into protection you can just choose a rubber sole. And if you don’t want an extra sole layer at all you can stick to the leather or suede fabric.
Regarding looks I kept them pretty neutral. Brown and black. It was hard to decide the colors though, because this option was a great deal of fun. The many options that Soft Star Shoes offer overall is part of the whole buying experience. It makes both the company and the products unique. I would definitely let some of my money go towards this aspect of the shoes.
The shoes arrived in a white cardboard box. Nothing special about it – neither on the in- or outside. But the simple packaging fits the moccasins well. Simplicity is seen as a bonus, and this viewpoint I completely agree with. Besides the moccasins the box included a note with care tips and info on health benefits and a leaflet that promotes the company.
The moccasins themselves are very slipper-like. They look mostly like something you would wear indoors, but the company promotes them as outdoor footwear as well (In the next section you can find out how they worked as such). The leather is very elastic and so is the T-Rex sole. You can practically mold the shoes in your hands. The shoes weigh 165 grams (5.82 oz.) each (size EU43 / US10 / UK9 – I went with a smaller shoe size this time). The insole is made of sheepskin and the total sole thickness is 6 mm. (0.236 in.) – when being pressed down a bit by the bar clamp. The shoes are secured to your foot with an elastic band that also secures the leather back to the leather front. It’s a very interesting detail that makes you a bit nervous regarding the durability of the shoes. If the elastic band breaks they are useless as running shoes.
Overall the shoes look very different, which is due to the round edges and the lack of details in the leather. It takes some time getting used to and they may not fit every wardrobe out there.
After trying the shoes on the looks became less important. The shape is simply perfect. There’s enough room for your toes, your Achilles Tendon can work unhindered due to the low rear profile and the sheepskin is amazing. They are very, very comfortable but still very minimalistic. And after getting used to watching them on your feet, you actually start liking the looks as well. If you want them to be completely neutral you can just order them black/black, though.
The sole is perhaps a bit thick (6 mm. / 0.236 in.) compared to some of the other reviewed shoes, but it’s definitely not criminal. And the sheepskin does offers something quite different. To make an indirect reference to another company designing minimal shoes at the moment the sheepskin feels a lot like being barefoot on grass. It bends, turns and struggles but still feels very soft underneath your feet. It’s like touching the ground a bit differently each time. I thought it would flatten as the sheepskin wore out, but the insole proofed itself to be very strong. It still had its “living” structure after 100 km. (62.1 miles) of running.
Finally, the sheepskin simply feels very nice underneath your feet overall. I thought it was impossible before I found these shoes to combine minimalism with such a comfortable sole. But it actually works. It’s not clumsy in any way at all, because your feet sink into the sheepskin when you run and thus the sole feels a lot thinner than it is. A cool experience that I didn’t expect. Also the sheepskin tends to keep moisture away from your feet. After a long run your feet are still quite dry. If you’re not into animal fabrics Soft Star does have some vegan alternatives, though.
The comfort is a nice aspect if you use the shoes for long walks. Because the sole is still flat and very flexible you can easily use them for Fox Walking if you want to. And since you don’t sink as deeply into the sheepskin when walking they work quite well for heel strike walking too.
Overall the Soft Star moccasins are great minimal shoes in practice. They are very lightweight, and their flexibility is perfect. The elastic band doesn’t annoy your ankles and the shoes don’t fall of your feet. They feel a bit loose at times, and I was very glad that I ordered a size smaller than normally. This did hurt one of my toes in the beginning, but the leather adapted perfectly to the shape of my feet, so quickly there was enough room for this toe as well.
Regarding durability the elastic band never gave up. It is still in perfect shape, and by closer inspection the quality of the band itself seems quite good, though it’s still just an elastic band. The leather is also very durable. I know this for a fact, since the outsole has leather wrapped around the sides. This leather was as much in contact with the surface as the T-Rex sole, but it never came apart. The T-Rex sole itself was also very durable and after 100 km. (62.1 miles) of use some of the tiny rubber tips had disappeared, but besides that the sole was in perfect shape. So even though these moccasins are handcrafted and not intended for running they work perfectly and last very long – even when running on asphalt (which is my main running surface).
T-Rex and leather sole after 100 km. of running (62.1 miles)
When it came to water repellence the leather surprised me. I know leather has some nice abilities, but I didn’t expect the shoes to perform this well. Water could only pass through the small gap between the back and the front of the shoe. Even the sole joints kept water away.
[Rated: 6/10 Toes]
Soft Star moccasins were exactly what I hoped they would be. They proofed to me that simple is good. I find it incredible that so few and basic materials can make up a durable, comfortable and highly usable shoe. Where motion controlling running shoes let marketing influence the design to a degree where it’s just funny and clumsy, a company like Soft Star keeps its shoes so simple that the consumers themselves can design them. It’s just so far away from other companies’ approaches that it’s bound to be a success. The many options offered put the ball in the consumer’s hands and actually make it fun to buy shoes.
The moccasins work perfectly for running and walking and the sheepskin insole offers a completely new barefoot experience. Soft Star shoes are minimal but full of potential and thus fit my philosophy perfectly. It’s hard to criticize them, because I could just have designed them differently, so the fault would be mine. They do look very different though, and even though the design can be altered it would be cool if there were more adult styles. Perhaps a moccasin with laces and a more conforming look could convince anxious adults to go minimal.