Hello, World?

Hey, y’all. It’s Justin.

If you don’t know me, that’s my fault. You see, over the last several years, I’ve fallen off the edge of the earth—at least when it comes to BirthdayShoes.

I haven’t posted a thing since April 2019.

Had it not been for the faithful and regular work of Jarvis Chen, who knows what this site would look like today.

So why am I back?

I’m still here. Are you?

It’s been nearly 15 years since founding BirthdayShoes. That’s long enough for minimalist footwear and “barefoot shoes” to grow incredibly popular, only to see the popularity wane …

… and rise again. Just take a look at this Google Trends data, which we can use as a proxy for demand for barefoot:

Isn’t that something?

That first peak coincided with the explosion of Vibram FiveFingers and the popularity of Born to Run by Chris McDougall.

That second peak—which is happening now—is due to … what?

I have no idea.

Maybe I should.

The quiet boom in barefoot

Not long after the photo atop this post, I was catching up with my (now) old friend Steven Sashen. You know Steven as the co-founder of Xero Shoes.

Every time I talk to Steven I’m set back by his youth. That’s not just because of his long curly locks.

Steven’s full of energy, which is saying something after all the hard work he and Lena Phoenix have done to build Xero over the years. Did you know that Xero Shoes sold $50 million in shoes in 2022? That is a lot of shoes—and sandals too.

In catching up, Steven told me how barefoot shoes were growing. He told me about all of Xero’s the exciting plans for 2023. I don’t know how he manages it all.

And I caught Steven up on my life. I shared about the busy-ness of raising kids—and the rolling dumpster fire that is work at high-growth software companies (Not for the faint of heart)—work that’s about killed me for the last 6+ years.

I left that conversation wanting to plug back in on BirthdayShoes.

But where? And how?

Steven graciously sent over a couple pairs of recent shoes (HFS and Scrambler Mid) for me to try out. I got them, photoed them …

… and the months went by.

The future?

You see, here I am, looking at this site, thinking about all the work that’s been put into it—and how much needs to be put into it.

Like an old house that’s in need of a remodel. Where do you even begin?

It’s a little overwhelming.

Which brings me to this post. It hit me. I don’t need to fix it all at once. The past cannot be changed. And the guilt of my neglect shouldn’t stop me from just … getting started.

So I flipped the site to a plain-Jane WordPress theme, and set to the work of simply stepping back into BirthdayShoes.

Hello, World. It’s Justin.

I’m putting a toe in the water to see how that feels.

And if read this, I’d love to hear from you. What would you like to see from this site?

I’ve got a few ideas, and I’d graciously welcome yours.

Riding on a zipline in Colorado (Wearing Altra Lone Peaks)
Zip lining in Colorado, wearing Altra Lone Peaks.

By Justin

Justin Owings is a deadlifting dad of three, working from Atlanta. When he's not chasing his three kids around, you'll find him trying to understand systems, risk, and human behavior.

14 replies on “Hello, World?”

Hey Justin! Thank you SO MUCH for your work at birthdayshoes over the years and for keeping the site up. You played a big part in my footwear odyssey and I hope you’ll keep up the good work as much as you can.

I thought foot gloves were a cool idea back in high school and got my first pair of Vibrams on sale as a novelty back around 2010: I loved the concept but the shoes were a size too small with a ripped seam on the big toe; I didn’t get much use out of them before losing them a year or two later. As I pursued degrees I lost sight of my health, becoming pretty inactive, and didn’t give my footwear much thought for years.

Shoe shopping was always miserable as I burned through pair after pair of New Balance shoes of width “E” to powers of ten and in at least a size larger than my foot to cram them and some hard orthotics in relatively comfortably. Around 2015, I discovered the wide toebox via Keen, dropped a shoe size, and began to enjoy exercising more. I had been raised to believe that there were only a handful of shoes that could fit me, uncomfortably, in my inevitable slide into family foot problems, but now things seemed less settled.

I started reading about minimalist footwear and finally permitted myself to live dangerously: I bought a cheap Whitin minimalist shoe for $25 (a Vibram V-train tread knockoff without the toe pockets) and began using it for short walks without orthotics taking great care to walk with good form. The walks became longer and easier: years of slow, steady progress and four pairs of Whitins later, I have strong arches, good form is second nature, and I wear minimal, wide-toebox shoes most of the time.

The thing is, I always wanted to give the “foot glove” a proper try but could not bring myself to spend the money: cash was tight, I had a bear of a time sizing them back in the day, and I can’t even find Vibrams in stores any more. Going through a job transition, however, I needed a fruitful distraction and the heart wants what it wants.

And then I discovered your website.

BirthdayShoes made the minimalist shoe world accessible and exciting for me, cutting through the influencer vibe that permeates youtube barefoot content with long-form, honest reviews. The archives also warmed me up to the idea of taking a gamble on an old pair of size 48 Vibrams. Months of waiting on eBay and $30 later, I got my first pair of nearly-new Komodosports that fit me like a second skin. Settled into a new job, one pair of experimental toe shoes quickly became four daily drivers.

I could not be happier or my calves more sore in all the right ways as I reach the summit of a long, long journey. I have you, in large part, to thank for that. If it was not for the quality content on this site, I would not have made the final leap, at least not so soon.

I wish there was more quality content about inexpensive options for those wary of getting into barefoot and minimalist shoes, especially the Chinese options available on AliExpress… you would think that the options are endless, but a close review of the soles shows that there are only a few quality options that everyone rebrands. I wish someone had introduced me to Whitin and Hobibear sooner or an article had caught my eye that charitably weighed the pros and cons of minimalist shoes using conventional socks vs. individual toebox shoes. Hobibear, in particular, deserves some press from people who know what to expect from a $200 minimalist shoe as they make a good product for $20 and aren’t playing on the margins “borrowing” from others’ designs.

These are the kinds of articles I have found on websites like yours. Whatever your interests, I hope you’ll keep adding to the site and keep feeding the latest interest wave in minimalist footwear. Thank you for all that you do.

Keep on walkin’,


Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment, Mason! It makes me happy to know you’ve had success all these years with minimalist shoes and that BDS played some part in that!

Hope to continue with more authentic content here. Stay tuned!

Glad you’re back! Was here when you started the site! I’m still in minimalist shoes as it worked so well for me. Still have my OG five fingers (barely still stitched ha,ha), and a couple of ancient pairs of KSO’s. Still have 3 tattered pairs of NB Minimus that I occasionally use for trail hikes, but my go to shoes the last 8 years or so have been my dozen or so pairs of original gen SKORAs which have been simply the best for me.

Looking forward to seeing your newest reviews. Very interested in minimalist winter boots but have not pulled the trigger yet.

That’s amazing, Kelly, that you picked up a dozen or so pairs of OG Skoras.

My OG fivefingers finally separated from the sole. Some shoe goo might fix it, but probably not worth it other than for nostalgia purposes.

What kind of minimalist winter boots have you had your eye on?

Very glad to see that you’re back!!
I did a guest review for you way back in 2013 and have always loved your site. Can’t wait to read more of your articles during this second wave of minimal footwear interest!

Welcome back! Your site and thorough comparisons were very helpful when starting out. I would like to see more comparissons of shoes with similar styles. Especially geared work shoes in the more formal side of things (Carets vs The last shoemaker) and long-term reviews.

Over the last few years there have been several developments as I see it.
– Several youtubers endorsing barefoot shoes.
– People who have been wearing barefoot shoes for a while find entry-level shoes (the first you typically hear about) too narrow.
– Anya’s reviews is a great go-to source. What can you offer to complement her?

Thanks Marius! And appreciate the specific ideas. I wonder to what extent this movement around minimalist shoes has evolved into areas that are helpful (a maturing) vs. counterproductive vs. a compromise.

One of the aspects of anything in this realm is that anyone with a platform inevitably turns to monetize it … how does that compromise the integrity of the content (or not)?

Things I think about …

Would be nice if the site was better organized, clickable categories for brands and shoe type like, sandals, boots, etc. Also, it’d be nice if there were some reviews of some newer lesser known brands like Saguaro or other ones coming out. Love this site for its reviews! But it’s definitely been lacking.

So it turns out I’m part of both of those Google Trends spikes!! Welcome back. First time round I bought a pair of Five Fingers after spending a lot of time on your site. I overdid things and managed to injure my foot, too much too soon. Then getting back to things found the Five Fingers a bit of a faff so gave up on them. I’ve been a cyclist since but am starting to pick up running again. I thought to myself, ‘I wonder what happened to that BirthdayShoes site?’. I was a bit surprised not to see it at the top of the Google list for barefoot running, but reading this article it all makes sense!
Your question, ‘what would you like to see from this site?’, honest, fair, balanced reviews are just always the hardest thing to find. People become fanboys of brands, or even concepts, so quickly. So rounded reviews are always appreciated!

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