Thursday, November 29, 2007

Negative heel: Same old same old

The Masai Barefoot Technology shoes (MBTs) hit the fashion scene in 2003 and were billed as "the smallest gym in the world," with claims that even walking burnt off added calories. MBTs remain popular in ‘rolly shoe’ trade but there are other competitiors. The phenomenon predates MBTs and began in the sixties with Dr.Scholl’s Exercise Sandals and Earth Shoes (negative heel shoes). Yoga student, Anne Kalso noticed stretching her heel below the ball of her foot felt the same as when she was sitting in the Buddha position (lotus) of meditation. She and a shoe maker started to experiment with shoe design until they developed and refined the negative heel shoe. Earth shoes had a thicker sole under the ball of the foot with no heel and stretched the tendo Achilles with each step. Despite a flurry of fashion interest and feverent following by the few, the negative heel shoe had a mixed reception due mainly to discomfort reported when breaking them in. Flat Exercise sandals had similar problems and were worn loyaly by those who overcame initial teething troubles but abandoned in their millions by others. The keep fit kick has seen many new innovations with the lastest being FitFlops and the resurgence of the reflexology shoe, Chung-shi shoes. According to the manufacturers ‘rolly shoes’ improve muscle tone, improve posture, with reduced stress on the spine, knee and hip, yet there is an absence of independent testing to support these claims. Companies instead provide anidotal evidence to endorse their wares and affiliate themself with the keep fit/pilati movement. Probably the most credible works to date comes from Professor Vladimir Janda who trained as a neurologist before specialising in manual medicine and rehabilitation. Janda’s special interest was in the complex nature of chronic pain syndromes and how manual techniques integrated neurologically. Janda became known worldwide for his research linking muscle dysfunction and chronic pain syndromes. Clinically he was a proponent of manipulation, myofascial procedures and exercise, but found each approach alone was insufficient for the chronic syndrome. Janda did conduct research and found association between heel height and gluteal muscle function. Concensius opinion appears to support wearing a shoe that makes you pay conscious attention to balance may in some cases improve deportment. Walking is a learned activity and very much influenced by social mores, deportment for ladies for example was a proccupation of the Victorians who put enormous importance on such social ettiques. Learning to walk like a lady was part of school curriculum in finer schools and would have the same social significance as ‘keeping fit’ is today. The history of outside walking for women again dates to the time of Queen Victoria and her love for roaming in the hills and glens surrounding Braemar and her highland home, Balmoral. Heels in walking shoes for women were the novelty of the time, but the heels were positioned forward near the arch of the foot and not below the anatomical heel. The design of the shoe would mirror the negative heel style which was rediscovered in the sixties.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

MBT's launch in the US, although perhaps unintentional, is without a doubt a case study on modern marketing success:

1. A highly technical and beneficial Swiss engineered shoe... launched by Bliss Spa, in contrast, a flashy great American internet marketer... setting a parameter for specialty retail to quickly try to catch up with the "anti-cellulite" media buzz frenzy and fill-in the real and the rest of the story about the features and benefits of MBTs!

2. Word-of-mouth suddenly spreads like wild fire... pulling in consumers of all ages into trying, testing, loving, buying, using and talking about MBT's innovative features and benefits and its initial amazing standard of PRODUCT QAULITY AND DURABILITY (an excellent overview is on

3. Karl Mueller (MBT's illustrious inventor and quality control guru) has now unfortunately departed from the new company to work on other inventions... unfortunately technically there are now problems.

Recently the (out)soles of many of the new MBTs have been wearing through in only three months, which is not acceptable for a footwear product that costs $260!!!

In contrast, the original so-called "ugly" MBTs have almost perfect (out)soles after three years of daily use. Sure, these new MBTs may be "fashion relevant"... but what's the point if they are no longer "function relevant" and "quality relevant" to the original MBT? In much the same way as the Brikenstock launch (quite a while ago in California). These one-time "ugly" shoes yielded an appeal for their excellent function and hence (almost by mistake) became also fashionable. There is nothing pretty about a $260 shoe wearing out in only three months --in fact that is what is ugly here.