It's a pleasure to write another review of Soft Star shoes for Birthday Shoes. This time I’ll be talking about my family’s favorite pairs of children’s shoes, the Rambler and Hotcakes. I've weighed shoes. I've squeezed shoes. I've photographed my 2 1/2 year old son, Django, in these shoes. And I'll quote Michael Sandler's advice on healthy shoes for children.
Read on for my full review!
Before I get into specifics, let’s talk about shoe obesity. Maybe it’s a touchy subject, but you’ve got to admit that there’s a lot of “junk in the trunk” going on with most kids’ shoes. I weighed each of the four pairs of children’s shoes that we own (all Size 10). Soft Star was the winner, by far. Here are the results:
|See Kai Run, Arrow||4.6|
|Soft Star Hotcakes||1.1|
|Soft Star Rambler||2.9|
|Soft Star Playtime||2.9|
I saw a toddler’s pair of Nikes that weighed 8 ounces apiece. That means some little guy who weighs less than 30 pounds is lugging a half a pound of shoe with every step!
Which Shoes are Best?
Any adult who has tried on a pair of minimalist shoes cannot help but marvel at their light weight. Once you’ve worn them for a couple of weeks it’s really hard to go back to your old clunkers. Born to Run popularized, among other things, the stunning fact that not one research study has ever found thick, cushioned shoes prevent injury.
In the realm of kids’ shoes, these fat, thickly-soled shoes with cramped toe boxes are even more ludicrous. Or worse. In his book, Barefoot Running, Michael Sandler discusses several studies proving that inappropriate footwear harms children’s feet. Afterwards he says, “Chinese foot binding seems so abhorrent, but how much of a different outcome are our shoes creating when you think about it in light of these studies?”
So what shoes should our kids wear when they can’t go barefoot? Sandler says, “Studies show the best footwear for children are not the cute, stiff leather baby shoes we’re most familiar with, nor perhaps the favorite fashion models preferred by your kids and their friends. The best choices are loose-fitting, flexible-soled shoes made with breathable materials and with thin soles very close to the ground. More like moccasins.”
As barefoot and minimalist footwear enthusiasts, my wife and I started Django out barefoot or in Robeez hand-me-downs. We loved the slipper-thin soled Robeez, but the toe box is rather narrow, the leather bottoms quickly develop holes, and Robeez are only available through Size 11 ½ . After that, there aren’t many moccasin-like shoes on the market that fulfill Sandler’s criteria for healthy footwear. Here’s where Soft Star’s moccasins fill a crucial niche.
How about Those Hotcakes?
Let’s start with the Hotcakes since they’re pretty much perfect. At 1.1 ounces apiece, the Hotcakes are my ideal for an ultra-lightweight shoe. The T-Rex soles feel like they’re the same thickness as our old Robeez, yet the T-Rex has better traction, (a great name), and most importantly, it feels like it will not wear through like the Robeez do.
How about Flexibility?
“Flexible” is a pretty subjective word. The See Kai Run website describes their Arrow shoes (see pic at right) as having “flexible rubber” soles. They do indeed bend at the mid-foot, as all shoes do, but they are very stiff and inflexible in every other direction. The soles of the Hotcakes, on the other hand, can be flexed in any direction with only the pressure of two fingers. That is the soul of proprioception—the ability to feel the ground.
The first thing my wife, Leah, noticed about the Hotcakes was how incredibly soft they are. The faux Sherpa suede is also machine-washable, and the Soft Star website says the Hotcakes will not shrink or discolor in the wash. The elastic ankle closure works perfectly, and Django can easily put these shoes on by himself (a big plus).
We’ve had the Hotcakes for about two months now. The T-Rex sole feels like it will live up to its name and take all the action my spunky monkey can deliver. But I can see that the edges of the upper fabric come into contact with the ground along the sides of the sole, so I suspect that these would be the first places that might wear out. I know zilch about making shoes, but I would love to see the thin sole of the T-Rex or Moc3 wrapped up around the bottom of the upper to provide greater durability. When Django grows out of his Hotcakes, I'll leave a comment at the end of this post as an update on durability.
It's Rambler time!
When our Ramblers arrived, the first thing we discovered was that Django can put them on by himself, like the Hotcakes. Sometimes they end up on the wrong feet, but the toe box is roomy enough that it doesn’t matter too much. We walked to a playground and noted that his shoes match the swings!
I shot more photos of the Rambler than any other shoe mostly because they’re just so darned cute. We love the bright colors, easy fit, and light weight. The sole is slightly thicker than I would like, but it's still very flexible in my book.
Like all the other leather Soft Star uses, the leather of the Rambler is formaldehyde-free, hence it is non-toxic, unlike most other leathers out there—that’s a key feature for us. When it’s warm, Django generally doesn’t wear socks, so when he gets his feet wet a little of the leather’s dye comes off on his feet. This food-grade dye is FDA-approved, perfectly safe, and it washes off easily. The Rambler is water resistant, which is another key feature for us as the rainy season approaches. The suede insole is plenty soft enough for us, but an optional sheepskin insole is also available.
Ramblers on the Trails
After a nap, we tried out the Rambler on a local trail and had a couple of nice surprises. One of our family values is getting the boy into the woods—into nature—almost every day. So we walk lots of trails, have off-trail adventures, and we do a little running. Lots of times Django and I are both barefoot, but I always carry his shoes. He usually prefers going barefoot when it’s warm outside, so I was surprised when he wanted to keep his shoes on for most of the outing.
Usually Django runs intermittently for a total of about 100 yards. But on this ramble, I’d say he ran for the better part of a mile in between long spells of walking or exploration.
But he usually asks me to hold him when we start down a steep hill. So my final surprise came when he went flying down the last couple of hills on the trail.
I’d say the Rambler is a huge success.
Wrapping it Up
To wrap things up, I would be remiss not to mention what an exemplary company Soft Star is. I worked in a couple of factories in the summers between college years, so I greatly respect a manufacturing company that purposefully eschews large scale industrial fabrication for a humane environment and a hand-made ethic. How many other companies have this kind of thing listed as their first core value:
“Make our workshop a wonderful place to work: A creative, energizing and efficient workspace. An open, honest atmosphere where we work with mutual respect and dignity. A place where our families and community are welcome and integrated.”
It’s easy to see how this line of thinking continues through the long list of Green business practices you can read about here.
Questions or comments about Django's Soft Stars? Let me know!