Have you ever seen really comfortable or attractive children’s clothing – like a cozy pair of pajamas, a cute skirt, or a colorful raincoat - and wished that there was a grown-up version that you could enjoy? If so, you’ll absolutely love Soft Star footwear.
Soft Star was founded in the 1980s by Tim and Jeanie Oliver, who initially wanted little more than to operate their own business and do something nice for children. As their baby daughter was learning to walk, they were unhappy with most of the hard, stiff toddler shoes on the market, and looked for footwear that was soft and flexible to better support muscle development.
Finding nothing satisfactory, they educated themselves on the shoe crafting trade, and started their own cottage business. Soft Star moccasins were designed for little people to run, jump, and roll around in – and their designs were totally adorable.
The Olivers sold their footwear at local festivals and through mail order, and gradually developed a loyal following. Over the years, their cool designs and natural construction have also attracted the attention of many celebrities whose children grow up in Soft Star moccasins. (Children’s styles remain the primary engine of the business, as a look at Soft Star’s press room will quickly confirm.) Fortunately, Soft Star recognized that many grown-ups want the same comfort, style, and natural benefits as their moccasin-wearing kids - so the company began making their footwear for the entire range of adult sizes.
Although the company has grown significantly, Soft Star shoes are still hand-crafted at the family workshop in Oregon. There’s no outsourcing, and no mass production; each pair of moccasins is hand-made by one of the nine Soft Star “elves”, making it one of only a handful of shoe manufacturers whose materials and production remain entirely in the United States. Since each pair is individually made, Soft Star also specializes in custom orders for those who have trouble with traditional footwear sizing.
Avoiding the “staging” process of most shoe companies helps keep Soft Star one of the greenest companies around. They also have several eco-friendly processes such as using formaldehyde-free leathers and all-natural materials without chemicals, dyes, or pollutants for manufacturing. Their factory is powered by Oregon’s Blue Sky renewable energy program, and Soft Star’s overall carbon footprint must be one of the smallest of any business around.
But that’s not why you’ll love the shoes. You’ll love them because they’re fun to look at, and they may be the most comfortable thing you’ll ever put on your feet.
Soft Star’s line of adult footwear is basically an expanded version of its children’s moccasins. The materials and color schemes are tailored to more adult tastes, but you don’t have to limit yourself to what’s on the menu. If you want to custom design your colors, they’ll do that for you. (They even have a chart that can match a moccasin to your favorite crayon color – how fun is that?) If you want suede instead of leather, that’s OK too. You can choose 100% vegan options if that’s your desire. And if you want the exact same rainbow-with-elf-fringe design that your toddler wears, they can do that as well.
My model came off the menu, and is one of Soft Star’s most popular styles: the Roo (kind of a fun name, isn’t it?), made of suede with a grippy undersole. Like all Soft Star mocs, it features an insole with plush sheepskin, a naturally homeostatic material that wicks moisture away and keeps your foot at an even temperature in hot or cold weather. There’s an elastic ankle closure that makes them a cinch to put on, but keeps them securely in place during activity.
The insole is attached to a bottom layer of suede, which is then bonded to the T-Rex soling material - a soft black rubberized fabric layer which provides non-slip properties and offers a moisture barrier to allow indoor and outdoor use of the moccasin. The Soft Star site claims that T-Rex material is used in mountain apparel to help climbers keep their grip on tough terrain.
Since there’s no midsole to the moccasin, the underside of the Roo is just a few millimeters thick, so this is a true minimalist shoe that provides all of the ground feel and musculoskeletal advantages of going barefoot – except that you’re swaddled in sheepskin and soft suede. If there’s a more comfortable way of walking naturally, I haven’t seen it yet.
Predictably, the barefoot community has flocked to Soft Star, and several minimalist runners use this footwear for running. (Soft Star actually has an entire page devoted to the benefits of going barefoot, which I'm fairly certain was on their site even before the Great Barefoot Craze of 2009 began. They’re not being trendy; it’s a philosophy they truly believe in.) I’ve tried mine this way, but the sheepskin felt too warm against my bare feet, so I prefer to stick with my Vibrams or Feelmax for running. However, for casual use, these have become my “put them on as soon as I walk in the door after work” footwear – and as winter creeps closer and the temperature gets colder, I’m certain that I’ll be logging a ton of hours in my Roos.
My grippy Roo moccasins retail for $63 from the Soft Star site, and the children’s versions retail for $34. These individually made, hand-crafted products are assembled with attention to detail and built for durability, so you’ll enjoy them for years to come – unless you’re a kid that grows out of them, of course. For the comfort and utility you get, they’re totally worth the price. They'd also make a great baby or toddler gift for all the little Roos in your life.
In conjunction with this review, Soft Star provided me with a single $20 coupon redeemable on any item from their website, including custom orders (which are usually slightly more expensive than standard models). If you’d like to get a pair of Soft Stars and save yourself 20 bucks, leave your name (first names OK) in the comment box below, and I’ll randomly select a lucky winner on Monday.
*product provided by Soft Star Shoes
*See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.