Monday, June 21, 2010

Flip-Flops, Part 2

As I mentioned in Flip-Flops, Part 1 (below), the APMA* has granted the Seal of Acceptance to 6 flip-flop brands (Chaco, Dansko, FitFlop, Orthaheel, Reebok, SOLE, Spenco, Wolky).

And that's when you say, What? Only six brands?

Seems crazy, right? There are MANY glaring omissions on that very small list. After a quick search, I found a few brands that seemed to meet APMA's criteria (anatomical footbeds and arch support): Birkenstock, El Naturalista, Merrell, Rogue (a new discovery for me!), and some Teva styles (not all). 

But the one that comes to mind first and foremost, let me say it in caps — KEEN. Yes, Keen, people (although again, not all styles)! I have two pairs. Let me tell you about them!

*American Podiatric Medical Association

KEEN FIRST PAIR (LOVE): I searched for a long time for flip-flops with a thong that didn’t hurt the area between my big toe and my second toe. Finally, I found the Keen Waimea H2. Although the toe thong is a little thick, the diagonal strap that extends into a toe cover was just enough extra reinforcement to take some stress off it. And I have to say the big toe cover (er, the "patented toe protection") gives you a little extra confidence against objects dropping on your toe. I love the light, quick-drying, polyester webbing straps.

The new Waimea H2 styles (below, images from Piperlime) have a lighter sole, which could be nice, but I prefer mine (darker). Color below, first image, is Violet Quartz/Brindle. Color below, second image, is Rice Bag.

KEEN MARKETING SHORTCOMINGS (see? I'm being impartial here!): "Rice Bag"? Who on earth named a color "Rice Bag"? I'm sorry, but it sounds too much like "Douche Bag." There is a cool concept behind the name, also mentioned in connection with the Harvest MJ style, shown directly above, from Zappos, which comes in "Woven Rice Bag." Much better name. Amazing the difference one adjective makes. Made from reclaimed RICE BAGS.

Keen did not include this name explanation in the Waimea H2 description. I had to go offsite to Amazon, thank you. Until this second, I was all gung-ho about Keen's site, especially the Hybrid.ology page (under “Who we are” and "Hybrid Innovation"), which is devoted to their various shoe technologies and includes a demo of the awesome anatomically correct footbed, what they call a “metatomical footbed.”

I have to add that Keen's site seemed really slow, and I doubt it was on my end because it was repeatedly slower than many of the other sites I visited over the course of writing this post.

KEEN WEBSITE COOL FEATURE: Check out the "SEE WITH JEANS" button on the bottom right of the viewing window for any shoe style. Choose either a "dark" or "medium" wash jean, and boom, down lowers a jean leg over your chosen shoe style. Fun!

KEEN SECOND PAIR (REALLY LOVE!): Back to my story. At the end of a summer several years ago, I spotted a sale at the City Sports near BU (1035 Comm Ave) and bought my second pair of Keen’s at the irresistible price of $15 (75% off the original $60 price). The Keen St. Bart’s slide, shown above, was ten times more comfortable, without any toe thong to deal with. They essentially replaced my Waimea H2's, which are now for backup only.

The St. Bart's go on my feet first thing in the morning and first thing when I get home from work. And all weekend. Not too wide for my narrow feet. Not for long walks, as they could slip off, but OK for a two-block trek to the corner store. My summers would be nowhere without them.

The insole of both styles is covered in tiny grooves that give the bottom of your foot a non-stop massage. Hello! Heaven! (The only time this insole was a problem was when I had a pool-burn on my big toe, where a layer or two of skin got scraped off. If I’d had a band-aid to put on my toe at the time, the Keen's insole would have been fine.)

SURPRISE KEEN DISCOVERY: Did you know Keen made socks? I didn't. With all sorts of technical features, like "left and right specific fit" with cute little "L" and "R"s on them to tell which is which. In 3 different weights. And dig it: arch support! (What? How can you put arch support into a sock? I do not know. It is a mystery.)

TEMPTING KEEN STYLES: I'm going to have to keep away from City Sports end-of-summer sales, so I don't buy any of the similar but slightly different styles, like these cool leather Waimea's (below) in "vaporous grey/amaranth" (long enough color name, ya think?) on sale for $56 (from $70) at Zappos. Although leather straps don't appeal to me, despite the APMA's recommendation of leather flip-flops, to reduce blister potential.
However, if I see the St. Bart's, my favorite style, in leather (below, $70 at Zappos), with perky red accents (peppercorn/hollyberry), I might not be able to resist.

Or I could progress to the Bali (below, $59 at Zappos) in "pumice stone/baroque rose" (yes, that's a color) for a slide that's just slightly different than my St Bart's.

Or the Balboa, below, $80 at Zappos. Sorta like my St Bart's, but with an ankle strap.

Or the cute Madrid Ballerina, below, in Topaz (I love orange hues). On sale for $72 at Zappos, down from $80 (if ony I could ignore that drab flowery strip).

Or the Madrid Mary Jane, below, also in the cheery shade of Topaz. (Except now there's two flowery strips to ignore. Oh, the sacrifices we make!) On sale at Zappos for $72, down from $80.

Or, if I am ready for something a bit wacky, there's the Keen Yogui slip-on, "massage for your feet after you have done them wrong." Weighs only 7 ounces! (Newer styles 8.2 ounces.) The first one is in Camo Blue ($34.95, Sierra Trading Post). The second one is Yuki/Black ($34.95, Sierra Trading Post). These are much more interesting than Crocs!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Flip-Flops, Part 1

June! The time of year when flip-flops move out of closets and into the streets of Boston. June is also the time of year the ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) meets and podiatrists present studies on the dangers of flip-flops.

This year, USA Today, Shine from Yahoo!, and the New York Times Well blog all cite Justin Shroyer's work. Now assistant professor of kinesiology at University of Louisiana-Lafayette, Shroyer studied the biomechanics of 100 wearers for patterns in feet and leg movements.

One problem with flip-flops is that toes have to grip so hard to hold on that people are “scrunching their toes into a claw” (so said Barry Francis, a Harley Street foot surgeon, in the Daily Mail Online, 8/3/06). “The less flip in your flip-flop, the better,” says Shroyer, USA Today, 6/3/10.

The other problem is that flip-flop wearers shorten their strides to keep the flip-flop on and overwork lower legs, knees, hips, or back. Resulting injuries can include sore feet, inflammation, sole pain, joint pain, shin splints, heel spurs, or twisted ankles.

Official takeaways (more flip-flop tips from APMA's Tip Sheets page):
• Wear in moderation, no more than a few hours (podiatrists have the same advice for wearing high heels) and not while walking long distances, doing yard work, or playing sports
• Best styles have features to hold your foot in place like wide straps, arch support, a heel cup, and a heel strap
• Check flip-flops every year for signs of wear and don’t wear if too worn down, since according to, the average person takes between 10,000 and 20,000 steps each day
• Don’t wear flip-flips if you have diabetes to avoid scrapes that may lead to more serious injuries.
• Find brands with a seal of acceptance from the APMA (more initials! American Podiatric Medical Association): Chaco, Dansko, FitFlop, Orthaheel, Reebok, SOLE, Spenco, Wolky. See images below.
Above is the Chaco Flip Ecotread Multi Red, $50, Nice strap!
What's up APMA? You've listed a ton of Dansko styles that are not flip-flops. The only one that is close to a flip-flop is the Carmen, above, in the Women's Capri line, $120. It is actually quite nice and sleek, even with that flower thingie on the side. I like the additional cross-strap to take some of the pressure off the thong when you walk. Maybe I will overcome my wariness of clogs since spraining both ankles, and try them. Dansko is very helpful and has a web page with all of their APMA certified styles. I suggest that the APMA rename the Flip-Flop list, or take off some of the Dansko styles, if it wants to retain it's credibility.
The Electra FitFlop in silver, above, $60. FitFlops are all over! I admit that their claims (slimmer butt! toned legs!) make me skeptical and think of them as gimmicky. But I gotta admit, they look comfortable. Maybe I will try them next time I see them somewhere like FootStock, on Newbury Street.
Orthaheel's Tide Sandal, Sorbet, above, $55. A little plain for my taste, but all Orthaheel shoes are endorsed by Dr. Andrew Weil, "internationally recognized pioneer of integrated medicine," who says in the short video: "It's important to move every day." No argument here!

As far as the Reebok's Ultra Versa II toddler model, the closest thing I found was the Reebok Infant/Toddler Ultra Versa Shore Buggy Sneaker, above. Cute and all, but not a flip-flop! For simplicity's sake, I think APMA should keep children's shoes on a different list. And as long as they're going to list specific styles, they might as well make sure they are still available, or indicate what season they are from.

The SOLE Platinum Sport Flip in Java, above, $70. Again, too plain for me, but I like the brown, and they did get into a New York Times online slide show about "apr├Ęs-sport" sandals, a category that shoemakers hope has a huge growth potential.

The Spenco Women's Total Support Sandal, above, $40: the only shoe made by a company that specializes in insoles. These actually have a bit of coolness to them, although a reviewer cautioned against the tan being a dirt magnet. I think it's their slim curviness. Also, neoprene straps are pretty awesome. Tagline: "Love your feet!" A sorta-cool video about the sandal, too.

And now, drumroll please, my favorite (no-I'm-not-getting-paid-to-say-that) brand of the list, Wolky's Serenity, shown in purple patent, blue inlay, $120 (under "Ladies Summer/Zen" on the Wolky site). It's all I can do not to show you the red and gold metallic colors, too. I can't say enough good things about Wolky's. I have three pairs but not this style.

Monday, June 7, 2010

My Wolky Dion’s: Compliment 4

I’d only planned on including 3 compliments, but then I got another one last week, while biking on the Southwest Corridor Park bike path. At the intersection near the Roxbury Crossing T stop, a woman pulled up next to me, looked at my feet, then at traffic. I noticed that she didn’t have a helmet, because I remember long brown curly hair. Also, a skirt and brown strappy slip-ons. As I watched the traffic light, she said she liked my shoes and asked what brand they were.

Wolkys,” I told her. I wonder if I should start saying the full name. (These? Why, these are Wolkys from Holland!)

“Do you happen to remember where you got them?” she asked politely, over the traffic noise, as we both kept eyeing the light. There is a short window where you can cross before the cars are ready, and I was running late, so I was prepared to jump on it. On the other hand, I was also enjoying spreading the Wolky word.

Freeport. A store called J.L. Coombs,” I yelled.

“Where?” she yelled back.

“J.L. Coombs,” I said. “But I think you can get them at Berk’s in Harvard Square.” (According to Berk's website, they have six Wolky styles. On the other hand, the website has no "About Us" page, and their copyright date is 2003-2004, so who knows if it's up to date.)

Then the light changed and I took off, but even then I wished I had another shoe store to recommend. Only later, I remembered that two friends had told me that Simons in Brookline carried Wolky’s. It’s in Coolidge Corner and whenever I go to a movie next door at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, I stop in. Which is rarely. According to Simons' website, they have five current Wolky styles and two sale styles. Their "About Us" page says they first opened in 1892 on Charles Street (only sixty-two years older than J.L. Coombs)!

Below are four looks from Wolkys’ website, including lots of silver patent: the Anantara, the Cloggy, the Ballota, the Jewel. I love that black polyurethane (PU for short!) sole, one of Wolky's trademarks, for the bad-ass flavor it gives to a shoe that is orthopedic at heart. (All those straps are for folks with hard-to-fit problem feet.)

Saturday, June 5, 2010

My Wolky Dion's: Compliment 3

Cadillac Mountain Sports, Ellesworth, ME.

I’d found two athletic shirts in technical fabric for about $20 each, and was postponing the moment I had to checkout, so I could enjoy the pre-purchase, post-try-on high of knowing you’ve snagged a good deal. My eye fell on a red dress and I headed toward it to finger the fabric.

“I’m admiring your shoes,” a saleswoman said. “They are unusual. Where did you get them?”

“Actually, I got them in Freeport at that shoe store called J.L. Coombs,” I said. I had no idea how well known the Freeport shoe store was. I said it like it was a secret code word, and if she was a member of the club, she would recognize it. She didn't. Instead, she said something even better. She articulated my exact thoughts on shoes, the exact reason for this blog.

“I’m always looking for stylish shoes that are comfortable,” she said. “There aren’t that many out there.”

She sounded so authoritative, so I checked out her nameplate. It said something ambiguous like “Store Merchandise Specialist.”

“Are you a buyer?” I asked.

“No, I just work here,” she said.

Too bad. If she was a buyer, I’d ask her to start stocking some Wolkys. Sports stores are the perfect place to find comfortable, stylish walking shoes. Wolkys would fit nicely into the “Lifestyle” shoe section, next to the “Running,” “Walking,” and “Cross-trainer” sections. But no matter how many sports stores I check, I rarely see anything besides sneakers.

The REI store in the Fenway area of Boston is a little better than other local sports stores in terms of shoes, and sometimes has Eccos, one of my favorite brands. The last time I stopped in, I tried on some Chacos (ZX/2 Vibram Unaweep soles) because those multi red double straps were cool looking. The gridded sole feels awesome on the bottom of your foot, but the straps felt like they were trying to pull my toes off. And the sole was kinda big for my foot.

Below are a few other styles at REI, although none tempted me to seek out a salesperson. Perhaps Marshalls has spoiled me. Nothing easier than trying on a pair right off the display. In order: another Chaco style, a Clarks Privo, an Ahnu, and a Jambu.

If a salesperson had appeared at the perfect moment, I would have tried on the ballet-style Ahnu (below) and am now curious about the brand. Zappos says the name is "derived from Celtic mythology, from the goddess of balance and well-being." And Jambu's (bottom) are inspired by the rainforest, have a vegan collection, and used to be J-41's. I will be keeping on eye out for both Ahnu and Jambu on my travels!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

My Wolky Dion's: Compliment 2

L.L. Bean, Freeport. On my way to the bathroom, I passed the women’s shoe department. What genius designed the store's layout? Why of course I could take a second to check styles, even though my brother and husband were waiting for me in the car and we still had a two and a half hour drive to Boston. I had already snapped a picture of the big L.L. Bean boot outside. And I was mildly curious about any flats Bean might have.

A saleswoman ambled my way, casually eyeing me while talking to another saleswoman. I picked up a shoe — I think it was Bean’s Peep-Toe Skimmer, either in Fabric or Suede — and she asked if I’d like to try them. I said no, figuring they’d be uncomfortable like all of Bean’s shoes. She said, very frankly, that they were what was considered stylish nowadays. They didn’t have much support, but that didn’t seem to matter these days. Then she looked at my brique Wolkys.

“Those are nice,” she said. “Are they Clarks?”

I cringed. I’m sorry. I don't mean to sound like a shoe snob. I suppose her guess was reasonable because there was a Clarks store just down the street that I’d just been in. I bought some rain shoes there once and I guess there is a slight resemblance in the rubber bumper on my Wolkys and the sole silhouette on some of Clarks’ styles.

“No. They’re Wolkys. From Holland. They are really comfortable.”

I need to come up with something more interesting to say because I know that sounds lame. Even though it's true!

My Wolky Dion's: Compliment 1

It’s the time of year I pull out my Wolky Dion’s and for some reason, they are getting noticed this year — 3 compliments so far!

Mike’s Fitness, Jamaica Plain, in the brewery, third floor. There I was, sweating it out on the treadmill, staring out the big new beautiful window, when I became aware of someone at my side. There are 2 treadmills, 2 elliptical trainers, and 2 bikes on a raised platform. What I am saying is that she was standing about a foot below me. I kept walking, looking out the window, she kept standing there. Finally I looked over at her. Did she want my machine? There was an empty one right next to me. I was prepared to stand my ground.

“Those shoes,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like them.”

Whoa. I am not nimble when it comes to switching emotional gears. I was stuck somewhere between cautious defensiveness and cheery charm. Which was sad, because I love my shoes, and I actually love talking about shoes, and even more, I love hearing other people talk about shoes. I just wasn’t expecting this. I mean she was transfixed!

“Thanks. They’re Wolkys,” I said. (At least, I hope I said “Thanks.”)

“What? Walking?”

Lots of people don’t get the name when I say it at first.

“They’re called Wolkys. From Holland. They are really comfortable.”

“Hmmm. Very unusual,” she said, and promptly walked away.

Which is when I started thinking of all the things I could have told her about them, all the different ways I could have shared some enthusiasm, adopted a marketing personality, and you know — sold the brand.

They’re great! You should try them! They are on sale all the time online at Sierra Trading Post. Or try Berk’s in Harvard Square. Or that funky store near Porter Square called Vintage Etc (which is now Cambridge Clogs). Or even DSW, if you can believe that. I have two other pairs of Wolkys. Sometimes they take a little while to wear in. Not these, but my ankle boots. And I haven’t even worn in my brown slip-ons yet. 

Right? Like that? Does that sound better, like a happy, peppy salesman?