Welcome to the second barefoot revolution

Galahad Clark, the man behind Vivobarefoot, hasn’t worn regular shoes in years. That’s because he believes the modern footwear industry is a public health scandal.

In a recent interview, Clark told Digital Trends that he sees footwear that’s marketed to be healthy – conscious of the wearer’s high or low arch, their stride, and the way their foot strike lands – as the worst kind of fraud. “Foot coffins” is the term he used to describe them, and firmly believes that when developing them, prominent footwear companies aren’t taking health or natural development into consideration. Feet are natural and healthy the way they are when we are born.

Adult feet are becoming increasingly deformed, however, thanks to the way mainstream shoes and chairs are built with extra support and padding. “When your brain gets bad information, you make bad moving decisions,” he told Digital Trends. The bad information that incorrectly formed footwear sends to your brain only perpetuates increasingly bad movement decisions, increasing the likelihood that your foot is developing in an unhealthy way.

And Clark sees a way forward — going shoeless.

Living barefoot isn’t just a passing fad

This idea that barefoot living is a healthier way to exist isn’t new. The barefoot revolution has been well underway for a long time, but Clark views it as having come in waves. During the first barefoot revolution wave, wearers were enthusiastic to commit to their new way of movement. When the first barefoot craze hit the masses, people committed to barefoot living aggressively – too aggressively, as it turns out. The burn-out rate was massive, and many couldn’t sustain their barefoot way of life because they bit off too much too soon.

“when your brain gets bad information, you make bad moving decisions.”

Right now, we are amid the second barefoot revolution. This is a more educated group of wearers who are looking to transition to barefoot living and maintain that lifestyle indefinitely. Clark promotes this more measured approach that he feels defines this second barefoot revolution. This second wave is more informed, and those who are committing to living barefoot are going about it at a more metered pace.

Clark has been working to make Vivobarefoot a proponent of this steady adoption of barefoot lifestyles across the globe. As Clark puts it, most the world population currently has, “weakened, compromised feet.” To rehabilitate adult feet, people must transition to living barefoot full time at their own unique pace. To help with this, Vivobarefoot has recently partnered with Sensoria, a world-leader in wearable, smart technology, to create a barefoot shoe option that literally coaches the wearer on how to rehabilitate her feet through a connected app.

Tech puts the wearer in control

The shoe, designed for barefoot runners, incorporates a pressure sensor. Based on the information the pressure sensors pick up, the application coaches the wearer in real time on how to correctly engage the foot.

The sensor is integrated using a flexible technology, maintaining the shoe’s barefoot sole design and comfortability. The idea to incorporate the pressure sensor into the shoe came from the pressure sensor plates that Vivobarefoot already has in all its stores, per Clark. When wearers see their feet on the pressure sensor, they have what Clark describes as a “lightbulb moment.” In many cases, the wearer’s pressure imprint doesn’t even begin to look like a human foot.

This foot deformity comes from years of wearing mainstream shoes that aren’t designed with healthy, natural movement in mind. Clark comes from a, “long line of shoe makers,” but he believes that the modern footwear industry is letting wearers down. That’s why he’s made it Vivobarefoot’s mission to truly let their wearers “enjoy the world,” by “reteaching them how to stand and move.”

Helping barefoot enthusiasts understand that they likely won’t be able to go out tomorrow and run a barefoot marathon is surprisingly difficult. Their enthusiasm is often unbridled, especially once they realize how disfigured their current foot pressure and stride is because of their “healthy” footwear.

A barefoot shoe that coaches the wearer on how to rehabilitate her feet.

Building up to barefoot running is a process, not unlike when a baby first learns to walk. Clark notes that it’s important to remember that, “running is a macro-skill made up of many micro-skills.”

Here’s where the connected shoe comes in. When the wearer has constant guidance and reminders to engage the big toe, shift her weight, and focus on the micro-skills required to successfully live barefoot full time, she’s more likely to make the transition and stick with it. The sensors in the new line of Vivobarefoot shoes are set up to “grade” the wearer’s feet, and judge the best pace to guide a runner through the transition to barefoot based on how healthy the current foot is.

The shoe leverages Sensoria’s microelectronics and monitors speed, pace, cadence, GPS track, foot landing technique, time on the ground, impact score and eventually, asymmetry and toe engagement.

“These are all important metrics to monitor natural running and reduce risk of injury,” said Davide Vigano, co-founder and CEO of Sensoria. Keeping the risk of injury low during the transition process is critical. The longer a wearer sticks with the barefoot process injury-free, the more likely she is to live barefoot for the rest of her life. And, as Clark puts it, once someone has fully committed to living in barefoot shoes, they’re in. For good.

“I’ve never, ever met anyone who goes back.”

What does the future hold for barefoot living?

Clark thinks that, while this connected footwear will certainly make barefoot living more accessible to wearers the world over, there is still some ways to go before barefoot footwear is the mainstream’s choice. He says that the, “consumer isn’t ready for full-time barefoot revolution.” However, it’s his hope that with increased education and promotion of healthy movement, more people will see the benefit of foregoing traditional footwear. More important, Clark wants to focus on children’s footwear and attempt to break the cycle of unhealthy foot growth for future generations.

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Clark has also been working on a new initiative to go back to the way indigenous cobblers made shoes – shoe by shoe, person by person. Clark believes that this original way of designing footwear is what the industry must circle back to to continue pushing natural, healthy movement.

Clark is taking indigenous designs from cobblers around the world and using them to help create a new line of Vivobarefoot footwear, where the profits go back to those indigenous communities. While this is still in the works, Vivobarefoot is forging ahead on the frontier of barefoot footwear and living.

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