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Why This Company Says Modern Footwear is Failing Consumers’ Feet

Modern footwear, it seems, may not be good for feet at all.

That’s at least what Vivobarefoot, a London-based barefoot running shoe brand, contends and has endeavored to back in its new 4-minute documentary on the history of footwear and its effect on the health of the human foot.

The documentary, titled “Shoespiracy” was made available on the brand’s website Wednesday and showcases the opinions of “leading shoemakers, medics, bio-mechanists and researchers” in the field of barefoot footwear to illustrate a problem the company calls a “public health scandal.”

Citing foot health experts and a 2014 American Podiatric Medical Association study that found 77 percent of Americans 18 and older experience foot pain, Vivobarefoot contends that modern technology has actually conspired to weaken the very thing footwear was invented to protect.

“It’s astonishing to us that the vast majority of shoes produced each year are actually bad for people’s feet—and the wearers are none the wiser,” Vivobarefoot co-founder Galahad Clark said in a statement. “A number of leading footwear company executives have often said to me over the years that they know science and agree with the philosophy behind the benefits of barefoot shoes, but that consumers aren’t ready.”

Contributors to the documentary, including health experts, like Dr. Irene Davis, director of the Spaulding National Running Center, who explains that the human foot has not changed since the days of prehistory. Although modern footwear is designed to protect the foot and alleviate pain, it is possible that relying on such advancements has served only to create more problems.

“When you look at shod populations, people who have worn traditional shoes for years, you start to see a change of shape in their foot. You start to see a rigidity and restriction in the natural movement,” Dr. Emily Splichal, CEO and founder of the Evidence Based Fitness Academy, said in the film. “Most of the injuries I see in my office—plantar fasciitis, stress fractures, Achilles tendonitis—I attribute to a disconnect that is created between the body and the ground and I associate that with modern footwear.”

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“Shoespiracy” makes the argument that a substantial number of those issues intensified as a result of the jogging craze in the 1970s. As everyday Americans attempted to return to a running lifestyle, athletic footwear companies began to design to cater to a mass audience—which had spent most of its life constrained to dress shoes. Thus, modern footwear technology was designed to fix a problem that shoes, themselves, conspired to make.

For Vivobarefoot the belief is that the future of footwear is minimalist, giving the foot’s natural construction a chance to return to its normal state. In turn, that should eventually alleviate many of the problems over reliance on footwear has caused.

On the other hand, however, the American Podiatric Medical Association has also warned against accepting barefoot running wholesale. It currently advises prospective runners that “while anecdotal evidence and testimonials proliferate on the Internet and in the media about the possible health benefits of barefoot running, research has not yet adequately shed light on the immediate and long-term effects of this practice.”

Regardless, Vivobarefoot believes its footwear, which is composed of an “ultra-thin, puncture-resistant sole” can provide the best of both worlds. Additionally, the company has pledged to only produce products made from at least 90 percent sustainable materials by 2020. It also recently released a smart shoe that can provide the wearer with real-time running data using some of the thinnest sensors in the world and was one of the first to create footwear using an algae-based foam in 2017.