• Your Body’s Natural Cues

    I’ve talked a lot over the last couple weeks about where we are with Skora; it’s really exciting to see the progress that is being made, and the momentum that is happening so swiftly. So I wanted to take a step back and talk a little about the why of Skora, why minimalist/barefoot running is important.

    At the end of the day, what it all comes down to is running naturally. Our body naturally gives us cues when it comes to how far and how fast we can run, and how it should feel to when we do it. What running shoes have done since the 1970s, when they started to get these thicker, cushier soles, is to sever that sensory connection between the foot and the brain. Normally, the body gives you signs to let you know you’re tired, that you need to rest: heel striking, poor form, tired feet, painful soles. When you’re wearing these over-engineered shoes, these natural cues are eliminated, leading to so many of today’s common running injuries, such as runner’s knee, Plantar fasciitis, tendonitis and so many more.

    I’ll take a moment here to say I’m not a doctor—I don’t play one on TV, I don’t play one online, but what I know from experience is it’s common sense when you heel strike and you’re at a locked-knee position, and with every strike on the ground that in a locked, straight position, you are in essence putting all that pressure and compression into your knee. That’s not natural.

    When you start to heel strike, especially, it’s your body’s way of saying, “hey, you’re done for today. Go home, relax. Don’t run anymore today.” That lack of mid-foot stride is really indicative of your body’s fatigue.

    You have to listen to your body, and the best way of doing that, in my opinion, and in many supporters of this movement is to begin with a barefoot run. Or at the very least, sprinkle true barefoot runs into your training when running on minimal shoes because that barefoot run will reinforce the form and reinforce that connection. Even in a minimal shoe you can fall into the same trap that, “Oh, I can go long because my soles don’t hurt. It’s okay, it’s fine. I can go longer, I wanna do that 60 minute run on Sunday.”

    What I’m really trying to get across here is just to remember to listen to your body, to enjoy the feel of the run. For 9 years, I’ve been running barefoot, primarily, or in a second-skin minimal shoe. But I still try to do as many miles barefoot because I love it; it makes me feel connected to the earth, to the nature around me which makes me appreciate my running that much more. It’s really my form of meditation.

  • Development Trip

    As I mentioned last week, I recently took a trip across the ocean to China to meet the folks who will be making our shoe and get to know the factory where the magic will happen. I went over for a week to the Guangdong Province of China. This was my first trip to Asia and it was really an incredible week.

    China as a country was a real eye-opening experience. Despite the madness of people, cyclists, scooters and cars on the streets, there was no road rage. It really drove home how much the Chinese value politeness. The work/life balance was something I really admired to, and something that North Americans can take example from. They work hard, but they also take full advantage of the evening hours and night life their community or city has to offer. It reminded me a lot of European sensibilities that I’ve experienced.

    Up until this point, my communication with the factory and production team was through a series of emails, phone calls and skype chats, talking through design and sending pictures and changes electronically. This trip had some really great results, including building a strong relationship with the factory and meeting with all the suppliers and partners that are key to make Skora a success. I was also really blown away by the warmth and hospitality of the Chinese culture; I had always heard the Chinese were amazing hosts, but experiencing that first hand was really a treat.

    Outsole technical development with mould maker.

    Outsole

    So having the opportunity to see where and how Skora will be made was very educational and eye-opening. Logically, I know all the steps that go into producing a shoe like the back of my hand, but living and breathing the production cycle for a week made me realize how many components and suppliers are involved and how imperative it is that everyone work in concert. This holds especially true with a shoe like Skora that’s really breaking the traditional shoe mold when it comes to design and construction.

    Pattern cutting and assembly.

    Pattern

    The leather factories, synthetic textile factories and the factory that specializes in making lasts all have to work together and with the factory that makes the final product.  So to make the pullovers, you need all the textiles and leather, and a last, and then all of these pieces are pulled together by hand at the shoe factory, in what is referred to as a ‘sample room,’ which is pretty cool. It’s a room comprised of a small team of the factory’s best pattern makers and sewers, and they are the ones who create the pullovers and prototypes.

    After that comes production, where all the components that make up a shoe are assembled by the shoe factory, packaged and ready for export. So it really is imperative that the entire chain of production work together to ensure no details are left out and that the final shoe meets the design and quality requirements.

    Sewer reviewing master patterns.

    Sewer

    While there, we were able to accomplish three more rounds of pullover changes (some of which were pretty major) and we did this in only five days. That was amazing to me when I compare it to the normal amount of time it takes us to work through design changes; this would have taken at least 6 weeks through the normal process of emails and shipping samples back and forth. Being able to make fundamental changes on the fly with the master pattern maker present and receive immediate input and advice on construction techniques is invaluable. This is product development at its best.

    By the time I got home, a few things stood out for me. Above all else, it was my first experience of seeing the entire Skora team pull together to accomplish our development goals. We were on a tight schedule, and working under pressure only seemed to fuel the passion for our product, driving home just how awesome our team is and what a great product Skora will be.

  • The Last is First

    It’s been a while since I’ve written, but it feels good to be back! When I started this blog, it was to document my journey with Skora, to let you see the process as it unfolds, and hopefully let you learn something along the way. Skora is about authenticity, and we want to be able to share that with you every step of the journey.

    Since I last wrote, we received the first iteration of our shoe (which is called a pullover, but more on that later), an actual physical version to hold in our hands. And wow, it was just....incredible. There is no other way to describe it. It was almost surreal. For the better part of the last year and a half, it was all sketches, designs, renders; all these flat, two-dimensional versions of the ultimate vision. So I can’t begin to say what it felt like to hold it, to smell the richness of the leather and feel the texture of the outsole. It was an incredibly powerful moment that validated all the work, all the effort and time and stress and money. It’s seeing your dream come to life.

    For those of you who are not familiar, let me explain a little about what goes into the process of making a shoe. The design is almost the easy part; you dream it up, make your sketches, try to figure out the parts and pieces that go into it. Then, you have to find a factory. Finding the right factory that is not only capable of meeting the level of quality and craftsmanship you desire, but also is willing to take the risk of investing their time and resources into developing a brand new product. Once you’ve overcome that hurdle, you can begin working on translating and collaborating to turn those “blueprints” or technical drawings into the first 'pullovers'.

    The pullover is where you take the materials and sew them together in a pattern, like you would for a jacket or dress. Once the pattern is made, it is pulled over what is called a last, which is a hard, usually plastic, model of a human foot. So the pattern is stretched and sewn over the last to create the upper that ultimately is the structure of the shoe. At this point, there is no sole, and more often than not, first pullovers look like potato sacks. Actually, I’ve tried them on and it felt kind of like a house slipper.

    lasts

    The pullover is where you can really look at the design, and see how it works in 3-D, and beginning the process of development. On paper, everything looks great, it looks the way you think it’s going to function. But once you see the pullover, your senses go wow, ok, I don’t think this will work like that. One of the first pullovers that came through made us realize the elastic was way too stretchy, another we tweaked the lacing a bit because it didn’t sit quite where it should on the foot, and on and on and on. Ultimately, you go through many iterations of the pullover, until you get the right one. And that’s when the really exciting part happens - we get closer to producing the first tester pairs.

    early_pullover

    It’s all really a combination of art and science, because you pick something that works, something that looks good on paper, but it takes the human hand and an artful eye and some gut to really see what’s going to work and look the way you want it to.

    We have a lot of other exciting stuff coming up. I just returned from my first trip to our factory, so I have a lot of pictures, videos and stories to share with you. Stay tuned!

  • From idea to conceptual planning

    early_sketch

    [Image of an early concept sketch. Copyright Skora Athletics LLC]

    It was late autumn 2007 and the planning process was set in motion. I spent the prior 2 years working out the idea in my head, evaluating Nike and Vibram's release of the first modern 'barefoot' shoes, and shaping what ultimately would become the essence of Skora.  I was energized to finally begin building a fresh and alternative running shoe company.  The goal was to create a sexy performance shoe which mirrored barefoot-style running form. I knew I couldn't do it alone.

    I was fortunate to find an award-winning footwear designer who embraced the concept and was willing to embark on a journey to design something truly different.  The process was not without its challenges. We explored dozens of brand names concepts. We scrutinized over the tone and voice of the brand. We examined new material and structural options. We debated on the delicate balance of designing a barefoot-like shoe while maintaining key performance elements.  Designing a minimalistic running shoe is complex.  Form must follow function.  Starting a new company is invigorating, stressful, fulfilling and maddening - wouldn't give it up for the world.

  • A really early '2nd skin' experiment

    sock

    I'm pretty certain I wasn't the first or the only barefoot running enthusiast to take a pair of socks (or pair of shoes) and MacGyver a minimal 2nd skin.

    It was the summer of 2003 and I was still getting used to the heat of Ft. Myers, Florida. Without question a mecca for year-round running. There was only one problem. The long summer made unshod running on the skillet hot pavement too much too handle. My running was limited to a frustrating 20 minutes.   So...

    I took a pair of basic low-cut cotton socks and painted several coats of liquid latex rubber on the sole, toes and heel.  (I wish I had a pic).  Imagine an ultra thin poor man's version of the FiveFingers. But alas, FiveFingers were yet to make their way to Robert Fliri's sketchbook. I named my new invention 'Flexsocks' and began running in them around my community.  They lasted no more than about 30 miles before they started to fall apart. But for only $4 it didn't really matter.

    It become apparent very quickly that these rubber socks of mine would not revolutionize running. So I put my idea on the back burner for a couple of years.

  • The beginning (Part II)

    wetgrass [Image credit: Mouldfish]

    I spent days pouring over what little barefoot running content was available online.  Remember, this was 2002. Before Vibram FiveFingers, before Nike Free and before hundreds (probably thousands) of media articles and blog posts about barefooting.

    I couldn't help but feel betrayed by the footwear companies.  Lied to by my favorite running magazine.  Saturated with a renewed knowing of how I should run, I planned my inaugural barefoot run the following day.

    It was a mild mid-Spring day in Calgary.  I suited up and walked out my front door, barefoot. Well, okay, I took a pair of dusty old aqua socks with me - just in case.  I walked to a nearby greenbelt, marked my starting line by tossing the aqua socks on the dew soaked grass and began to run.

    I've always enjoyed being barefoot, but the sensation of running unshod was surreal.  I not only ran for 30 minutes that day (longest run in nearly a year) but I run pain free.   This was it! I found the Holy Grail of healthy injury-free running. No need for therapy or orthotics or cushioned shoes.  Just a return to natural human movement.  I took it slow at first, listened to my body and feet. Rested when my feet felt tender, ran in aqua socks in the rain as to not shred my soles, and generally relearned how to run.

    I ran on grassy fields, sidewalks and on the street.  I began to play with the environment.  Testing my body and my feet. Over the coming weeks I made new friends with neighbors and fellow runners thanks to my naked feet.  Sure, there were times I felt uneasy running barefoot.  Early mornings made it difficult to see the path ahead - and my patience for aqua socks was, well, drying up.  They were slipping around my foot constantly and stretched too easily to depend on to stay put.

    It was then I knew that I needed a minimal 2nd skin to protect my feet once in a while.  But there was nothing available commercially.

    The idea for Skora was born.

    David Sypniewski

    Founder/CEO, Skora Athletics | www.skorarunning.com Chief Blogger & Instigator | www.barefootrunner.com t: 904.252.0704 | 14286-19 Beach Blvd #373, Jacksonville Beach, FL 32250 e: barefootrunner@gmail.com | david@skorarunning.com

  • The beginning (Part I)

    2001 | 10K Race

    I was never the fastest runner. Quite honestly, I rather disliked running all throughout school. It wasn't until my early twenties that I discovered the pure joy of the sport. Granted, I initially got into running for the sole purpose of losing a few pounds. Within a few short months I became faster, trimmer and more confident. I was a runner.

    My 2001-2002 running season was improving thanks to running 100+ kms (62+ miles) per week and several 5k and 10k races under my (hydration) belt.  My first 1/2 marathon, Calgary's Harvest Half, placed me in a respectable 38th place. I was on track to run a strong marathon mid 2002.

    And then, disaster struck.

    Seemingly overnight a severe iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) injury made running impossible.  For the next 8 months I tried everything.  Cross training, chiropractic adjustments, expensive orthotics, deep tissue massage and stretching.  No luck.  The pain was now a constant.  While driving or sitting at work.  I began to stand in front my computer, that helped a little.

    It turned out a weak hip abductor muscle was the cause. But what caused the weak muscle(s). I was in the fittest shape of my life. How could this be? I was puzzled.  I did everything that a runner '"should do".  I was fitted for the right running shoes to "correct" my gait, replaced them regularly as instructed and kept my running schedule busy.

    But now, after nearly a year of little running - I lost my endurance - and gained anger and confusion.  One day my frustration peaked when a 10 minute light run caused me to hobble home with a throbbing burning on side of me knee.  I jumped online and started researching. I read everything I could find about natural and injury-free running.  And like many fellow barefooters, it was Ken Bob Saxton's barefoot running site that opened my eyes.

    Barefoot running.

    Yes, it made perfect sense.  Our bodies have evolved over millions of years to walk and run.   But modern running shoes have broken this is a short 40 years.

    In the early 1970’s Bill Bowerman, a track coach turned entrepreneur, created a cushioned running shoe that allowed runners to take longer strides.    By cushioning the heels and tilting the runner slightly forward, the gait of the average runner was changed to a heel strike stride rather than the more natural mid or forefoot strike.  Mr. Bowerman, and his business partner, Phil Knight, marketed the new shoes under the brand name of Nike.  And so began the industry we recognize today. An industry plagued by injuries that affect 3 in 4 recreational runners.

    Coming in Part II : My first barefoot run...

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