The hype around barefoot shoes has cooled since its heyday a few years ago, when it seemed there was a never-ending surge of weird designs like half-sole running pads and chain-mail sock-shoes. That doesn't mean weird, barefoot-style shoes have disappeared completely. Swiss Barefoot is still out and about hawking its sporty, five-toed tough socks, and now it has some new competition. Skinners Technologies has a similar sock-shoe design, albeit in a more traditional toe box cut. It's not too late to get in on running, jumping and lounging in ruggedized socks, if that's something you have any desire to get in on.
Our original February 2012 article on Swiss Protection Socks is one that stands out in my mind above most others I've written. As a green Gizmag writer with just a couple months' experience under his belt, I wasn't sure how readers would react to the oddball concept of a five-toed sport shoe-sock. But you really liked it. Or at least you liked peeking at it and thinking "WTH?!" I remember it vividly because it was my first article that really blew up in popularity – a lot of interest in big, burly outer socks.
We've never actually seen a single person wearing any form of protective sock-shoe, though - not in the office, not in the park, not on the trail, not on the street, not anywhere. Still, somebody is buying them. Swiss Barefoot Company was on Kickstarter just last year raising funding for a redesigned, rebranded version of its sock, the FYF (Free Your Feet), and managed to raise a cool US$330,000 on a $10,000 campaign.
Skinners Technologies takes a slightly different approach to the all-in-one sock-shoe. As compared to Swiss Barefoot, it focuses a little more on portability, comfort and general lifestyle and a little less on sport and outdoor use. The startup fancies its sock-shoes, also called Skinners, a great alternative for giving those aching feet a break at work, barefoot-style running, traipsing around the campsite, getting comfortable on a long flight and more. It also stresses the roll-up portability, explaining that you can take them anywhere and pull them out of a pocket or pack when you want to drop your sneakers or wingtips in favor of something comfier.
It seems like a good marketing approach. We can see wearing these under the desk, or in place of flip-flops at camp or walking the dog, but we wouldn't be as eager to dive into wearing sock-shoes on runs and hikes, no matter how tough and specialized those sock-shoes claim to be.
Skinners' sock design is also different from Swiss Barefoot's, as it groups all toes together in the toe box instead of splitting them up. The upper looks like a regular sport sock and is made from a silver-infused, antibacterial fabric that includes integrated mesh ventilation zones. The high, toe/heel-wrapping outsole is made from a dual-layer, non-abrasive polymer designed to hold up to the ground. That sole is also waterproof. The real key, according to the company, is in the seamless, glue-free construction, which enhances durability, turning basic sock into tough "shoe."
While the antibacterial fabric will help fight odor, you'll have to wash your Skinners eventually. When you do, you can just toss them in the washing machine on gentle.
Skinners isn't selling its socks as an all-terrain, all-situation solution. It recognizes the limitations of the design, stressing that Skinners aren't designed to completely replace traditional shoes.
"We're not saying people should throw away their $150 running shoes and start running in Skinners once and for all," the company explains. "We believe using Skinners is good for proper muscle and tendon development since using them is really like running barefoot. We recommend starting out with a training session on natural or soft surfaces, basically any surface where a person would naturally run barefoot.
"As for asphalt, other hard surfaces, long distances or dangerous environments where you wouldn't run barefoot, we recommend sticking to classic running shoes."
So far, people are digging Skinners. The company's crowdfunding campaign has more than doubled its $10K goal after just a day on Kickstarter. You can find Skinners there for pledge levels as low as $29, a discount off the estimated $45 retail price. That price is also much cheaper than the $80 preorder price of Swiss Barefoot FYF socks.