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Sunday, June 2, 2013
What Some Shoe Companies Don't Want You To Know.
It was just another day of shoe shopping - or so I thought.
How could I have known that, while innocently shopping for shoes, that I'd unwittingly stumbled into a different dimension of altered reality?
A older salesman with kind eyes greeted me as I stepped into a moderately upscale shoe store specializing in comfortable shoes. He asked if he could help me and I replied, "I'm looking for shoes for my husband. I'd like to see whatever shoe you have with a thick, rigid sole - preferably one with a hidden steel shank in the sole."
"I'm sorry, we don't carry anything like that," he replied with a sympathetic smile.
"I thought you carried men's Dansko dress shoes?"
"Not anymore," he said with a polite smile.
"Okay, so let me see whatever men's shoe that you do carry that has a thick, rigid sole."
He shook his head, not unkindly. "We don't have any."
I gazed at him in astonishment. "Are you telling me that in this entire shoe store, you don't have any men's shoes with a thick, rigid sole?"
"Sorry." He gave an apologetic shrug.
As a podiatrist, I prefer to 'secret shop' shoe stores, but I decided to introduced myself. "My name is Cathy and I'm a podiatrist. I'm looking for a dress shoe for my husband. He's recovering from a foot injury and I need a shoe with a thick, rigid sole so that he can continue to heal and he doesn't re-injure himself."
At this point, the salesman's previously polite mask dropped and his eyes flashed with a knowing gleam. He gave a furtive glance around, to make sure that no one would overhear our conversation. He leaned in and whispered, "You know and I know that a shoe with a rigid sole is better and more comfortable but we had to stop carrying them because we couldn't get our customers to try them on! We'd show them the shoe and they would see a rigid sole and automatically think it was uncomfortable. We stopped carrying them because we couldn't sell them!"
"Are you telling me that every men's shoe in here has a flexible sole and is crap?" I asked in astonishment.
"Shhh!" He hushed me and looked around, visibly upset. "Keep your voice down!"
"I'm sorry," I replied. "I just can't believe..."
"What sells is giving people what they want, not what they need," he said. After a moment, his eyes brightened, "Would you like to see some women's shoes?"
Feeling that this was an isolated incident, I purchased a lovely Earthies women's wedge heel that fit all the criteria of what makes a comfortable shoe. I went home and ordered the men's Dansko 'Wayne' online, which I knew was a good shoe. We received the shoes and they fit my husband perfectly.
Several weeks later, my husband and I were out shopping and I saw a well known nation chain men's shoe store and we decided to go in. I asked the handsome twenty year old salesman to show us any men's dress shoes with a thick, rigid sole with, preferably, a hidden steel shank in the sole. He led us past every display to the back of the store where he pointed to three shoes on the bottom shelf.
"This is it," he said.
My husband picked up the shoes and tried to bend them. "Yup, these don't bend," he said.
"What about all the other shoes that we just passed?" I asked, hooking my thumb over my shoulder to the rest of the store.
He shook his head with a smile. "This is it."
Several hours later, we passed a well-known national-chain hiking shoe store, which shall also remain unnamed. We proceeded into the store and I was appalled to find that this store, that built their reputation on making and selling comfortable, high quality hiking shoes was now specializing in minimalist shoes. Only five percent of the shoes in the entire store were even decent and, once again, they were all relegated to the back of the store. The best shoe in the store was on the back shelf, bottom row. The other ninety-five percent of the shoes that populated their shelves were complete garbage. Their new marketing plan seems to be catering to minimalist shoes that offers little more protection than enfolding your feet in wrapping paper and tying it with a bow.
By this time, I was simmering with indignation!
It is my opinion that these shoe manufacturers know exactly what what makes a good shoe but they have chosen to follow another path. A path lined with lies and greed as they feed upon the misconceptions of an unsuspecting public. There are perhaps some people out there with perfect biomechanics who will be able to wear minimalist shoes for 'X' amount of time, but there are also a whole host of people who go to these stores expecting that if they shell out one to two hundred dollars for a 'comfortable' shoe that they are getting something of quality and worth.
I used to advise patients that eighty percent of shoes out there are garbage and only twenty percent are good. The search for good looking shoes that are good for your feet and pathology specific is what led me to start this blog! In the last several months, I have revised that number to a ninety percent garbage rate.
The problem is that finding comfortable shoes is counter-intuitive. If a person's foot hurts, they go to the shoe store and say, "I need a shoe that is soft and flexible - like a cloud." No one goes into the store and says, "My foot hurts. I need a shoe that is thick and rigid."
But, if you break a bone, we put you in a cast, which not only allows the body to heal itself but also is much more comfortable. No motion translates to less pain. Finding a comfortable shoe is a counter-intuitive process - and shoe companies know this.
It angers me that shoe companies are selling crap to the public. I'm not talking about sky-scraper heels - everyone knows they are not good for your feet, but I am referring to shoe companies that carry men's dress shoes, running shoes and hiking boots and are making claims that minimalist shoes with flexible soles are good for you.
My career is based on helping people with foot and ankle pain. In my opinion, there are three main causes of foot and ankle pain: genetics, injury and inadequate shoegear. Fifty percent of my practice is based on properly diagnosing and treating people who have made one bad move in a bad shoe and now have a fracture, torn tendon, sprain or a variety of other pathologies. The first part of the process is to get it healed. The second is to make sure that the patient is in proper shoes and inserts so they do not re-injure themselves and can get back to all their normal activities. So, yes, I get upset when I see companies marketing 'comfort' shoes when, in reality, the shoes are recipes for foot and ankle injuries.
When did we as a society forget how to make a quality shoe?
Or, is it more insidious than that?
When did some of the major shoe companies decide that they don't give a flying fig for how to make a quality shoe - and that it was easier to make a fast buck on crap shoes?
THE TRUTH THAT SOME SHOE COMPANIES DON'T WANT YOU TO KNOW:
FOUR THINGS THAT A SHOE MUST HAVE TO BE COMFORTABLE:
1. A thick, rigid sole that does not bend or flex and has a wide base through the midfoot area.
2. Arch support.
3. A wide, soft square toebox.
4. Rearfoot control.
It doesn't matter what brand you get or how much you spend - just make sure that your shoes meet these four criteria and you can judge for yourself.
Have a safe and healthy day!
Dr. Cathleen A. McCarthy
Check out my first novel which was written under the pen name C. Mack Lewis. It's available on Kindle or you can download a free Kindle app and read it on your iPad.
Thank you for your support!