Adam Graff is the creator and founder of Minimal-list, an online platform and resource focused on barefoot shoes and minimalist footwear. His journey into the world of minimalist footwear was sparked, like many, by injury, the idea of a ‘better way’ and the book “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall.

Adam’s journey is one of discovery and passion. Struck by the simple but ancient wisdom in “Born to Run,” he saw barefoot shoes not just as footwear, but as a pathway to a healthier and more natural way of movement. This realization led him to seek a deeper understanding and create a platform that would not only serve his interests but also address the needs of a growing community curious about minimalist footwear.

Nearly four years later, Minimal-list has grown into a vital resource for the community, offering a comprehensive list of brands, footwear options, and in-depth insights into the world of barefoot and minimalist shoes along with the ever so slightly whimsical Golden Toe Awards.

Adam’s ethos has always been community-centric – he continuously strives to make Minimal-list a platform that is not only informative but also accessible, helping people navigate the world of natural movement and overcome the initial hurdles of transitioning to barefoot shoes.

Listen to this episode of The MOVEMENT Movement with Adam Graff about if barefoot shoes are booming or busting.

Here are some of the beneficial topics covered on this week’s show:

– How many people are introduced to barefoot running because of a repetitive injury,

– Why the growth of barefoot shoe companies helps the entire barefoot movement grow.

– How the awareness of natural movement and barefoot shoes is growing in Europe in countries like Germany.

– Why increased interest in natural movement is contributing to the growth of the barefoot shoe market.

– How transitioning to barefoot shoes leads to stronger and more flexible feet.

Connect with Adam:

Guest Contact Info
Twitter
@_minimal_list

Instagram
@minimal_list_footwear

Facebook
facebook.com/profile.php?id=100076578474882

Links Mentioned:
minimal-list.org

Connect with Steven:

Website

Xeroshoes.com

Twitter
@XeroShoes

Instagram
@xeroshoes

Facebook
facebook.com/xeroshoes

 

Episode Transcript

Steven Sashen:

Some people say the whole “barefoot shoe thing” is busting, some people say it’s booming, some people say it’s causing injuries, some people say it’s curing injuries, whatever. We’re going to dive in with someone who has a perspective other than a guy who’s in the business, who’s frankly helped make some of these things happen. And that’s what’s going to be going on in today’s episode of The Movement Movement, the podcast for people who want to know the truth about what it takes to have a happy, healthy, strong body starting feet first, because those things that are at the end of your legs are your foundation, of course. And you may know, we on this podcast break down the propaganda, the mythology, sometimes the outright lies that people have been telling you about what it takes to walk, or run, or play, or do yoga, or CrossFit, or Dance, Dance Revolution or whatever it’s you like to do.

And to do that enjoyably, and efficiently, and effectively, and wait, did I say enjoyably? Trick question. I know I did, even though my brain is mush today because we just moved into a new office. Because look, if you’re not having a good time you’re not going to keep it up. So, make sure you’re doing something you enjoy whatever you’re doing on your feet. I’m Steven Sashen, the host of this thing, and the co-CEO and co-founder of Xero Shoes. I’m wearing the T-shirt to prove it. And we call it the Movement Movement because we’re creating a movement. The we part involves you, and I’ll tell you how in a second. We’re creating a movement about natural movement, letting your body do what it’s made to do. And the we part is really simple, just spread the word. One way you could do that is go over to our website, www.jointhemovementmovement.com.

There’s nothing you need to do to join, there’s no secret handshake, there’s no song we sing every morning at 6:00 AM. Well there is, but not many people know it. And it’s just, that’s a place where you can find the previous episodes, all the ways you can engage with us on social media. If you picked up this podcast from somewhere and you’d rather find it somewhere else, you’ll find all the places you can get to the podcast, and leave us a review. Give us a thumbs up, hit the bell icon on YouTube, give us a five star rating if you can give us ratings someplace, you get the gist. If you want to be part of the tribe, just subscribe. So here we go. Adam, do me a favor. Tell people who you are, what you do, and what you’re doing here.

Adam Graff:

Thank you very much for having me on, Steven. So, I’m Adam. I’m the creator behind minimalist.org, which is an ever-growing, evolving, hopefully useful resource dedicated solely really to helping people discover barefoot shoes, minimalist footwear with the mission to remove really as many barriers as possible to people taking that leap from, I guess more conventional footwear, conventional movements, into that more barefoot, minimalist ethos. Because, I don’t know, I’m going to speak for a large group of people here, which is often dangerous, but I’m going to do it anyway even if it gets into trouble.

But I think that most people, broadly speaking, they tend to discover, from my experience at least, barefoot shoes and minimalist footwear, in really three different ways. I think the first is that they were the brave souls that embraced the five-finger look with Vibram’s back in the day. They’re equally repulsed and intrigued by them, but they’re brave souls. The second I think is through injury, and through the amazing work of people like Katie Bowman, Petra Fisher, yourself and others in the industry who are really spreading the word in education about how natural movement can prevent injuries. Or third, and more my roots, which was reading the book Born to Run.

Steven Sashen:

I think I’ve heard of it. Wait, let me look that up. Hold on.

Adam Graff:

Yeah, you might’ve come across it a couple of times.

Steven Sashen:

That was a book by Bruce Springsteen. Did I get that right?

Adam Graff:

Yeah. So, between those three things, I think that probably accounts for 99% of the people who ended up in this universe that is barefoot. And for me, it was a combination really. It was actually a pesky, persistent, almost pathetic toe injury that was plaguing me for a long while, combined with the reading the Born to Run book. So, after those two things I convinced me to go on a deep dive into a personal quest of understanding minimalist footwear, because as a person I quite like some self-imposed analysis paralysis. I like to torture myself just a little bit sometimes. And so, when I started to jump into the world of barefoot shoes, I wanted to see all of the options. I wanted to see what was out there. And I don’t think anyone out there is going to say that barefoot shoes are a very low cost option. I think it often perceives a criticism of being expensive, even though I think comparatively speaking-

Steven Sashen:

I want to jump in on that for the fun of it. It’s complete bullshit-

Adam Graff:

Yeah, go.

Steven Sashen:

… just for the fun of saying it. I mean, I’m in not editing mode. I mean, I’m amazed when people say that, because we don’t have one shoe that’s more expensive than the other things they’re wearing. And of course, the thing I say, we’ve got our 5,000 mile sole warranty, so the net cost is less. If our shoes outlast whatever other thing you’re making or whatever thing you’re buying, by whatever percentage is necessary, it’s a less expensive option. Now granted, there are a number of companies whose stuff is more expensive. Anyway, I get irritated, as you can tell, by things that are just factually inaccurate. But I mean, to your point, you’re right, people do say that. But it’s literally factually inaccurate. And I’m just perplexed and annoyed when that happens. This is a bit of a tangent to jump off on, but do you have any sense of why and what people are looking at that made them come to that conclusion?

Adam Graff:

Yeah, and I think that you’re totally right, because at worst they’re comparatively expensive to the shoes that they purchase. If you’re buying a pair of hiking boots to spend over for a good pair, if you’re spending over 100 bucks for it, that’s well within reason. So, I don’t think that they are overpriced in any sense compared to what they get, but I think that maybe the mindset is more that I think minimalist shoes and footwear are marketed as being less of a shoe. So the idea, I think, to someone who is not familiar necessarily with all of the concepts and haven’t dug deep, is that you’re getting less. And so, by getting less they expect to pay less. And I think that maybe that is an aspect to it that some people might approach it from.

Steven Sashen:

Yeah, that’s intriguing. We’ll have to do something like, okay, so which is going to cost more? The couple extra dollars for a shoe that has fewer materials, or the cost of dealing with the injuries that you’re getting from wearing other stuff? I guess people are just framing it in a way that is weird, but it’s actually an interesting point that you brought that up right off the bat, because we’ll have to look at that and see how we want to address that in a way that makes people just get out of the mindset of just doing cost comparison. Because it couldn’t be a less valuable, pun intended, way to consider what we and other people are doing. So anyway, all right. Well, that was a bit of a rant tangent, but let me back up a half a bit. So, when did you read Born to Run and when did you start Minimal-List?

Adam Graff:

So, I started Minimal-List back in 2020, so it was right at the beginning of COVID. It was perfectly timed with boredom. So no, I think I’d read Born To Run I think a few months earlier. And I was just convinced. There are just some things that you read that just make so much sense to you as you’re processing it, that things just go, oh, okay. Update the software. Your brain just updates to that new modal way of thinking. And that was one of those things for me, it was just like, oh, that totally makes sense to me. Let’s start the process of figuring it out. And so, like I was saying earlier is that I wanted to go out there and view all of the different options available to try and make an informed decision of which shoe should I get, which one is right for me based on what I want to get from a pair of shoes.

And there are a lot of really great resources out there, there are tons of blogs with reviews, but there was no, at least not at that time, there was no one place to pull together everything into one place, especially as a directory with filters that you could play with to really just get a list of companies or footwear that is specifically waterproof and a boot. And all of the features that you might look for. So, I was taught from a young age to scratch your own itch, and that’s a good way to approach life. And like I said, it was the beginning of COVID, I had some spare time on my hand, like we all did, and I was curious about the web development. And I thought, “You know what? I’m going to scratch this itch. I’m going to build it, I’m going to make it for myself, and maybe other people might find it useful too.” And that’s how it all started really. It was pretty well received, more than I thought it was going to be, and then it just blossomed from there.

Steven Sashen:

Well, so you came late to the game since this movement started a good 11 years before your introduction to it. So, I want parse that a little bit. So, what even got you to read Born to Run? How’d you find that even?

Adam Graff:

It was a friend I was living with. I don’t know how he came to the book. He was always listening to podcasts with Tim Ferris, and there was a guy who wrote The Supple Leopard. I can’t remember the guy’s name. I think he used listened to him a lot.

Steven Sashen:

I’m horrible with names these days-

Adam Graff:

Kelly something.

Steven Sashen:

Kelly Starrett. Yeah, Kelly Starrett.

Adam Graff:

Yeah, that’s the one. And I think that he maybe got that book reference from one of their conversations. He read it, he bought a pair of Prios. I remember when he got them and he was showing me them, and I was like, “Oh, that’s cool.” And didn’t think about it anymore. And then like I mentioned, I had something called turf toe, I think they called it in America in English. It was never fully defined for me what it actually was, but it was a problem with my big toe. And every time I would push off it, it would strain, and then I’d be out for a few weeks.

So, I used to play a lot of soccer, football, and it put me out. And nothing could fix it. I was probably out for about three years. Every time I’d go back, it would happen again. And then, on his recommendation I read the book, and then I thought, “You know what? I’m going to try it out.” Like I said, it updated my software, and since then I’ve, touch wood, never gone back to having that injury problem. And I play a lot of sports. So, that was my journey into it really, just a recommendation from a friend. And yeah.

Steven Sashen:

Yeah, and that is the number one way people seem to find out about what we’re all up to as far as I can tell. I liked it that at some point the market switched from people who had read Born to Run to people who had no idea what we were talking about when I bring that up, and I keep referring to the book because it’s such a great book regardless of the whole minimalist footwear movement. But it is interesting that you decided to scratch your own itch and build that whole resource. And so, I’m curious about that process, and mostly what you learned as you were putting that together. And I mean, the first thought that popped in my mind is who submitted something to you and you went, “Yeah, I can’t include that”?

Adam Graff:

You mean, just a very random pair of footwear?

Steven Sashen:

Well, I’ll say it this way, from day one, back in late 2009 through the end of 2010, the big shoe companies were saying the whole barefoot thing is bullshit. And if you run barefoot you’re going to step on hypodermic needles, you’re going to catch Ebola, your kids won’t get into college, you’ll forget how to use the number three, you’ll grow an extra finger. I mean, it was ridiculous.

Adam Graff:

What’s the number three?

Steven Sashen:

What are you referring to? You said some weird word. And then by 2010, the end of 2010, there were a handful of companies making shoes they were calling minimalist, that were nothing of the sort. And in a similar vein, and we’ll talk about the growth or lack thereof from your perspective, as things have been evolving, let’s just tease people with that, I’m seeing more and more companies making products that they’re calling, just like the early days, that they’re calling barefoot or calling minimalist that are nothing of the sort. And there have been a number of times where trying to put together, say, an organization for promoting minimalist footwear, and there are companies and products where they’re saying, “Well hey, we’d love to be part of that.” And the people in charge are going, “How do we deal with this? I mean, we want to have everybody involved, but that product is not anything close.” So, as you were putting this list together, what’d you discover about the nature of “barefoot shoes”?

Adam Graff:

Yeah, I think fundamentally is that when you start the process, you have the false idea that a barefoot shoe is a fixed thing, and it’s been very clearly defined in the world. And then you realize that the wording matters, that barefoot shoe is probably considered a type of minimalist footwear and then there’s a whole new layer that you start to learn. And then you realize that it’s not a category necessarily, it’s a spectrum. And then on one side you have something that is barefoot, on the other side you’ve got something that is maximalist, like a HOKA One, or whatever the thing is, and you end up with this spectrum of grayness in between of things. And as you go from the barefoot side of that spectrum all the way across, you start to encounter things that are wide toe boxed, they are flat with zero drop.

They are basically barefoot in every way, but they have that extra thickness on the sole, the extra cushioning for whatever reason that they have it for, whether it’s for running on trails, or on pavement, or just simply more comfort. And everything in between. So, all of a sudden you’ve got to, for someone in my position who is trying to collate all of these products together and try to keep it as focused on being as barefoot as possible, I’m often confronted with one shoe that ticks all of the boxes apart from maybe one. And I’m like, “Do I include it? Do I not include it? Is this, is it not?” And so, it’s a tough decision and I’ve mostly just relied on my gut instinct to make that decision. What do you think? Does the idea of a spectrum resonate with you?

Steven Sashen:

No. Simply because of the research. The research from Irene Davis could not be more clear. There’s stuff that is as close to barefoot as you’re going to get. And so, there are a number of just, not requirements, but there are a number of … Oh, come on, come on. Non-starters, there’s another word I’m looking for. I can’t think of it. Anyway, there are a number of features that are basically required. It’s got to have a wider foot shaped toe box. How wide? That’s a whole different story, because there’s some shoes that are coming out that are frankly are almost clownish, but there’s some people who have really, really wide feet. When we were making just our do-it-yourself sandals and we were custom making things for people, people would send us a tracing of their foot, we’d make a sandal for them. We got some foot tracings that were practically square.

I mean, just really amazing things that you were not sure that they knew how to use a pen, or it was some sort of bigfoot challenge. But the research is very clear that if there’s more than the barest amount of cushioning, then it’s reducing the amount of feedback that people are getting, and engendering movement patterns that are non-ideal. The highlight, the way I like to think of it is, it’s about form not footwear. It’s just that footwear can inform the form. And so, you add enough padding and someone who naturally overrides and heel strikes, because they’ve been running in regular shoes where they do that, it’s just not going to change because they’re not getting the feedback for that.

I was actually just at a physical therapy event. There was a company there called Run DNA, I just did an interview with Doug from Run DNA little while ago, and they were doing gait analysis. And it was all these people who thought of themselves as good runners. They’d been in regular shoes, every one of them overstriding and heel striking, and some of them had even switched to something that was, again, called minimalist and still overstriding and heel striking, and they didn’t know it.

And to be candid, or candid, to be clear, there’s some shoes on the wall behind me that many people would not call barefoot, and I completely agree. So, where is it? Up there behind me is a fully waterproof snow boot. So, if you’re going to make a snow boot and make something that’s insulated, and has a heat reflective, and a waterproof lining, there’s no way to make that as “barefoot” as our most barefoot shoe, the Speed Force, which is just a four and a half millimeter rubber sole. And so, I like to think that what we are as a company, we’re doing natural movement first and foremost, and then making things as barefoot as we can to be practical.

But there’s so many things where there is just a bunch of extra padding that it just doesn’t do the trick. And to your point about the spectrum between barefoot and something super maximalist, and you referred to the gray area in between, that area in between is not gray at all. Basically everything, and I know this can sound a little … Man, why can’t I find words today? This is going to sound a little extreme, but once we even get past what Irene Davis calls those partial minimalist shoes, and I’ve accused her of being politically correct, and if she weren’t, she would say fake minimalist shoes, and she did not disagree with that point. Once you get past there, again, for lack of a better phrase, they all suck.

And what I mean when I say that, and I’ll stop ranting about this in a second, this is not about me, is simply that the research, again, backs up what I’m saying. Research on Nike’s own website showed that in a study comparing their bestselling running shoe to a new shoe they developed, this is about four years ago, in 12 weeks, 30% of the people in their bestselling shoe got injured and the new shoe only injured 14.5%.

The irony, there’s a couple, is the new shoe that did so much better, what they did to make it better is they removed many of the protective features. Not all of them, they made it a little more like us, but let’s just use that 14.5%. Those are the number of people that got injured in 12 weeks. And of course, injury rates go up over time. If we injured 14.5% of our customers within 12 weeks of them getting a pair of Xero Shoes, we’d be having this conversation from my jail cell. So, that’s why I say everything that goes past what we’re doing is bullshit. And more, we’ve also had people at big companies say, “Oh, this natural movement thing is real. But if we were doing that, we’d be admitting we’d been lying for 50 years.” So if they know it, then it’s a problem.

And anyway, and some of it is just basic physics where is another reason I say that there is no gray area really, because there’s nothing … The way you had to break it down like, okay, they’ve got a wide toe box, they’ve got this, they’ve got that, everything, I’m checking all the boxes about this one or two, it’s the same thing in that middle area. If you make something wide and you make something flat, that’s great, but that extra cushioning is, again, the thing getting in the way of giving you the feedback that you actually need and still potentially engendering bad form.

Sorry, I’m going to keep going. I had this flashback just now to when Newton Running came out, and they had these pods under your metatarsals that were little trampoline pods. And the way they positioned that shoe, they said it’s designed to encourage a four-foot landing. Well, that’s a clever idea, but if you went and watched people running in that shoe, 99% didn’t land on their forefoot, never used those little magic trampoline pods. So, you can “design something for a reason,” but what happens in reality is a different game. Anyway, so that’s my long answer to your simple question.

Adam Graff:

No, and I understand your perspective totally. And I think that when I refer to the spectrum, I think that 99% of that spectrum is garbage. It wouldn’t even fall into that realm. And I think what I’m more alluding to is that last 5%, 10% of footwear, which probably includes maybe your snow boot and your most minimalist, the Speed Force, they would both make it in my book as a “barefoot shoe” because you’re coming at it with the right ethos, you’re designing with the right principles. And people, from my experience, they need footwear for different occasions. And you could make a sandal that is the most barefoot possible, but that’s just not going to suit somebody who needs to go and hike in the snow for six hours. And so, somebody who is looking for a snow boot, you accept that you’re not going to get the most minimalist shoe possible, but I’m trying to guide people towards the boots that fulfill that need in the most barefoot inspired or minimalist inspired roots. That’s more the spectrum that I’m referring to that I want to talk about.

Steven Sashen:

I can appreciate that. So, what’s either most interesting or surprising thing you’ve either learned in the last three, almost four years of doing this, or the most surprising/interesting feedback you’re getting on a regular basis from human beings who encounter? And by the way, it’s Minimal-List. We’ll talk about the URL later, but just to be clear. So yeah, give me the surprising, interesting bits from either just what you’ve noticed or what you’re hearing from people.

Adam Graff:

Yeah. For me, and I think when we started this conversation you were almost a little bit surprised when I said it was from the outside looking in it seems there’s a lot of innovation happening in the industry. Like I just mentioned, the types of shoes that are available for different purposes that are hitting the market to me is fascinating, that it gives me the impression that the industry is growing. You can comment on that, I’m sure. But for example, I saw that there is a golf shoe, there is now a football cleat that you can get. There are 3D printed barefoot shoes that are molded to …

To me, I’m surprised to see such a small part of the overall footwear market have such passion behind it, and to be able to be at that forefront of innovation and to deliver these products that people need, I find it fascinating, especially in a market that seems to be dominated so much by smaller companies with limited resources who are just doing it more out of passion than for the purely financial gains. Because I think probably yourself, Vivobarefoot are the biggest probably two, but 90% of the others are small, family-run businesses around the world. And I love to see that.

Steven Sashen:

I agree. I mean, when some new thing comes out or some additional thing comes out, I by and large love it. I don’t know, this happened a lot lately, but it used to happen earlier on where someone would say, “I was looking for something and I couldn’t find what I wanted, so I came up with this,” and it’s a complete ripoff of something that we did. And I can find them in my database from when they ordered my shoes. In fact, here’s one that’s going to sound crazy, the brand Hey Dude, which got a lot of attention recently. We met employee number one who said, “Oh no, we bought all your stuff and you were our inspiration.” It’s like, what the … Now, I’m okay with that, except the fact that they got two and a half billion dollars from when they got acquired by Crocs.

And Crocs says to us, “We’re not really interested in you guys.” It’s like, “Wait a minute. What?” So, the innovation part is great. It’s also one of those things that the flip side is a lot of people come into this, I think … Well, we all come into anything new naive, but a lot of people are coming in more naive than they know or are willing to admit. And sadly, a number of these companies, they come and they go because running a footwear company is really hard. The cost, especially if you’re growing, the cost is incredible. Managing inventory is amazingly difficult, and there aren’t a lot of people who made it past that working out of your living room stage.

And I hope more do, because the more the merrier. We’re trying to build awareness. Well, the more there are, the more awareness there is, and that’s really critical for something like this. People ask me every now, and they go, “Well, what if Nike ripped you off?” I went, “Then we won.” We’re not here to be the biggest whatever company in the world, we’re here to change the world with natural movement footwear. And so, if some big company jumps on board, like really jumps on board, then we won. And we’re all going to be part of changing the world.

Adam Graff:

Yeah, rising tide raises all ships, as they.

Steven Sashen:

Yeah, as they say. So, what’s the word I’m looking for? How in touch with the people who are hitting your website, are you? In other words, are they reaching out to you and telling you things they want, things they don’t want, things that they’re … What’s that relationship like for you?

Adam Graff:

It’s been really nice actually, because ever since I conceived the idea, how I spread the word was pretty organic. I just posted on a few Reddit threads and it was just like, “Hey, built this thing. If you like it, use it.” And then every change that I’ve made to the platform ever since inception really has always come from the community. There’s always been feedback from people saying, “Hey, it’d be cool if it could do this,” or, “Hey, did you know about this company?” Or, “Have you seen this footwear?” So, it’s a consistent interaction really with me being guided by them and me trying to deliver more useful things for people, because not always what I want is what everybody wants.

And I think that one of the ideas that came through was the Golden Toe Awards, which was the second one was earlier this year, which is, for those who don’t know, is a whimsical award ceremony that tries to shed some light on who the community think is doing a great job in terms of the footwear. And I think that you’ve probably been pretty proud of the Xero performance in there. I think you had a shoe in the top three of pretty much every category that they had.

Steven Sashen:

Yeah, I’m okay with that.

Adam Graff:

Yeah. And thank you for the support that you give to that every year. So, it’s that kind of community first, community led, trying to get feedback from the community, trying to work that directly into the comparisons that we do, into the reviews that we put together. Because there’s a ton of people out there giving hands-on reviews, just of their own opinion. But I know that when I’m looking, I’m delving into the forums, I’m trying to find what lots of people think about the product, just not necessarily one person. So, I’m trying to collate that and bring that into the website to try and make it more of a community driven platform that people can rely on.

Steven Sashen:

Got it. And again, backing up to the previous question in a way, is there anything out of this just been flat out surprising to you? Because from my end, there’s a lot, but again we’re, from on the brand side and I’ve been around for 14 years.

Adam Graff:

Flat out surprising.

Steven Sashen:

It’s okay. If I stumped you, I stumped you.

Adam Graff:

Yeah, nothing is coming to my mind off the bat.

Steven Sashen:

Well, then from your perspective, I mean, it’s an interesting thing. At least in the States, people still perceive this whole category as something that is really tiny and niche-y, and not really many people are into it. And by the way, you’re going to get injured if you do this. It’s a very different thing in Europe. We have a European office, and it’s a very different thing. So, what’s the zeitgeist from your perspective, just about the whole concept? And how have you seen that evolving in the last few years?

Adam Graff:

Yeah, I think it’s growing a lot in Europe in the past few years. I think places like Germany in particular, there seems to be a lot of activity there. I think where I’m from in the UK, it’s a lot less known. And I think that that fundamentally comes from the fact that the environment really isn’t that suitable for what was a barefoot shoe, if we go back to our previous conversation. 10 years ago, up until very recently it was the Prio is great, but it absorbs water. You’re not going to wear that … I mean, I tried, I used it for many years. I’ve turned my Prios to dust, I think, by the time I threw them away, but they were not good in the rain.

And that was a problem. And I think that that was a big barrier for most people, because those shoes, they were very lightweight, they were very permeable, they were often sandals. This was where the industry was for a long time. But now you can see on the wall behind you that you’ve got boots that are waterproof. You’re starting to tackle those terrains, and I think that as those gain more traction and more popularity, I think that, in my opinion, you start to see that trend grow of people turning to them in the UK and Northern Europe.

Steven Sashen:

And not surprisingly. I mean, that’s why we built those is because we started hearing from people going, “Hey, this is great but it’s pretty much wet every day where I am. What are we going to do about that?” And the challenge, again, thinking about the smaller companies, sometimes they’re able to come in with a product that solves a problem faster than we are because of just the other financial issues that we have to keep the business running. And so, it pains me that the list of things that I would like to do takes time. I find that completely unacceptable, but so be it. Well, I’m going to ask this question in a weird way. How has your traffic grown in those four years? Do you have that data?

Adam Graff:

I have that data, yeah. For the first year, it was not much growth at all. It was more just a passion project. And then I could never figure out exactly what it was that happened, but I think it got shared somewhere. I’m not sure how or what, but all of a sudden from then it started to just pick up a lot more traffic. And then because of that, it caught my attention. And then I was like, “You know what? Maybe I should put a little bit more time into developing this, and see if I can improve it.” Because at that time, it was only a list of brands.

That was all it was. And then I was like, “You know what? For me personally, I would love it to be all footwear.” And then I asked a few people who’d been in touch, I was like, “What do you think?” And they were like, “Yeah, I’d love it to also be that.” And I was like, “All right, fine. I’m going to do it.” And that was a great idea because it really helped, I think the usefulness of the tool. But I’ll also tell you that it was a torturous three months of clicking on a laptop to get the first version with enough footwear in it to make it a feasible tool to filter by. The control V and control C on my laptop, I think their lifespan shortened by at least a few years.

So yeah, the first year was relatively small. And then ever since I started listening to people a lot and then trying to improve the tool based on their feedback, it’s steadily growing year-on-year, which has given me the impression, along with the innovation, that if I am doing a little bit better and I’m growing, that probably the industry is feeling a little bit more healthy. But you alluded to the fact earlier that maybe this was not true. So, maybe my perspective is-

Steven Sashen:

No, no. I was being glib/provocative for the fun of it. If you actually go to Google Trends, and if people haven’t done this, go to trends, T-R-E-N-D-S.google.com, and you can search for any keyword over basically timeframes from 2004 till now, in different locations, U.S., worldwide, specific countries, et cetera. And right now we’re at an all time high in search traffic for barefoot shoes, both in the U.S. and even higher worldwide. I don’t know if they have a pan-European selection, but clearly there’s something else driving the additional growth worldwide beyond the U.S.

Because the U.S. is a little above the high from 2009, Europe is worldwide way above that high. So, we’re seeing it grow tremendously, but at the same time we’re still hearing people thinking that this is just a tiny little market for freaky little people, who just want to wear these goofy-ass shoes, and they don’t seem to get, despite all of our and my best efforts, that no, this is not just some tiny little category that is going to be just a few hundred million dollars in the next 10 years. And that’s the challenge still that we’re trying to overcome is people understanding the value of natural movement in such a way that they get that this can transcend the idea of some niche-y little product. And we’re still working the problem on that one.

Adam Graff:

Yeah, and I think that in the past five years especially, the consumption of fitness media and people becoming more self-aware of their own habits, that whole industry of movement is getting ever stronger year-on-year. And I think that simply as a byproduct of that, you’re going to start to look at different parts of your body and you’re going to learn different things, and I think that that will inevitably funnel people into barefoot shoes just based on the science alone. So, I think that that’s probably part of what you’re seeing.

Steven Sashen:

I think the thing that I look at that I think could engender the biggest change is, like you were saying, functional fitness if you will. But we’re dealing with a lot of professional athletes all of a sudden who are starting to understand the value of foot strength, and starting to wake up to the idea that what they’ve been wearing for the last God knows how many years has not contributed to having a better foundation. And if that starts to catch on, there’s that top down thing, which on the one hand I think could really make a big difference. On the other hand, when people see someone who’s unlike themselves, this is going to sound weird with athletes. On the one hand, runners will look at some 105 pound Kenyan guy who can run a marathon in just barely over two hours, and they’re a 300 pound whatever who can barely run 5K in under two hours, and they’ll somehow think, “Oh, what he’s doing is what I should be doing when it comes to buying shoes.”

The flip side is that same person, if the Kenyan runner is saying, “Well, I’m going to run barefoot,” that same person would go, “Oh, well that’s ridiculous.” So, there’s this weird dichotomy, weird logical break in the way people perceive this. So, the professional athletes, they might come out and say, “Yeah, I started wearing barefoot shoes and changed my game, changed my life.” And people could either go, “Cool, I got to try that,” or they’re going to go, “Yeah, but you’re a professional athlete.” And so, it’s just a bizarre form of mental accounting in a way that people will totally want to just imitate somebody who’s nothing like them, or think because they’re nothing like me it’s completely irrelevant, and they’ll have the same thought within the same breath sometimes, and not recognize the contradiction of it.

Adam Graff:

Yeah, that’s an interesting dichotomy of people’s thoughts that I never appreciated before, yeah, because people would go out and buy Nike Air’s because they’re Jordan’s, but then if Jordan came out and said, “I’m using these barefoot shoes because they helped me jump higher,” they be, “Yeah, but you’re Michael Jordan.”

Steven Sashen:

Well look, the simplest thing is just, back to the maximalist shoes, the moment HOKA came out, there was actually a number of Olympic runners that I was training with, and they loved them. And I said, “You’re not going to be able to run in a couple of years.” They said, “What are talking about? These things are great. I’m putting in more miles than ever.” I went, “Right, because the cushioning is making it so your feet don’t feel the pressure, but the force is still going into your body and it’s going to land in your knee, your hip, or your back, most likely your knees with the way you run.” And they’re like, “You’re crazy.” And two years later, they all became cyclists. So, if you understand the physics of cushioning, which very few people do, sadly, then you recognize the problem with cushioning.

And in short, anything that is absorbing energy, there’s an inverted bell curve, a little upside down curve about how well that cushioning works. I mean, first of all, all cushioning sucks. Literally sucks energy out of the system, but it will be better or worse depending on how fast you’re running and how much you weigh. And so, for some people it’s less worse, but that’s just like one tiny part of the curve. And for people who are running any faster or slower, usually slower, or any lighter or heavier, usually heavier, then that stuff is really problematic.

And I’ve been saying this now for 10 years, research is coming out showing exactly that, and it’s making no difference. It’s making absolutely no difference. So, it’s a little perplexing to me, just the way people perceive these things. And to your point previously, they put something on and go, “Hey, that’s comfortable.” Well, going into a space where you’re weightless is really comfortable, but you come back and your bones are all brittle, and your muscles have atrophied, and you can’t walk in gravity.

Adam Graff:

Can’t do anything anymore. Yeah.

Steven Sashen:

Yeah. Hey, I want to hear something completely off-topic, just because I said space and gravity?

Adam Graff:

Absolutely.

Steven Sashen:

Okay. This has been really annoying me lately. I realized there’s a problem with Superman. Here’s the problem.

Adam Graff:

Just one.

Steven Sashen:

Well, there’s a number, but this is the one that really keeps me up at night. So, when Superman was on his home planet of Krypton, he was a … Well, he was a baby, but he was going to be just like any other person on Krypton, and he’s been back. He will grow up to be a fine, strong, whatever human being. So, why is it when he’s on earth and he is subjected to kryptonite, he doesn’t just become a normal person, he becomes so weak he can’t move or do anything? He would just become a normal person, right?

Adam Graff:

Yeah, I think so. Yeah.

Steven Sashen:

Yeah. So, what’s up with that?

Adam Graff:

You need to go into Reddit. There’s probably a rabbit hole there you could go down for a few hours, if you’re looking to spend your time doing something productive-

Steven Sashen:

Yeah, I have not thought to Google, “Why does Superman become so weak he can’t move when he is subjected to …” Makes no sense. I find that very disturbing. And besides, how come he can fly? I mean, if it’s about gravity he should just be a really good jumper. He shouldn’t be able to fly. Yeah. So, what’s up with that? Now we got two things. And then, all right, wait. And X-ray vision. I don’t get it.

Adam Graff:

And heat. He dies-

Steven Sashen:

Why heat? Yeah. I mean, yeah. All right. Well, yeah. Superman has just been ruined for me lately, and now that’s the last-

Adam Graff:

That’s why Batman is the best one.

Steven Sashen:

Which one?

Adam Graff:

Batman. Batman’s the best one. He’s the most relatable billionaire.

Steven Sashen:

Yeah, the relatable billionaire. I don’t know, I’m a Spider-Man guy. Just the intervention, just bitten by radioactive spider. That just makes total sense that everything from there would ensue accordingly. And more, I was a gymnast, so the idea of Spider-Man just appeals to me.

Adam Graff:

Jumping around, and some girl nextdoor trauma maybe.

Steven Sashen:

It could be that as well. Yeah, and this is the other thing, actually, I’m going to bring this back to footwear. Check this out, is just this whole idea about footwear as performance enhancing just cracks me up, because people are not able to identify what, in my mind, are very simple rules of physics that would suggest why they may or may not actually be performance enhancing. Mostly not. But if they are, why? And what do you learn from that? Like with the maximalist shoes, I think the biggest factor that’s helpful is they weigh so little, which goes back to … Oh gosh, again, names. Dr. Phil Maffetone, who wrote a book called 159, about how someone will break the two-hour marathon barrier, and his suggestion is they’ll do it barefoot because those are the lightest shoes you’re going to wear.

Adam Graff:

Wow, really? That’s a prediction.

Steven Sashen:

Well, and that line is actually not from Phil, that line is from Ron Hill who won the 10K in the Mexico Olympics barefoot. And someone said, “Why’d you run barefoot?” And he said, “These are the light shoes I could find.” But Phil’s point-

Adam Graff:

Do you agree with this or do you-

Steven Sashen:

Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. The other thing though that might make those shoes performant or improving performance is their height. Because if they do weigh so little and they’re giving you extra height, if it doesn’t change your stride frequency it could change your stride length, because of the height. And so, if you’re getting an extra inch every time you hit the ground between one foot and the other, then over time that will improve performance. Assuming again, you’re the right weight and the running at the right speed.

Adam Graff:

Yeah, nothing else changing. That’s fascinating. Speaking of that, you did ask me earlier about something that surprised me, and something did come to my mind whilst speaking about that. It was how much more muscly my feet are. I had no idea that when I started the process that my feet would change significantly, and they really do. I was really surprised-

Steven Sashen:

It’s my biggest regret. My biggest regret was not getting pictures of my feet and doing any sort of foot strengthening measurement on day one, and seeing how that compares to now.

Adam Graff:

Yeah, that’s a good point. I didn’t do that either.

Steven Sashen:

Yeah. So, what’d you notice about yours, other than stronger?

Adam Graff:

They got wider and they got thicker, and just a lot more flexible. I remember I had a wedding that I went to, and I had to put on my old pair of shoes. And I think that everyone who transitions to barefoot shoes has this moment where they have to go back to an old pair of shoes for some reason. And my God, I was like, “I used to wear these?” It’s truly mind-blowing that they were comfortable, in my opinion, at one point. It’s fascinating.

Steven Sashen:

Yeah, I actually, early on had to go to court about something, and the only pair of black shoes I had were a pair of Nike Free that I had made on their website where it’s black-black-black-black-black to the floor. And just walking to and from the courthouse, by the end of two days of that my knees and my back were killing me. And it’s like, oh yeah, I used to think these were good and “barefoot”, and nothing of the sort. So yeah, my favorite version of this surprise is someone that we know who, at the end of ski season bought new boots and had them custom-made, because they were discounted at the end of the season. And then he started wearing our sandals all summer, and by the time he went to put his boots back on, couldn’t fit them. And luckily, there’s a brilliant, brilliant ski boot fitter in town, and so he was able to modify them and make them work. But he was terrified that he had just blown all that money on something he could never wear again.

Adam Graff:

They’re expensive to do custom ones. Are you a skier also?

Steven Sashen:

I’m not.

Adam Graff:

Or a snowboarder?

Steven Sashen:

Neither, which is ironic since I live in Colorado. But given the fact that I’m still a competitive sprinter, I don’t want to do anything that would possibly mess that up. And also, I know who I am. When I watch people going down a mountain and they’re shushing back and forth, it’s like, where’s the fun of that? I just want to go down as fast as I can.

Adam Graff:

You’re a sprinter, of course.

Steven Sashen:

Yeah. And that I know is stupid and dangerous, so I’m trying. I’m 61 years old, I’m doing the best I can to do fewer things that could kill me.

Adam Graff:

Yeah, you’re a wise man. But I’m a big skier and also a little bit of a snowboarder, and that’s a battle every season. To spend six hours and ski boots, it’s a tough ask once your feet have changed. It’s tortuous.

Steven Sashen:

Yeah. Well, they are starting to make those boots a little wider. There’s things that you can do. I’ve played with this in my head quite a bit, about how you would rethink the whole idea of strapping boards to your feet in a way that’s secure but isn’t messing up with your feet. And I think there’s a way of doing it. I’ve played with a couple of them, but we’re not going to head in that direction for the foreseeable future. That is a tough row to hoe.

Adam Graff:

Yeah, that’s a niche within a niche, I think.

Steven Sashen:

It’s a niche, within a niche, within a niche. About as niche-y as one could possibly get. So, from your perception, what is the future of Minimal-List?

Adam Graff:

Minimal-List. Yeah. So for us right now, we are very focused on just trying to make it as more useful to people as possible. So, that’s a big focus on providing more community-led reviews, more community-led comparisons. We are focusing a lot of how we can make the Golden Toe Awards even bigger and better next year, but constantly adding to the directory, improving the filtering, making it faster. And just trying to add more useful things like sales alerts, improving the newsletter, stuff like that, just so that people can … The simple mission for me is to try to identify as many barriers that people throw up to buying barefoot shoes or minimalist footwear, and trying to just make them as small or as non-existent as possible. So, whatever avenue people come in from, that I make it as easily accessible for them to find what they’re looking for and to take the leap. Just because for me, it really changed how I moved, how I interacted with the earth, literally. And I just think I want to spread that, I want to make that easy for other people.

Steven Sashen:

Yeah, the evangelical nature that we all have about this is, we’ve alluded to it, it’s really what’s driving it. And the thing that’s so interesting to me about it is it’s for real. It’s not based on beliefs, and faith, and just something that we want to believe. It’s like in addition to our own experience, the research backs it up, and then we hear it from others. There’s a guy that I know actually, he is a doctor for a small community, and when he talks about how they all switched to minimalist footwear, he always says it was like three people who it didn’t work for them. And then afterwards, he’ll say privately, “It didn’t work for them at first, but after they saw the benefits everyone else is getting, they tried again. And now everyone in my community is wearing minimalist shoes. But if I say we had 100% adoption rate and no problem since then, people think I’m lying.”

Adam Graff:

That’s too good.

Steven Sashen:

Yeah, it’s an obstacle and it’s also a bit of a problem, because people often do think, because we’ve all been trained to it, to think things like this, that all they need to do is put on a pair of barefoot shoes and everything’s going to be instantly fine. And it’s not like that. It’s been a problem since day one. It’s what killed Vibram, didn’t kill it but it’s what made their life very difficult, because that’s the way people were talking about it back in 2009, 2010. It’s just put these on, everything’s going to be awesome. It’s like, especially those shoes, not so much. So, we have to overcome that in the right way. And I don’t think it’s hard, but it gets in the way of the way, Americans in particular, like to shop, which is here’s my problem, here’s the solution, done. Everything’s fine.

And I always say to people, “If you break your arm and you’re in a cast for eight weeks, when you get the cast off, do you never use your arm again?” It’s like, no. So I said, “Oh, so you use some exercise to get it back in shape?” “Yeah.” “Well, how long does that take?” “I don’t know, like six months.” “Cool. Well, why wouldn’t you spend less than that time to get your feet back in shape? Because they’ve been in a cast for well more than eight weeks.” And they’re like, “Oh.” So, we just try to give people these little ideas, these little hints to get them to snap out of this, for lack of a better term, capitalist mentality that there’s always a product that is the solution, and you don’t need to think.

Adam Graff:

Yeah, there is no work involved. Yeah, and I think that people have never had it so good, I think, in the sense that there are so many resources out there now, from little courses that you guys, YouTube videos that you guys have done, there’s courses from Katie and Petra. I think everyone’s trying to push that message is that these are not a fix. They are great thing, but you still have to rework how you move. And especially if you’re not in touch with your own body, if you’re just coming at it from zero, it’s going to take you a long time. Yeah.

Steven Sashen:

Yeah. Well, I’ve never seen it take anyone a long time, but when people say, “Well, how long does it take to can transition to these?” I go, “I don’t know.” There’s an old Sufi joke where a man is walking down the street on his way to Bombay, and he’s been walking, walking, walking, and he doesn’t know how much longer it’s going to take. And he sees a farmer and says to the farmer, “How long to Bombay?” And the farmer just looks at him, and just stops and looks at him and just goes back to farming. The guy stands there and is like, “What the hell just happened?” He says, “Farmer, farmer. How long to Bombay?” And the farmer looks at him, stares at him for a bit, goes back to farming.

And the guy in a huff just walks, starts walking away. And the farmer yells, “Two hours.” The guy stops, says, “Wait, what just happened? I asked you twice how far to Bombay, you gave me nothing. Then when I leave, then you tell me the answer to it? That’s so rude.” And the farmer says, “I didn’t know how fast you walked.” And it’s that same thing.

Adam Graff:

It’s so true.

Steven Sashen:

Yeah. I don’t know how aware you are of what your body is doing, and how good you are at adopting new movement patterns, how much your brain has changed so it’s not feeling anything from your feet any longer. All of these are factors, but I’ve literally never met anyone who can’t make that transition in a timely manner, is the best thing I can say. Not necessarily as fast as they imagine, but definitely for the value pretty damn fast.

Adam Graff:

For me, it was about three months before I was feeling very comfortable in them, but it changed the whole way I moved. I remember the way I was walking, it felt so alien to me because I couldn’t heel strike anymore, and I had to land on the middle. And at first I thought I was walking on my toes, is how it felt. And then you figure that middle point again, and what’s good and what’s not good. It was fascinating to go through the whole process, I really enjoyed it. It was absolutely uncomfortable at times when you’re on your feet all day and you haven’t got those muscles working, when at the end you’re tired. You’ve been physically working all day, those muscles. But just to reassure everybody at the time, like anything it goes away. You readjust, you get used to it, and you come out of it stronger.

Steven Sashen:

I’ve been thinking a lot lately, when people switch out of something where their heel is elevated, they go, “Oh, I’m falling over backwards.” Like no, you’re actually standing up straight. But because you had your heel elevated, you were having to subtly lean back to stand up straight in those shoes. So, then once you get the heel out, until your muscles wake up, you’re now actually standing up straight but it feels like you’re leaning back. It’s a very peculiar set of things that happen when we just habituate to stuff that’s out of whack, and then you get back in whack and go, “No, this feels wrong.” I go, “Just give it a day.”

Adam Graff:

Yeah. I remember reflecting on the fact that so few people in the world, well, maybe not the world, but at least in the West, they probably go through, if you think about the number of hours in their life, how many hours have they actually felt the texture of the ground? To most people, the ground is foam. That’s what it is.

Steven Sashen:

But there’s another component to that. Because of that, the word barefoot has been tainted for a while in the last 12, 14 years, because many people, they think, “Well, I don’t want to be barefoot. I don’t want to feel the ground, I want to be comfortable.” It’s like, oh, you kind of missed it. And so interestingly, we’re running this fine line between using that term because people are using it more and more, and not wanting to communicate that this is problematic for those people who literally don’t take their shoes off from the moment they wake up to the moment they go to bed.

And there is a way of doing it, it’s just it’s tricky. I like to think that what’s happening, and this will be my last thought about the industry, I want to hear yours. I like to think that what’s happening is that more and more people are trying this, and over time, because you’re going to see it more and more, people will go through a phase where first they’re resistant. But after seeing it more, there’ll be a point where all the doubters are going to go, “I’ll give it a shot.” And that’s when things are going to grow exponentially, because the experience is so profound. And the thing that I say on a regular basis is, assuming that that’s going to happen, I just would like to live long enough to see it.

Adam Graff:

I think you’ll be surprised. I think that, as we’ve already alluded to, is that the trends are going in the right direction, and I think that there’s a tipping point. I think that the work that you guys are doing, the work that Vivo are doing, the force of the message being sent out is getting bigger and stronger. And even now when I’m hiking around trails, I see people wearing barefoot shoes. And it’s funny because you have that moment of connection. Maybe you also feel that.

Steven Sashen:

I’m waiting for the first marriage to happen as a result of that. Way back when on Craigslist, they have a section called Missed Connections, which is things … Well, I’ll give you the one from Xero. It was a guy who wrote, or maybe it was a woman, I don’t even know, said, “I saw you wearing your Xero Shoes on this bus in this town, and I wasn’t wearing mine so I was too embarrassed to say hello.” And the whole idea is that this misconnection, people would actually meet each other. And so, I’m waiting for the first, “I bumped into somebody else wearing Xero Shoes and now we’re married.” That’s my favorite story that I’m hoping to have happen.

Adam Graff:

Oh, it’s probably out there. Maybe they’re listening to this podcast, they can write to fulfill that wish.

Steven Sashen:

Or just go marry somebody just to prove that I was right.

Adam Graff:

Just to let you do it. Yeah.

Steven Sashen:

Exactly. Well Adam, total pleasure. I’m glad we finally got to connect and just have this industry insider chat from different perspectives. If people want to find you, please tell them how to do that.

Adam Graff:

Yeah, you can just go to our website. If you type in minimal hyphen or dash list.org into Google, you’ll find it. And yeah, it’s just a nice directory of everything that you might need to get yourself up and running with a pair of shoes, or to continue your journey.

Steven Sashen:

It’s simple. So thank you, thank you, thank you for this. And also just thank you for what you’re doing because again, the more people who just are spreading the word in various ways, the better for everybody. And that’ll be really, really helpful for, not just people in the industry, obviously, but humans. Those people. So for everybody else, thank you for joining us for this conversation. And just a reminder, head over to www.jointhemovementmovement.com to find previous episodes, ways you can interact with us on social media, other places to find a podcast, if you’re looking for another place to find a podcast.

And if you have any requests, or comments, or suggestions, or complaints, or think I have a case of cranial rectal reorientation syndrome, whatever it is and you want to share it directly with me, you can just drop me an email. I’m at move, M-O-V-E, at jointhemovementmovement.com. So, most importantly though, with whatever you’re doing, just go out, have fun, and live life feet first.

 

 

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