Confronted with these rough-hewn sandals, it might be tempting to turn away, thinking, “hey, these are just leather insoles glued to cut-out rubber outsoles with holes punched through for the leather straps whose knots aren’t even hidden.” And so they are. The soles are even made from recycled tires, which scores points for the planet if not for refined handiwork. Yet as tempting as it is to dismiss them as DIY crafts when lying helplessly on the ground as in the picture above, its worth remembering that they’re not called running sandals for nothing. The Tarahumara Indians – among the world’s best long-distance runners - run in these things for miles, and miles, and miles…a 100 miles... With a kinship to the sandals of those legendary marching Roman warriors, these are clearly not sandals to mess around with. But let’s be honest. While running and marching may be great for those who like that sort of thing, and who have unlearned the corrupted walking habits that come from wearing shoes, the question is – can these be fashionable too? Here's a hint:
The answer is, of course, yes. In fact, of all the shoes I’ve reviewed so far for The Fashionoclast these are my favourite. They’re an earthier, eco-friendly cousin to the often tricked-out gladiator sandals of runway models and celebrities, with a timeless quality that makes gladiator-type sandals a perpetually popular choice of summer footwear. The lace-up straps offer a distinctive flair, and the happy discovery is that while the sandals may not look like much by themselves, they do look good on a pair of feet and calves – casual chic, even, in a colloquial sort of way. The best thing is that these sandals have a style that is truly universal, with both Tarahumara men and women alike wearing them… and now us, which is good news for those us of who are tired of seeing yet another flip-flop as a shoe brand’s offering to men.
In practical terms, the running sandals lack the characteristics that detract, ever so slightly, from those other shoes reviewed here. They don’t make flip-flop noises like the Dopies or Topsies. They aren’t as demanding as the topless sandals (or the Dopies, for that matter). The trickiest thing about the running sandals is figuring out how to lace them securely but without cutting into the skin, a relatively mild challenge on par with breaking in a new pair of shoes. Most importantly, once they’re on they feel great – simultaneously, and paradoxically, both very snug and very carefree. With just a few straps holding the sandals on the foot, there is that unmistakable feeling of being barefoot. These sandals maximize foot mobility and flexibility. The straps, however, can fit securely enough, especially around the ankle (but not on top of the anklebone), to create a warm-and-fuzzy kind of foot binding. As for those knots below the sole, they aren’t nearly as noticeable or distracting as I thought they would be. The leather flattens out with use.
Speaking of flat: these sandals have no arch support or other orthopedic contrivances, part of the barefooting philosophy that sees modern footwear as harmful. Feet evolved for walking without shoes, the insurgent wisdom goes, and I suspect that those of us without foot problems (or simply accustomed to walking badly in flat shoes)will best enjoy the running sandals…but probably not as much as people walking using the natural barefoot techniques we’ve been conditioned to suppress. (For example, walking heel first causes more pain since its like driving with the brakes on.) That’s neither criticism nor praise, by the way; just an observation that may (or may not) be of value for people who may be on less than friendly terms with their feet.
It is possible to find these sandals on the internet through barefoot runners who can make them using high-tech vibram soles. Or you could, in principle, make these yourself using recycled tire rubber, or even vibram soles, thanks to instructional videos and kits. But what makes these sandals unique is their origins at the hands of the Tarahumara Indians. Sierra Sandals’ Sean Hull, as you’ll recall from a previous post, is working with non-profit organizations in Chihuahua, Mexico, to provide the Tarahumara with sources of revenue. So not only are the sandals fun, stylish, and good for running according to expert runners, they’re also a means to help a poverty-stricken people pull themselves up by their, well, sandal straps. Who can argue with that? To find out more, including how to get a pair for yourself, visit sierrasandals.com.
(Yup. There they are. Right where I left then. Right...there. Click to...oh, you know why. And of course my pants are rolled only to show off the sandals.)
As always, if you get yourself a pair please check in and let me know what you think! For my part, I'm looking forward to warmer weather here in LA so I can experiment with these sandals and more summery outfits...like real "capris."
Note: A pair of sandals was graciously given to me for review purposes. Many thanks to Sean Hull of sierrasandals.com.