This post was sponsored by Wildling, all thoughts my own.

In recent years minimal shoes have become increasingly popular and more well known in mainstream consciousness. But what are these designs actually intended for? And is it possible to find someone making sustainable and ethical options that actually look good?

Enter Wildling, who have answers to all of these questions.

The purpose of minimal shoes

It is said that 98% of children are born with healthy feet, but only 20% maintain this into adulthood. When able to develop and move freely foot muscles grow stronger, however most conventional shoes don’t provide enough space for this. These shoes often taper in the exact area where the foot gets wider, while stiff soles and footbeds prevent foot muscles from getting the right exercise to build strength. 

Instead, walking in minimal shoes can encourage foot muscles to start doing their job again. Inflexible feet can start to regain flexibility, freedom and strength, while closer contact with the ground improves balance and stability, as the body learns to adjust more precisely.

Essentially, minimal shoes enable wearers to walk as the body was originally designed to. Joints move naturally and efficiently, feet become stronger and healthier, and we learn to walk more mindfully.

The Wildling design

Wildling create minimal shoes that are specifically created to be gender-neutral and for all ages. Their designs were developed over nearly two years, eventually resulting in a shoe that enables natural movement while also maintaining protection. Their shoes are based on anatomical foot shape with a natural width, mirroring the shape of healthy feet, and inherently fitting wider feet that are often restricted in conventional shoes. The placement of the laces then allows a wearer to adjust the width to their specific needs, while the sole is inspired by Japanese Tabi boots to protect feet while remaining flexible. The sole contains a split that means all parts of the foot that need to move can do so freely, while the ribbed tread pattern provides grip but is still minimal and sleek.

Additionally, the soles of Wildling shoes have a depth of 1.5mm – 4.5mm, allowing the wearer to develop a much keener awareness of the ground beneath their feet. In conventional shoes most people take long hard strides, unable to feel the ground underfoot in any great detail. Minimal shoes cause walkers to instinctively adjust this: strides become shorter and gentler, arches become stronger, balance improves, movements are softened by the body’s natural shock absorption mechanism, and we generally become more aware as we walk.

While these shoes may take a while to adjust to, especially as they adapt to each wearer’s unique feet, their high flexibility and adaptive nature mean they ultimately are more comfortable, while also helping to improve overall foot health.

Sustainable & ethical production

Each pair of Wildlings is ethically produced in Portugal in smaller batches, and almost exclusively sewn by hand, from a variety of natural materials including hemp, organic cotton, linen and sustainably sourced wool. 

All of their processes are designed to meet the following criteria:

  • Ecological – protecting the environment and taking responsibility for the planet in all activities in the supply chain (including energy consumption, CO2 emissions, water use, waste, biodiversity, chemical usage and more).
  • Social – treating all employees in the supply chain fairly.
  • Economic – maintaining fair business practices and relationships with all participating companies and organisations in the supply chain.

Though it varies between models and seasons, a single Wildling generally consists of approximately 15 different pieces: upper material, lining, eyelets, laces, membrane, microfibre, thread, soles, glue, tongue, and insole, meaning they need to work with various different suppliers. When choosing production partners they look for fair working conditions and try to work with smaller businesses.

With each individual supplier, they require information on certifications, working conditions and material processing, and whenever possible visit these suppliers in person to look everything over. Producing the final designs in Portugal makes it easy for the Wildling team (who are mainly based in Germany) to regularly check on things on-site, monitor production and ensure working conditions remain fair for everyone working on the shoes, including anyone who may be subcontracted on orders.

While producing in Portugal costs more than doing this in Asia, this is something Wildling are happy to do. You can learn more about the factory here, or in the video below.

My review

I opted for this pair, called Jay, because they’re made from a mix of certified organic linen and hemp, which is one of my favourite materials. The result is a fabric that’s durable, low maintenance, moisture-regulating and breathable as well as being sustainable. So far, I’ve really enjoyed them!

When it comes to reviewing these shoes I think I’m in a really interesting position, as I spend more time barefoot than most. Not because I often work from home (although I imagine lockdown has led to many of us spending a lot more time without shoes), but because I’m a dancer. Predominantly working in contemporary dance means I’m usually both barefoot in class (or in socks for ballet, I abandoned ballet shoes a long time ago), or wandering round dance buildings barefoot too. Interestingly, I’d never considered how being barefoot could be a factor in things like balance and stability, as I attributed this to my training itself.

What was remarkable, therefore, was how pronounced the difference was when I wore these shoes out for the first time. The conservatoire I trained in had concrete floors outside of the studio, and walking around outside in my Wildlings reminded me of the hours I spent over my training walking around the building while my shoes were in my locker, on these surfaces. At the time I hadn’t paid attention to the fact that this would have been helping my feet gain strength outside of class, but the return of this very specific and tactile memory helped me realise that this is what had happened, and was now happening again. I really enjoy the ability to clearly feel the ground under my feet, and I have felt myself walking more gently as a result.

In terms of aesthetics, I also opted for this pair because the neutral palette means they can go with basically anything, but the pop of blue makes them fun too. I’ve been wearing them pretty frequently when I do go outside, though this is not that often at the moment, and have definitely become a convert. I love being barefoot, so it’s no surprise that I love these too. They’re high quality, comfortable and fun, but more importantly, they’re good for me too. What’s not to love?

*Disclaimer: this post is in reference to minimal shoes for walking, rather than running, as I know this can be a more complex area.