Introducing the minimal shoe shop: Natural Foot Gear.

Around the world there are a few shoe shops that are specialized in minimal shoes. In a series of interviews Toesalad wants to introduce some of them to you. In this interview we want to introduce to you Natural Foot Gear. This American web shop sells minimal shoes, foot health care products and their website gives tons of information about foot related issues. We spoke to Dr. Marty Hughes who is one of the co-founders of Natural Foot Gear.

Natural Foot Gear - Team
The team behind Natural Foot Gear proudly showing their feet.

Can you tell us something about Natural Footgear?

Natural Footgear is a one-stop shop for all your natural foot health needs. We offer in one place all the gear you need to realize lasting foot health, and we are committed to sharing the information and approaches that we’ve found most beneficial for ourselves, our customers, and our former patients. At Natural Footgear, we take the approach that the foot is inherently strong, stable, and adaptive, and that by restoring normal, natural foot anatomy and function, a significant number of chronic foot problems can be alleviated or prevented. To paraphrase the great Dr. William Rossi, a pioneer in the field of natural foot health, we believe that the less you do to the foot, the better for the foot.

How and why did you start up Natural Footgear?

Both Dr. Robyn and I were very fortunate to benefit from the tutelage of Dr. Ray McClanahan, a renowned sports podiatrist in Portland, OR, the inventor of Correct Toes toe spacers, and a true visionary in the field of podiatry and natural foot health. Dr. Ray showed us a natural, noninvasive methodology for treating foot and lower extremity problems, and so that’s what we gravitated toward in our own private practices. Natural Footgear began as an extension of Dr. Robyn’s foot-specific naturopathic practice in Asheville, NC. Initially, the site was intended to be a companion to Dr. Robyn’s practice, a place where patients could find great information and products to support their care. Over time, though, the website grew to become a business and endeavor all its own. It became clear to us that the foot health world was inundated with a tremendous amount of misinformation, and so we felt it was our mission to challenge long-held industry beliefs about what constitutes true foot health and how to achieve it. People looking for natural solutions to common foot ailments needed a place to go, and that’s what we’ve tried to create with Natural Footgear.

Which brands and what kind of products do you offer?

We only work with brands we believe in. Any product we offer on our site must be Natural Footgear Certified, which means that it must pass our strict criteria for what constitutes a truly foot-healthy product. If we ourselves don’t feel comfortable using a product, then we don’t offer it on our site. It’s as simple as that. We believe in offering a small number of really excellent products, as opposed to a large number of questionable products. We want our customers to know that we’ve done the testing and research so that they don’t have to. In that sense, any product on our site is already qualified and has the potential to offer profound and lasting foot health benefits. In terms of the actual products we offer on our site, it ranges from footwear to foot pads to toe spacers to creams and powders: essentially any type of product that will help the foot support itself, naturally.

Where do your customers come from and which kind of shoe do they buy most?

Our customers come from all over the world. Most of our customers live in the United States, but we also have a healthy number of customers in countries such as Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. We’ve even had customers from exotic destinations such as Bahrain, Mauritius, and Kyrgyzstan! The desire to achieve natural foot health is a worldwide phenomenon.

We have a fairly even split between folks looking for athletic shoes, casual shoes, and sandals. I would say that most people are looking for versatile footwear that can be used for any number of activities. We try to emphasize to our customers that you can do almost anything (including hiking or running) in almost any pair of shoes, provided the shoes are foot-health-positive. All the shoes we offer are flat, wide, and flexible, so it’s really just a matter of personal preference for folks when it comes right down to it.

Can customers also contact Natural Footgear about foot related problems?

We have put a tremendous amount of work into the Education section of our website, and we’re really proud of this assemblage of articles. This section of our site can be a great starting point for someone interested in learning more about a particular foot health topic, foot region, or foot condition. So, though we don’t answer any specific foot problem-related questions, we can provide helpful general info for folks interested in learning more about a natural approach. Also, because we don’t have the benefit of a full health history interview and physical examination, we can’t truly understand what’s going on with each person, and so we often send people to a list of providers who have at least some understanding of natural foot health concepts and approaches. In a lot of cases, people can find a provider at a location that’s at least relatively close to where they live.

What is your bestselling shoe?

We offer a limited selection of excellent products, and all sell well, because they each offer something unique for people's varying foot health and style/fashion needs. More important to us than overall sales, however, is that our customers find what’s best for them and their unique foot health considerations.

Do you see a trend in minimalist shoes? What do you expect for the future?

The only trend we’ve seen in minimalist shoes is an ever-increasing number of people trying (and benefitting from) this unique approach to footwear. We tend not to pay too much attention to the general trends happening in the footwear industry; we instead choose to focus on the core principles of our approach that have worked for so many people in the past. We’ve found an approach that works for most people, most of the time, and we’re very happy that footwear exists that offers people the possibility of lasting foot health. We will always be happy to work with any shoe manufacturer who shares our same vision and ideals.

We really do like the concept of “minimalism” (i.e., less shoe leading to increased foot strength and healthier foot anatomy and function), but we're careful with this word. Minimalist doesn't always equate to “healthy,” as many minimalist shoes, while being good in many ways, have a much too narrow toe box, which can significantly negate any foot health benefits that otherwise might be achieved. This then gives “minimalism” in general a bad name. We hope the trend is toward shoes that are healthy for feet, period.

And, indeed, I think there will always be a demand for shoes that encourage foot rehabilitation and allow the foot to function like a bare foot inside the shoe. A lot of people find us after they’ve tried everything else, from orthotics to cortisone injections to shoes containing motion control technology. For a lot of folks, we’re the final stop before surgery, and we’re happy to help out however we can. There’s also a segment of the population who takes preventative steps to ensure lasting foot health, and we’re here for them too. I don’t know for sure what the future holds for minimalist shoes as a whole, but I do know that we’ll continue to serve our customers with the products that best exemplify our natural foot health philosophy.

What is your own favorite shoe?

That’s a tough one! I actually love equally all the models we offer. One shoe that’s particularly versatile is the Lems Primal 2. It’s got everything we typically look for in a foot-healthy shoe, and it works in so many different situations. In the warmer weather, I often do my trail running in the Luna Mono. I like the way this sport sandal performs on the trail and how it changes my entire experience of running and being in nature.

Which shoe do you think deserves more attention?

I think one shoe that flies a bit under the radar is Be Real Shoes. More on this below.

You sell the shoe brand Be Real Shoes. Can you introduce them to us?

Be Real shoes are the creation of Jason Applegate, and the company is based in Southern California. Jason has created a truly amazing shoe that meets all of our criteria for Natural Footgear Certification. We love this shoe for so many reasons, including its flat, flexible sole, its versatile nature (it works great both in water and on land), and its extremely generous toe box that allows for natural toe splay. This shoe works really well in combination with the other foot gear we offer on our site for synergistic foot health benefits. It’s a true all-around winner that deserves a lot of accolades.

What advice would you give to people who are new to minimalist shoes and want to use them for hiking or running?

The best piece of advice I can give to those transitioning from conventional shoes to minimalist shoes is to do it slowly and in a step wise fashion. We’ve created a comprehensive article that discusses how best to safely make this transition, and we encourage all of our customers to read this article before diving into minimalist footwear. The importance of choosing shoes with a sufficiently wide toe box and working toward big toe realignment also cannot be overstated. Both of these things are often overlooked but are essential in the journey toward foot strengthening and self-support. Also, for folks who are looking for a quick solution to long-term foot problems, we often need to remind them that their problems took a long time to develop (sometimes decades) and that the recovery process can also take some time. It’s important for people making the transition to foot-healthy footwear to have realistic goals and expectations.

Is there something that you would like to add?

We’d like to say a big THANK YOU! to Toe Salad for letting us to share a bit about our business and our philosophical approach to feet and footwear. If anyone has any follow-up thoughts to share or questions to ask, we’re happy to field them at