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The Sophomore

Manifesto

Cliffnotes (TLDR)

Most shoes – including athletic sneakers – are bad for your feet, and in turn, your body. They squeeze your toes together, artificially lift your heels, throw off your posture, and weaken your feet through over-cushioning.
In response, the barefoot shoe movement emerged. But the pendulum swung too far, with cringeworthy design and forms too extreme for most feet living on hard urban surfaces.
Enter Sophomore. Inspired by the shape and function of the natural foot, adapted for real life on pavement, and designed to be as beautiful and sustainable as they are healthy and comfortable. In short, the perfect shoe for everyday life.

A Shoe Is Born

If you’re reading this, your shoes are probably destroying your feet. That’s a bold claim, but statistically speaking it’s true. A 2014 survey by the American Podiatrist Medical Association found that 77% of Americans over 18 had experienced foot-related issues.

We think that’s insane.

The modern-day footwear industry offers expensive technology, innovative materials, and the ability to get fitted for custom orthotics during your lunch break. All this, yet our feet are in worse shape than they’ve ever been.

So what’s really going on here?

At Sophomore, we do our thinking from first principals. (Sophomore does mean “wise fool” in Greek, after all.) With that in mind, let’s start with the human foot.

Our feet are made up of 26 bones, 33 joints and 29 muscles. They serve as our only connection to the ground, responsible for supporting our entire structure with strength, stability, and flexibility. In short – feet are really freakin’ important.

Humans evolved without shoes, with the first widespread usage of wrapped leather moccasins likely beginning around 10,000 years ago. Modern day hunter-gatherer tribes show us that when life is lived barefoot (or close to it), our feet grow incredibly strong, resilient, and even dexterous like our hands. No orthotics needed in the wild.

Before we tackle the problem with most shoes today, you might be thinking: “Going barefoot might be great if you grow up in the jungle, but that’s just not realistic.”

We agree! We like to call our present times “The Pavement Age”, because most of us spend our days on pavement, concrete, and other hard man-made surfaces. Barefoot Paleolithic nostalgia won’t save your feet from broken glass on a city sidewalk (and it probably won’t help you keep a job, either).

We clearly need shoes for modern life. So what’s wrong with a sweet pair of Nikes?

Want to know a secret? Most shoe brands don’t care about the long-term health and function of your feet. It isn’t intentional, it’s simply become the default over decades of intersecting design trends.

Think of conventional shoemakers like McDonald’s. McDonald’s isn’t deliberately trying to make you unhealthy, but their priority is making tasty, fast, cheap food. The unfortunate results speak for themselves.

How is a typical running shoe like a Big Mac for your feet? Let’s dig in:

1. Squeezed toes.
It tapers inward at the front of your feet, squeezing your toes together. Our toes are essential for balance and stability, and years of restricting their natural splay is asking for trouble.
Why do this? In short, fashion. DM us for the long version.
Call us crazy, but artificially forcing body parts out of their natural position sounds like a risky idea.
Imagine going through life wearing tight mittens that forced all of your fingers to squeeze together in the middle. No thanks!

2. Elevated heel. 
It lifts your heel higher than your toes. When our heels are artificially lifted, the alignment of our knees, hips and back are all thrown out of whack.
Anyone who’s worn high heels understands the issue a raised heel can cause not just for feet, but for the entire body.
An athletic or everyday sneaker is not as extreme as a high heel, but the damage is still done.

3. Overly cushioned. 
It provides loads (and loads) of cushion and arch support. This one is going to be a bitter pill to swallow.
A soft, foamy shoe feels nice and can even temporarily relieve some foot pain symptoms, but in reality it’s just serving as a crutch, eliminating proprioception (Google it), turning off the many intrinsic foot muscles, and ultimately weakening the foot and lower leg over time.
Like a Big Mac, it feels good in the moment, but in the long run it is not doing you any favors.

4. Stiff sole. 
It doesn’t let your foot move and bend naturally. Wearing a shoe with a sole that isn’t completely bendable is like putting your foot in a soft cast.
Instead of “rolling” your feet as you walk or run, the stiffness in the sole encourages more of a “plodding” motion. Keeping feet in a cast may not hurt right away, but over time it will result in stiff, weakened feet.
Now, some running shoes don’t have this issue. But many athletic shoes offer so many buzzwordy features in the outsole or midsole, that they ultimately sacrifice the ability for the shoe to do what we think is pretty important – bend. 

Phew, still with us? Take your shoes off and take a deep breath.

We’ve established that most shoes – even ones that may feel nice – are interfering with the natural function of your feet and body.

Enter “barefoot shoes”. We know it’s an oxymoron – we didn’t invent the name!

Barefoot shoes are designed to let feet behave as close as possible to their natural “barefoot” function. They tend to have the following characteristics:

1. Anatomically-appropriate form - wide toe box (i.e. foot-shaped)

2. Zero-drop – no artificial lifting of the heel over the toes

3. Thin sole – interfering as little as possible with the foot’s ground-feel, which is what triggers all the intrinsic muscles and joints of the foot (see: proprioception)

4. Flexible sole – lets the foot bend and move as it pleases

There are plenty of barefoot shoe brands on the market, so why was Sophomore born and what makes us different? We’re so glad you asked.

The Sophomore Difference

FUNCTION

Cushion

Barefoot shoes can be great if you spend your days on soft, natural surfaces like dirt and sand. But most of us live on urban surfaces that were not built for bare feet. The ultra-thin soles on barefoot shoes are insufficient for someone who hasn’t spent years systematically strengthening their feet to withstand hard, unforgiving surfaces.

Going from 0 to 100 with a barefoot shoe is like trying to squat 500 pounds your first day at the gym. It’s going to end with an injury and a whole lot of soreness.

We designed Sophomore with the reality of the modern world in mind. Sophomore has just enough cushion to protect our feet, without overcushioning to the point of numbing and weakening the feet over time. It’s like the “Goldilocks Zone” – not too little, not too much.

Toes

Most shoes constrict our toes, and we think it’s crazy that we’ve come to accept it as normal. Barefoot shoes do a great job at fixing the issue, but like with cushion, sometimes the pendulum swings too far back.

Many barefoot shoes have toe boxes so large that they look like clown shoes (nothing against clowns!). No matter how “healthy” something may be, if it’s not going to at least look decent, most people are not going to be interested.

At Sophomore, we want to have our cake and eat it too. Over countless iterations with some of the top footwear designers in the world, we created a shape that allows plenty of room at the toes, without the unfortunate side-effect of coming out looking “clown chic”. 

DESIGN

Typical barefoot shoes ain’t pretty.

Many are purpose-designed for athletics, which is natural for a product emphasizing function. There are some “fashion-forward” models that have come out, but they tend to suffer from the practical and aesthetic issues we discuss above.

For the first Sophomore shoe, we felt the most important part of life to capture was, well…normal life.

Most of our time is not spent running or at the gym, and those “99%” hours are the perfect opportunity to passively support the health of our bodies.

We know health isn’t just about an hour of exercise. It’s a result of how we live our entire lives – our diet, sleep, breathing, stress, relationships, and more.

Sophomore was born to make healthier feet and a healthier body easy & without sacrifice.

And it’s a lot easier to choose healthy habits if we can look darn good doing it. It’s why yoga pants have become so popular.

Sophomores are intentionally designed to be beautifully minimalist and generalist, to match whatever the aesthetic of the rest of your life. They’re meant to be worn with anything - from shorts to jeans to a suit.

We use sleek recycled leather, a stretch-knit tongue and a unique painted “speckled” midsole to stand out just a little bit.

We’re not about being loud and flashy, and we keep our logos and branding subtle. With Sophomore, if you know, you know.

Our materials are almost entirely recycled, including our shipping box.

Sophomore was built to help you live without sacrifice – for your health, your look and the environment.

As our name implies, we’re just getting started. Always learning, growing, and staying humble with our feet on the ground and our eyes at the sky. We hope you join us on this journey. Wise fools forever.