I first heard of Soft Star shoes back in early June of this year via Rocco, who mentioned them as his "barefoot shoes" of choice outside of his KSO FiveFingers. I sought out Soft Star and got in touch with Tricia, one of the Soft Star "Elves," so-called as the Soft Star shoes have a decidedly elfish look to them. I asked Trish if I could be sent a pair of Soft Stars to test for a potential review for BirthdayShoes.
Tricia obliged and sent me a pair of the Grippy Suede Roos in "chocolate.", which retail at $63 (unless you have larger feet — say size 13 men's or higher) and size similarly to regular shoes (a welcome relief to VFF-calculus!). Now that I've had a few months to put these Mocs through the ropes, it's high time I reviewed them, so allow me to introduce to you to a monotoed "VFF alternative" — Soft Stars!
A close-up of the "Soft Star" logo on my Grippy Suede Roo Soft Star Moccasins. Soft Stars are the "ultimate in high quality soft soled leather shoes," and are handmade in Oregon.
Though Soft Star has a number of non-moccasin offerings, the Grippy Roos have a two-piece moccasin leather design whereby the ankle is wrapped by one piece and another piece covers the front and top of the foot, overlapping the ankle piece. Both parts are connected at the lip, ankle of the Moc via a set-length elastic band, which comfortably secures the Moc onto your foot.
This design looks very Moccasin-like — for you parents out there, they might remind you of Robeez. Anyway, here are a couple of photos to help paint the picture (click for larger):
The "Grippy" part of these Moccasins is derived from the fact that they feature a T-Rex soling, which is "a soft black rubberized non-slip surface" that is bonded to a layer of suede, that is then covered with sheepskin insole, which is what you feel on your feet. All said, based on some caliper measurements, the combined footbed is a mere 2mm thick at the heel — by way of comparison, this is on par with the heel thickness of the FiveFingers Moc and thinner than my oldest Classics (they are 4mm thick).
You can actually see the layers come together by looking inside the Soft Stars:
Here you can see the inner sole construction of the Soft Star Grippy Roo. The outermost line is the outsole suede, the dark black line is the T-Rex sole material, then, a thick layer of tan suede, and finally the sheepskin. Total thickness under the heel only 2mm!
The T-Rex soling material has a diamond/gridded/bumpy structure to it, and true to form grips well to otherwise slipper surfaces. It also seems to be fairly durable though I'd expect it to wear through if you were a heavy walker or dragged your feet much. Below are two photos of the soles, the photo on the left when the Soft Star Grippy Roos were received back in June and the second photo taken today:
Overall, the Soft Star Mocs employ a simplistic, Moccasin-styled design, one that is lightweight, and feels well-made from nice, almost completely natural materials.
The Soft Star aesthetic
Seen bare-legged, it's easy to understand how Soft Stars look decidedly elfish — it's a different look, but one that I find grows on me. And worn with pants, or jeans, they look great (see below).
The moccasin aesthetic of the Soft Star Grippy Roos as worn with shorts or "bare-legged" as pictured above is one you may either love or hate. Personally, the look has grown on me, but I also see it as sort of a moot point as I tend to wear my Soft Stars with jeans or pants.
Where the Soft Stars aesthetically shine is as an inconspicuous barefoot shoe that you can wear to casual or maybe even business casual events.
As you can see me modeling to the right (How embarassing — click for a larger version), Soft Stars work well with pants and are aesthetically normal looking. They actually look a great deal like Birkenstock Boston suede clogs, which have been a go-to casual to business-casual sandal for me for over a decade.
Though KSO Treks are an elegant suede solution that compliment dressier occasions, for more stealth-barefoot applications, the Soft Stars work well in a pinch.
Where and when to wear Soft Star Mocs, and how do they feel, anyway?
The Grippy Roo is designed for indoor and outdoor use. When I first got the Roos, I tested them on a mile walk to a nearby park where I randomly decided to climb a tree. The Soft Stars performed perfectly and felt good if not slightly warm in the Georgia heat (this was in June!).
The soft soling of the Soft Stars transmits surface conditions extremely well. With only 2mm of material between your foot and the ground, there is no "cushioning" in the soles so if you walk on a rocky path, you feel it all in high-def with just a tinge of softness from the sheepskin insole.
Over the past few months, I've worn my Soft Stars on walks, to run errands, and to events requiring a dressier shoe than FiveFingers or where I didn't want to bring a bunch of attention to my relatively shy feet.
More than anything, though, where I've worn my Soft Stars the most from a time-perspective is in my house. I'm wearing them right now and they are keeping my feet quite comfortable despite the cold hardwood floors.
Generally, the design of Soft Stars affords my feet a great deal of freedom within the shoe. I can scrunch up my toes inside the Soft Stars, wiggle my toes with aplomb, and my feet feel completely unconstrained. The utterly flimsy soles don't push back on my bending feet in the least. To put it plainly, the Soft Star Mocs are super comfortable.
Special considerations for VFFers
The barefoot feel of Soft Stars is what you've come to expect from FiveFingers, if not even a little more "barefoot" feeling due to the thinner and flimsier sole materials.
Perhaps the biggest difference is simply that the spacious feeling and comfort provided by the Soft Star design means that the leather extends beyond your feet a bit, which is just to say they're not on-the-skin or wrapping-the-foot as tightly as with VFFs. Mind, this isn't a complaint. If anything, it's a testament to the requirements of "barefoot shoes" — they need to be big enough to keep your feet free and unrestrained by tight toe-prisons (a.k.a. toe boxes).
I'm quite pleased with my Soft Star Grippy Roos. With it getting cooler outside, they've quickly become my footwear-of-choice inside my house to keep my feet comfortably warm.
If you're looking for an alternative to FiveFingers that maintains the barefoot feel while providing a more "normal" aesthetic (with pants or jeans!) or just want an all-purpose indoor and outdoor barefoot shoe, check out Soft Star. And though I've not had a chance to test them, note that they also make Soft Star boots, Vibram-soled "Ramblers," suede-soled Mocassins, slippers, and more, including a whole array of barefoot shoes for babies or toddlers. Because Soft Stars are handmade to order, you can even mix-and-match leather styles by model and design your own Soft Stars. Custom-made shoes — how cool is that?
On sizing — Information on how to size Soft Stars straight from the source!
Check this video out for a four minute tutorial (really only the first half is how to size for adults) on how to size Soft Stars:
An information video on Soft Star Shoes!
Finally, you might like this short video from Soft Star that talks about the company and introduces you to a few of the Soft Star elves. I really like how personable Soft Star is and it's easy to get behind them as a cobbler. I confess: I love my Soft Stars!
If you have any questions about my Grippy Roo Soft Star mocs reviewed here or just want to inquire further into my experience with them, please let me know by commenting below.