In my ZEM Gear review earlier this week, I described how the gap between socks and shoes is narrowing, as socks become increasingly rugged and shoes become less and less substantial. ZEM was an example of a company approaching the ideal middle ground from the sock side, and today I’m excited to offer a photo and video preview of a new minimalist model from a company who originated on the shoe side of the spectrum.
Truthfully, calling Soft Star a shoe company is something of a misnomer, since they primarily specialize in slippers and moccasins, including the well-publicized (around here, anyway) RunAmoc and Dash which I’ve worn for all of my ultras this year. Their footwear was already almost as simple and natural as possible, but this spring they’ve managed to create a fairly remarkable product that even makes moccasins seem bulky by comparison. Last week the company released a promotional video of the new moc, which follows at the end of this post.
The new model is called the Moc3, and it’s essentially a hybrid of sock and slipper; think of what would happen if your form-fitting socks snuck out of their drawer and mated with your most comfortable indoor/outdoor slippers, and you get a good sense of what the Moc3 is like. It will be available for purchase on June 23, and I’ll have an official review posted shortly thereafter. In the meantime, I’m sharing a bit of the product development process that I’ve been involved with since the first of the year; I always find it fun to go back and see how something evolves from prototype to finished product, and this particular process has been very interesting indeed.
When my first prototypes arrived in the mail, they reminded me of water booties on top, and bear paws on the bottom.
For obvious reasons, the outsole was the most distinctive aspect of these new mocs; unfortunately, it was also the most problematic. I wore these for all of one day before the rubberized Vibram patches started peeling off all over the place – this would be a recurring theme for the first few test pairs. However, they were super-comfortable, and it was clear that this was something that could completely break the mold of other minimalist shoes on the market.
|About halfway through the process|
Once the prototypes held up long enough to actually take a few runs in them, another recurring concern was the overall fit. The earliest prototypes were too loose, causing my foot to slide around inside them. Sometimes the heel area was snug but the length was too short. When the length was extended, the ankle opening was too wide. Sizing switched back and forth between standard numeric shoe sizes and a “small-medium-large-XL” convention like you use for T-shirts. (I think they settled on traditional shoe sizing, but I’m not positive.) There was a lot of tinkering, and several prototypes were tested and discarded before the proper width and length were dialed in.
|Playing around in Jacks Peak, Monterey|
However, even with the fit somewhat off-kilter on each pair, I was having a blast in these mocs every time I went for a run. The blue and black pair above are what I was wearing in this photo tour in Monterey, on a day when I was jumping off tree trunks and climbing on fence railings and otherwise acting like a little kid; the feeling of running through the woods in a pair of thin slippers channeled my inner wild child even more quickly than my standard RunAmocs do. In my book, that’s a good thing.
You’ll notice that the outsole design was still under experimentation on this pair, with some of the previously-separated pods now merged together. This worked a little bit better … but I hadn’t logged very many miles before these outsoles started peeling off as well. Back to the drawing board.
|Smooth leather outer surface|
There was also some discussion of whether to make the outer surface of the uppers out of smooth or perforated leather. My preference is always for perforated leather, and that’s the style that’s used in the promo video below, but there’s a possibility that smooth leather will be an option for customers who prefer it; I’ll confirm this prior to the official review.
|Finished product: Soft Star Moc3|
By the time we were done, there was probably more trial and error involved with the Moc3 than any other prototype testing I’ve been involved with. The good news is that every problem that was identified was properly solved, and the finished product is truly extraordinary. The outsoles (now a single piece) stay attached even with high mileage, the fit is comfortable and secure through the whole foot, and the ground feel is among the best I’ve ever felt.
There’s one more important point to note abut this whole process: the Moc3 is the brainchild of Mike Friton, one of the most impressive shoe designers you’ll ever meet. He’s featured in the video that follows, and I’ll have more to say about him in my official review next week. In the meantime, Soft Star produced this outstanding video overview of the development process, with some additional shots of the finished product that will be available next week.
Soft Star's Moc3 retails for $94 from the Soft Star website.
"Moc3: Running Uninvented" by Soft Star (click to play):
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