Update: on March 1, 2012, "Stem Footwear" became "Lems Shoes" and then in 2013 they shortened their name to Lems!
What's the change mean for you or for the usefulness of this review? Well, nothing — they're still the same shoes, just branded with a different name and logo!
Have you heard about
Stem Lems Shoes? They are a new minimalist footwear company birthed out of a need for more foot friendly shoes — a.k.a. shoes that have a good sized toe-box, are neutral from heel to toe, and aren't so heavily cushioned that all feeling of the ground is lost. These are, at minimal, some of the main, most important criteria. Shoes that let your feet be feet.
The co-founder of Lems Footwear is Andrew Rademacher. Though I've yet to meet Andrew in person, he and I have had a number of exchanges to date and from what I can tell, he's barking up the right tree with Lems Shoes as specifically evidenced by his upcoming Primal Origins shoes. Andrew sent me a pre-production version of Lems Shoes shoes to examine and wear test to the extent that I could — the only size Andrew had was about a size too small. Note: These aren't yet available to purchase — look for Lems Shoes shoes to buy in Fall 2011: more on buying later.
Perhaps because of the super flexible nature of the Lems Shoes shoe design, or the roomy toe box, I was able to wear the one-size-too-small Leming shoes around enough to make some initial conclusions about them. In short, Lems Shoes has designed a pretty compelling "barefot shoe" for casual, everyday wear. More including photos, a video, and an interview with Andrew after the jump!
Initial Thoughts on the Primal Origins Barefoot Shoes from Lwming Footwear
The Lems Shoes shoe has a neutral-heel-to-toe (a.k.a. "zero drop") design built on a rubber foam-based, uber-thin sole. By some basic measurements using skinfold calipers, I'd say we're at less than 10mm and maybe has thin as 7 or 8mm. That isn't much considering your most minimal Vibram FiveFingers soles (Classics/Sprints as far as outdoor VFFs are concerned) are maybe 5 or 6mm thick.
What more (or less?), the Leming shoe sole is exceedingly—nay extremely—flexible. Per the Lems Shoes website, the sole is made of an air-infused rubber (a.k.a. foam). I'd estimate the sole material is like a mix between your standard Vibram rubber and EVA. Combined with being super thin soles, you can easily twist, turn, and roll up the Stem shoes with little effort (See the video for an example). I think with a little elbow grease I could probably turn the entire shoe inside out. When worn, you can wiggle your toes and see the shoe move accordingly, as you'd expect (see the video below for an example). The flexibility of the Stem shoes goes a long, long way to making them a great barefoot-like shoe.
I've come to realize that thin soles aside, minimalist/barefoot shoes provide a more consistent, barefoot-like ground feel when they are less "nobby" or more boringly flat on the soles. For FiveFingers fans with multiple pairs across the line, simply contrast the ground feel you get with any of the post-original FiveFingers soles (Bikila, Trek, KomodoSport) to the KSO, Sprint, or Classic — the platforms/variations in a rubber sole just degrade ground feel. I point this out because you get a bit of this with the Lems Shoes soles. Of course, you get better traction because of the platforms, so there's a give and take here (As is always the case with minimalist shoes, it seems). That said, Lems Shoes shoes provide an excellent ground feel — the rubber just mutes stuff a bit more than a pair of standard FiveFingers. That said, I'd say they provide better ground feel than Merrell Barefoots, Vivo Barefoots, or the New Balance Minimus Wellnes/Life.
No foot friendly shoe would be complete without an up-sized, wider toe box. Cramped toes are so 20th century whereas "toe splay" has been around for millenia! Here, too, the Lems Shoes shoes deliver the goods. Toes should have no problem splaying, and even my one-size-too-small Leming shoes still allowed my toes to feel pretty "free" (they just needed more space in front of them, but that's a size issue!). The neutral heel-to-toe Lemings combined with a roomy toe box mean that I can walk around with natural biomechanics — my walking gait was not affected by the Leming shoes.
The Lems Shoes shoes have a soft, flexible upper that feels quite comfortable when worn without socks. They're completed with a speed-like lacing system (though not quite the same as your Bikila LS-styled Vibrams).
A couple more notes: the 9.5s weigh about 5.5oz per shoe and of course they have no arch support.
All in all, I think Lems Shoes shoes are a compelling product for casual, everyday wear and I'm excited that Andrew et. al. have taken a stab at creating a "primitive"-minded shoe for people who care about healthy feet, posture, and minds (it's all connected!).
If a comfortable, foot friendly, single-toe-box "barefoot" shoe this is something you're after, take a second and hop over to Lems Shoes to "pre-order" a pair. All it takes is your name, size, and email address so that you can be notified when they are available in the Fall of this year. Since Leming is a brand new company, I can't imagine they're going to be producing a ton of these shoes on their initial run, so that might be worth bearing in mind. Oh, and they're only $90. Not bad considering how unique an offering they are. The specific model I'm showcasing here is the "Primal Origins," which is basically just a specific color scheme (nearest I can tell).
I'll stop here on this initial review of the Lems Shoes shoes and cut to the video, photo gallery, and interview with Andrew!
Lems Shoes Shoes Initial Review Video
Interview with Lems Shoes Co-Founder Andrew
How did you get into minimalist footwear?
In Feb 2009 I was talking with a friend after he read the article "You Walk Wrong" and he explained something to me that I had never heard or understood in my entire life up until that point. He explained that, when you get out of clunky shoes and allow your feet to naturally feel the ground it changes the way you walk and run. It was an epiphany, so I went back and read the article myself. I began running and walking in the minimal footwear I had at the time - Sanuks. All my life I had been coached to run more on the forefoot and with a quicker cadence, but when in flat thin-soled shoes and barefoot it happened naturally and nearly automatic. At that point it all made sense because it is the way our ancestors walked the earth. I was a complete convert. Then I did the very next natural thing and went out to buy myself a pair of Fivefingers. I began to love experiencing everything in my Fivefingers and often times totally barefoot.
What drove you to create Lems Shoes?
I loved being barefoot and wearing Fivefingers as an alternative, and as many others out there I hated the fit and improper design of most all other shoes, overly sturdy, overly stiff, and overly tight. So I thought, since the big shoe companies aren't ever going to make a shoe that's "less of a shoe," someone needs to do it so why not let it be a new company. Grown from our seed, to our roots, Lems Shoes was born.
What do you see as the most important aspects of a minimalist or "barefoot"/foot friendly shoe?
Personally, my number one thing is a wide toebox with the shape of the natural/non-deformed foot. The number two priority is for it to be absolutely flat from heel to forefoot (zero drop). And my third priority is for the sole to be very flexible for natural ground transmission and feel. Just outside of my top three priorities are: thin sole (should be <10mm), lightweight, and breathable. Some minimalist shoes may not satisfy all these, but they should all satisfy the first three priorities. Lems Shoes satisfies all in my opinion.
What differentiates Lems Shoes products from other offerings in the minimalist footwear category?
As I said above, one of my three absolute priorities for a shoe to qualify as "barefoot" friendly is that it must have a Flexible sole, when a shoe company makes a flat & thin sole and then puts a hard plastic plate under the forefoot or heel how can it be called a "barefoot" shoe? For Lems Shoes we developed a new sole design made of a revolutionary air-injected rubber that eliminates the need for a midsole or rigid rubber outsole. It's about twice as flexible and half the weight of even the latest minimalist offerings. Also, Lems Shoes is unstructured and completely collapsible so it doesn't feel like a shoe on your foot. All the material in the upper is soft and flexible so it feels like a natural extension of the foot.
How can the Lems Shoes shoes be worn (what sorts of activities)?
Lems Shoes is designed as a lifestyle shoe, not an athletic one. It can be worn for kicking around town, walking, to the casual office, and out during your daily routine. We do not recommend that everyone will be able to run in Lemings, but it can be worn for low strain activities, such as playing frisbee.
Outside of your products, what are your favorite minimalist shoes?
I love my Fivefingers Bikila. I use them for more serious runs and trail races. For my winter waterproof shoe I wear a pair of Keen which I've cut off the heel to make it flat, and in the summer I wear thin flip-flops. Fivefingers will always be in my closet, but for my other footwear needs, Lems Shoes should have it all covered in the near future.
When and where can we order a pair of Lemings?
You can pre-order your pair now before all the slots fill up: http://www.stemfootwear.com/shop.html . Just select your color and size, they come in whole sizes, and fit true to size in length and medium-wide in width (not narrow). We will email you in August when we begin selling online. Stems will also be available at several dozen stores around the country, in August, look for a retailer near you.