I first read about Kigos on the Exuberant Animal blog. After reading over their website, my curiosity was sufficiently aroused that I thought they merited further investigation. What can I say, I am a footwear geek, I can't help it. While I do believe that barefoot is the ideal, I also realize that it is not always practical and therefore I am always on the lookout for interesting products that meet my requirements for minimalist footwear. I contacted Kigo to see if they would be willing to let me review a pair of their shoes and they agreed.
Prior to receiving the shoes I didn't really know anything about this newly-founded company. Thankfully, along with the shoes, Kigo sent me a package of company literature talking about the company, their history, vision, values, and products. After reading through it, I must say that I am impressed. As we have talked about previously, our family likes to purchase products from companies that really care about how they do business (environmentally, socially, etc.). Based on what they are saying, Kigo seems to fit with our values nicely:
- As a company, they work virtually via telecommuting. They say that this allows the employees to not have to make a daily commute to an office and minimizes driving. I like this idea. If the company becomes successful, it will be interesting to see how they are able to sustain this model through growth.
- There current shoe models are made with a textile called CYCLEPET which is made out of post-consumer PET bottles (plastic). They don't mention anything about the rubber, so I am not sure if it is recycled or not.
- The boxes are made of recycled corrugate, printed with eco friendly inks. The shoes are stuffed with a small amount of tissue. All packaging materials can be recycled.
- All shoes are assembled using only water-based adhesives and stitching rather than toxic chemical glues. I would not be willing to eat water basted adhesives any more than chemical ones, but I am sure on the whole it is better for the environment ;-)
- Included with each pair of Kigos is a storage bag that can be used for transporting the shoes when they are dirty. The bag is made of cornstarch instead of plastic which means it is biodegradable or compostable. This isn't much of a selling feature for me, I typically don't put my dirty shoes in a plastic bag, but perhaps for those of you that do, this would be convenient.
- The shoes are treated with some sort of EPA approved stain/water resistance treatment called C6 that is supposed to be almost 100% protective as well as environmentally friendly.
Ok, so now that you know a little about the company and their products, on to the review. Kigo currently makes two products: the Shel, and the Star. The Shel has a closed top and is designed to be unisex. The Star has an open top with a small strap and is designed for women. This review is for the Shel.
My shoe size is typically a 9.5 or 10, depending on the fit. I am also known for having wider than normal feet. The first pair I received was a 9.5 which fit way too small for me, even with bare feet and the insoles removed. The second pair they sent me was a 10.5 and I am only able to wear them with insoles removed and bare feet in order to get an adequate fit. As far as length goes, the 10.5 fit me just about right. As far as width goes, I find them on the narrow side, most notably in the toebox. This has made it difficult for me to wear them for any extended period of time - the fabric does appear to stretch, so over time they may fit my feet better. Of course your mileage will vary depending on the size and the shape of your feet, I would say that overall these shoes will probably not work for people with wide feet.
When putting on the shoes with bare feet, what becomes immediately apparent is that the fabric (CYCLEPET) is incredibly comfortable. I haven't felt a fabric quite like this before; it is silky smooth against the skin and has a subtle stretch to it. It is very clear when putting them on for the first time that these shoes were designed for bare feet, because they feel great from the inside. I was unable to test how the shoes felt with the insole in because I couldn't get a good fit that way. That is alright with me because I prefer to have less between my feet and the ground anyway.
The soles are rubber with a swirly grip pattern on the bottom. Without measuring, I estimate them being 3 - 4 mm thick at the forefoot (including the textured grip, probably 1 - 2 mm in the valleys between the grip), 2 mm thick in the middle for folding (see more on this below), and 7 mm at the heel. The first thing that is apparent is that these shoes do have a bit of an elevated heel - I am not a fan of heels, I prefer my shoes flat. The side effect of the elevated heel is a reduction in flexibility of the sole. While the forefoot of the shoe is quite flexible, and the midsole is very flexible, the rear third of the shoe is relatively stiff. Overall the shoes are very flexible where they need it most: the front two-thirds being similar in flexibility to Vibram FiveFingers.
The soles of the shoe wrap up the front and over the toes, providing a bit of a bumper. On the very top of this bumper is a small plastic hook. At the heel of the shoes, the sole wraps up a little and is recessed in the middle to accommodate a thin nylon webbing strap which is attached at the heel and velcroed at the back of the shoe. The strap has a hole in the middle. The idea is that when you are transporting the shoes in a bag or suitcase you are supposed to detach the strap from the velcro, fold the shoe in half, and hook the strap onto the hook on the toe. When the shoes are in this configuration, they fit neatly in the included non-plastic bag. I don't see this as a feature that I would use, and if I were to use these for hiking I would probably remove the strap and hook. For transport I would have no problem just stuffing them in my backpack as-is.
I have worn the shoes at home, around town, and at the office. Due to weather and constraints in the fit, I have been unable to test these in any other conditions as of yet. In summary, I would say that I like them, but in order to love them I would want to see three things changed: first (and most importantly), I would like to see more width in the forefoot/toebox area (or make that area stretchier?). Secondly, I would love to see the heel disappear, minimal as it is, I like my shoes flat! Thirdly, adjust the sizing - right now my suggestion is to order a size up. That being said, I think a lot of people (i.e. those without wide feet) will find this to be a great minimalist shoe. They are well constructed, reasonably priced, and made by a company that is concerned about it's global impact.