Is this the answer to the minimalist dress shoe we have all been waiting for?
When we stumbled on Flexible Footwear online, we knew we had to get a pair for review. One of the largest holes in the minimalist shoe spectrum is in the formal shoe category. Formal shoes are meant to be stylish and so often have pointy toes and high heels. Despite being a fashion-driven category, those of us who work on our feet need comfortable shoes that are work appropriate in a corporate or professional environment.
Flexible Footwear’s website contains very little information on pricing, or even product photography, so we contacted the owner of the company for further clarification and to discuss getting samples. It was clear that this is a small company that is not used to dealing with the Internet-based age. After some lengthy communication, an arrangement was struck and we were sent a package in the mail to start the process.
Packaging / Measuring / Ordering
Flexible footwear is not like any company we have reviewed thus far. Each customer is sent an information package that is truly impressive. I have never seen such a professionally presented package for footwear. The package arrives in a large envelope. Inside is a beautiful folder containing product information, photographs, research information, and a company profile.
Also in this package is a set of sample leather swatches. There are several types of leather and many colors to choose from.
Each customer’s shoes are made to order. This is where the product really excels. A measuring tape is provided in the package. Detailed instructions walk you through the measuring of the throat and neck of each of your feet in precise detail. Another measuring tool allows you to measure the width and length of your feet using an ingenious and simple system you stand on.
Why is this so important? Because most people have slightly different left and right feet. You might be surprised to find out that one foot is a whole size larger than the other. Flexible footwear will make your shoes to the exact dimensions of your foot. You can even specify to have a slightly loose fitting shoe if you prefer more toe-room. It was a breath of fresh air to go through this well-designed system. It is indeed the perfect way to get the right fit. We were very impressed.
After an enjoyable time measuring and reading, the package instructs you to write down measurements for each of your feet and call the company. Of course, as this company is only on the fringes of having an Internet presence it was impossible to email them with the information.
Filling your order may take some time. We received our order roughly one month after placing the order.
The quality of this product is fantastic. They are made to the highest standards. It was immediately clear that these were no ordinary shoes. There is no perceptible heel whatsoever. The leather is incredibly smooth and soft. The sole is not flat, but rather shaped much like a real foot. These are dress shoes like no other.
Unbelievable! I was astounded by how well these shoes fit. Through the measuring process I discovered for the first time in concrete terms that I have two very differently sized feet. This explains why one of my feet always is slightly less comfortable than the other. These shoes were perfectly shaped for my feet. There was no rubbing and no pressure. Immediately, these shoes were perfectly comfortable.
Flex / Sole
The patented Flexible Footwear sole is like no other sole we have reviewed. The sole follows the shape of the human foot complete with a well defined rounded heel. The outsole is even imprinted with patches of grip that represent the various points of contact of the foot. The closest comparison we can imagine would be the well-known Vibram FiveFingers lineup of shoes, but without any separation between the toes.
The matte black material that makes up the outsole is very flexible and soft. The shoe could be bent and twisted at any point along its structure. This design is intended to let your foot move naturally within the shoe.
The sole is well-cushioned. This would be an advantage for those who stand on their feet all day, but is not the perfect solution for those looking to approximate a truly barefoot feeling. While the flexibility of the sole is excellent, the thickness of sponginess of the sole is perhaps a little bit excessive. I would have preferred a thinner, firmer sole.
Some of the sponginess does subside over the first few hours of wear. This allows the material to conform to the shape of your foot to further customize the fit.
Support / Insole
While the shoe does not have a traditional support system, the shape of the sole itself is gently curved along the arch of the foot. This soft and supportive curve does provide support for the foot, despite being very compressible as you walk. The side-effect of this system is that there is a slight yet constant pressure along the bottom of your foot, even when your foot is not touching the ground. While the pressure is not significant, it provides for a very snug-feeling fit.
The insole is stitched into the shoe and is made of a soft grey material that is very comfortable for the foot to rest on.
These are, by far, the most flexible and barefoot-like dress shoes we have seen. Due to the thickness of the sole, however, the ground perception is limited to larger items.
The cushioning effect of the sole also reduces the need to walk in a barefoot-like fashion. The heel of the shoe is in a neutral position, however, providing for a more barefoot position while walking than a heeled dress shoe.
Due to the leather and rubber materials the shoe does not breathe well. There is, however, a significant amount of space around the toes for circulation and the quarter of the shoe is low, providing for better than average venting for an otherwise sealed shoe of this type.
In rain, the shoes have performed well. No water has entered while walking in the rain and walking through shallow puddles.
Quality of Materials / Manufacturing
The quality of the leather used in these shoes is first-class. The leather is soft and comfortable against the foot. The stitching is tight and flawless. These were as pristine a pair of shoes as we have seen. No fault could be found in the quality of the product.
The leather grain of the left and right foot didn’t match perfectly. After some wear the leather on the right foot wears differently due to the larger grain. While this is unlikely to be noticeable to a causal observer this detail should have been noticed before shipping.
The sizing arrived exactly as ordered. The fit could not be more custom or more perfect. If you have differently sized feet, you will appreciate the custom fit of these shoes.
The price of these customized shoes is significant. Indeed, they are the most expensive shoes we have reviewed to date. While prices vary depending on the type of leather and the style of shoe, expect to spend a minimum of $400 USD. Pay careful attention to any additional costs. If you live outside of the U.S., shipping, customs, and additional local import taxes may add a significant amount to your order.
*Note: A Flexible Footwear fan has contacted us with the following comment about price: “…In fact the various models range from the high $200′s to $400; the reviewed model is $280-310 depending on leather options. Shipping costs will not account for the error and are not included in reviews of online goods since shipping costs are an obvious, necessary and indeterminate cost for readers.”
Our price was based on our review pair’s cost at the time which we understood to be the standard oxford model with the less expensive leather. As our shoes were shipped to Canada to our photography studio, and the shipping was via UPS, the cost of shipping would have been reasonably high and the additional brokerage fees that UPS charges would have increased the shipping price to over $100 (Brokerage fees alone were approximately $80. To be fair I’m sure that the company is willing to ship via different methods when shipping to other countries. UPS is the only company that we have encountered who charges these additional shipping fees to the receiver. If you are buying these shoes in the USA, this won’t be an issue at all. If you are outside the country a quick discussion about shipping cost and providers may be worthwhile when considering the total cost of the shoe. While we normally don’t discuss shipping costs as part of a review we feel it is relevant here because these shoes are more expensive than most. As a result import fees are higher than average for some countries and it does effect the affordability of the product. A quick discussion with Flexible Footwear about shipping and costs will give an accurate overview of the total cost.
These are not sexy shoes but they are comfortable and practical. They would easily pass for a conventional dress shoe of an older design. The unique design of the sole can not easily be seen when the shoe is on the ground. You won’t win any awards for fashion sense, but they are sensible dress shoes that fill this particular niche in a way no other product does. Considering the alternative, the trade-off is well worth it.
There should be absolutely no break-in period for these shoes. If the custom fit does not feel immediately comfortable, you should return them. Return a custom product? Yes! They will not refund your money, however, they will modify or remake your shoes until they fit to your liking. This is an astonishing offer considering how custom these shoes are, but it is an excellent perk that should take some of the apprehension away from the expense of the shoe.
These should be cared for in the same way you would care for any expensive leather shoe.
In an age where the Internet is the default research tool for almost everyone, this company needs to get more information into the company website. The price of this product is too high to warrant a purchase without having seen detailed information and photographs beforehand. The Internet also provides the very important function of providing product reviews by the end user. These reviews are worth their weight in gold for a small company like this. At the moment, Flexible Footwear is very difficult to find, even when entering the name directly into Google. Consumer trust in a company that cannot be found on the Internet and has no reviews online will be very low. There is also no way to contact them through email. While they readily answer the phone, the lack of email contact may loose a sale or two, especially for those that are ordering from outside the U.S. or Canada. If the information package we were sent were available as a PDF online this could also save the company money and time.
Having raked Flexible Footwear through the coals for the lack of information on the Internet, there can be no doubt that this is a quality product that fills a very important and unfilled niche in the footwear market.
The ordering experience from beginning to end is unmatched. The ability to create a shoe that is made to order for your feet is a huge plus for those who have feet that are not of typical and/or equal size.
While these shoes do not have a perfect barefoot feel, they are miles ahead of the typical narrow, hard-soled dress shoe. The average user would likely find these the most comfortable dress shoe they had ever put on. A barefooter used to walking around barefoot would find fault in the extra support and the sponginess of the sole, but it is difficult to complain too much given the lack of alternatives.
If you spend a significant amount of time on your feet, require a dress shoe, and have a hard time finding a good fit for your foot, the price can easily be justified. For the price of two pairs of ill-fitting shoes you could buy a pair of shoes designed around the particulars of your feet. That is worth the premium, if you have the money to spend.
Find out more information by contacting Flexible Footwear Company:
P.O. Box 185 Sigel, Pennsylvania, 15860-0185 Phone: 814.752.2009 To order or request additional information: 888.221.7463 Website: http://www.flexiblefootwear.com
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As you read our reviews, please keep in mind that our reviewers review shoes in terms of their suitability for those looking to find the highest quality minimalist shoe products. All reviews are as factual as possible. In an effort to be transparent and ethical, we will point out any defects found, even if these do not affect the usability of the product. Not all defects will be present in final production shoes as we are sometimes offered “seconds” or pre-release products in an effort to provide you with reviews in a timely manor. In the event that serious issues are found with a review sample we will give every opportunity for the manufacturer to replace to explain the review samples before the final review is released. We never accept payments for reviews. We do not guarantee a good review for any products sent to us. We do not review products that do not claim to be minimalist or “barefoot like” unless we receive a significant number of requests from readers or listeners.
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