By Victoria Derr Valencia

Minimalist footwear. The search for humans to become closer to their primal ancestors and Earth has overflowed into the footwear industry. Companies like VIVO Barefoot and EarthRunners have created shoes that benefit and enhance the foot’s natural ability to support, stride, and stretch.

The goal in mind is to lessen the cushion found in most sneakers, and to lessen the inch distance between Earth and our feet. The end result? A foot that’s more able to support itself, and a stronger spine activated by using the small muscles and bones in our feet that have become accustomed to unnecessary support.

To make a more even footprint on Earth.

My journey with minimalist footwear began with my dad. He was always one to wear trends on his toes, from Converse to Stan Smiths, but it all changed with the introduction of minimalist technology. I remember when he first told me about it – “Barefoot technology! Minimalist footwear! Look,” he slid a navy sneaker off his foot, balancing on the asphalt on one leg. “They’re super thin soled, to connect your feet more to the Earth.”

He launched into a spiel about how Nikes these days were made with too much cushion – our feet were becoming weak from the extra oomf Nike was creating without a cause. “Our feet have 26 bones – they can handle walking for long distances with no arch support.” My dad slipped his navy sneaker back onto his foot. “Just gotta retrain your feet,” he said, wiggling his heel into place.

I dove into my own research, forging through loads of information about heel striking, arch support, and companies that were doing the opposite of New Balances and Dr. Scholl’s.

Coming from the questioning that if our ancestors walked barefoot, hunted barefoot, lived barefoot, why did we find the need to over-cushion our feet with arch support and higher heels? And I’m not talking about 4-inch stilettos here – I think we can all agree that the only thing high heels are good for is weddings, and adding some extra height when necessary.

Most shoes will have a higher heel, even the slightest of centimeters. In 16th century Persia, men’s shoes had high heels to act as stabilizers when riding horseback. The extra oomf in the sole of the heel helped when wobbling atop a stirrup. Heeled shoes then expanded into European fashions, for both men and women.

And while today, high heeled shoes are mostly produced for women’s fashions, the majority of shoes will have a slight centimeter gain in the heels. The argument for having a slightly higher heel in shoes is that it keeps the sole from wearing out quicker, because of heel striking when walking or running.

Heel striking? Another vocab term I learned in my research. Heel striking is landing heel-first when placing your foot on the ground while walking or running. Watch any sneaker advertisement, and you’ll see the runners sticking their legs out in front of them, landing on their heels, and bounding forward. Making initial contact with your heel sends a shock up the leg and generates high force upwards. And think: landing forcefully on your heel, placed in front of you, naturally has to have some kind of stopping effect, no?

Minimalist footwear tries to counteract that.

A total flat sole encourages correction of heel striking while walking and running. Zero cushion encourages the 26 bones, 33 joints, and over 100 muscles and tendons to strengthen and be able to hold on their own. The strengthening of your foot is the strengthening of your spine; benefits have included better posture, better breathing, and increased balance.

Barefoot technology combines ancient wisdom with modern technology.

Your feet have hundreds of thousands of nerve endings. For feeling. For walking around barefoot on rocky terrain, either in the Anza Borrego desert or the darkened terrain of the midnight walk to the fridge. They were born to do the feel work for you. When wrapped up in shoes and elevated way beyond the ground, the 200,000 nerve endings in your feet can’t do their job as easy. And with that, we humans have disconnected ourselves, once again, from our nature. Sensory feedback is vital. We wouldn’t voluntarily choose to plug up our nose, or block our hearing. So why are we choosing to airtight wrap our feet?

EarthRunners shoes choose to counteract. I bought my first pair of EarthRunners five months ago and haven’t worn another shoe since. The shoe exudes simplicity – a single strap holds my foot in place, and the 8mm soles mirror the shape of my foot. More narrow in the back, wider by the toes. As a foot is.

 A very well-worn pair of EarthRunners.
A very well-worn pair of EarthRunners.

The sandal’s minimal strap allows for my toes to spread; the toe strap itself has helped to gently pull my toes apart. In five months, I’ve already noticed a difference in the width of my toe spread. Slowly beginning to counteract years of wearing pinch toed shoes.

The biggest difference between EarthRunners and other minimalist footwear brands is the copper plugs on the bottom of the shoe. Copper, as a conduit, provides a grounding effect the body craves, and needs, when EMF radiation reaches high exposure. EMFs, or electromagnetic fields, are produced by electrically charged objects, and affect other electrically charged objects in the vicinity. Cell phones, laptops, and pretty much anything that is plugged in eventually has long term negative effects on the human body. This leads to trouble focusing, extreme fatigue, brain fog, and sleep issues.

A grounded human being is someone who receives direct benefit from the infinite electron (energy) source generated in our planet.

The universe is energy! Direct skin to skin contact with Earth absorbs all that lovely energy our human needs to feel connected to Earth. In feeling connected, we activate our DNA and the relationship with our surroundings deepens. In turn, our relationship with ourselves and our body deepens. The commitment to health evolves. We gain life force; we are able to place ourselves within the macrocosm of the universe, and the microcosm of a single, living cell. It’s magnificent, and quite frankly, magnetic.

 VIVO Barefoot Kanna Hi Mesh sneakers.
VIVO Barefoot Kanna Hi Mesh sneakers.

My second pair of barefoot technology shoes were the Kanna Hi Mesh sneakers from VIVO barefoot. A high-top, closed toe sneaker. Going from a wide open sandal to a closed in shoe was easier than I imagined. These sneakers only have a 3mm sole, which was a huge step (literally) towards being closer to Earth than before. The shoe is vegan, with fleece-lined insides, and a wide toe box for toe-splaying freedom. And, as my dear friends pointed out, is way more stylish than most minimalist shoes.

VIVO Barefoot’s premise is simple: “We make shoes for people who don’t want to wear them.” They “combine ancient wisdom with modern technology through sustainable innovation.” The brand boasts multiple styles, from sneakers to sandals, high-top desert boots to flexible hiking boots. They even have a Chelsea boot. Their barefoot shoes are built for movement, but they have a heavy emphasis on style, for those who don’t want to sacrifice looks for functionality.

The few times I haven’t worn my EarthRunners or VIVO sneakers these past few months, I’ve felt a tangible difference. My corrected stride feels weird in platforms; I’m landing mid-sole rather than heel striking. My expanded toes suddenly feel pinched in tennis shoes; I can’t reach my toes over the edge of my shoes, or toe-splay and stretch. And in general, I don’t nearly feel as connected to my senses as I do when my feet’s sensors are freed from wearing covered shoes.

Of course, there was a transition period the first few weeks. My heel was sore from lack of cushion while striking. Truly, you can feel every crack and pebble you step upon. My feet felt way more naked. I felt like I was walking barefoot in public spaces: a disorienting feeling.

After five months, I’ve grown accustomed. I plan to solely wear and buy barefoot technology and minimalist footwear, to continue to regain the strength in my feet, and reconnect myself to Earth’s endless energy. As EarthRunners calls it, “re-wilding.”

The strategy is simple:

Less is more. Barefoot is better.