Crafting Natural Footwear: An Interview with Softstar Shoes

SoftStar Shoes is co-owned by Tricia Salcido and located in Philomath, OR.

Trish HS

How did you get into the shoe industry?

Back in 2005 I was working in the tech industry and we had just started our little family. I wanted to get out of the corporate atmosphere and have the challenge and satisfaction of running my own company. I came across Softstar one day while walking along the riverfront in Corvallis, Oregon and knew the instant I walked into the workshop that this was an amazing product and that I wanted to be part of it. The shoes were not only adorable, but the smell of the leather, the whir of sewing machines and the warm atmosphere created by the founder—Tim Oliver—were all contagious.

What makes Softstar Shoes unique?

Most shoes today are built on top of sturdy plastic platforms using synthetic or chemically molded uppers. This is the modern manufacturing design that much of the industry has evolved into. Softstar is unique because we use simple, rich leather with old-world construction techniques resulting in a breathable shoe that is essentially a glove for your foot. Our shoes move and flex with your feet with generous toe boxes. Many of our customer tell us they forget they have them on! It turns out it is quite tricky to make something so minimal and soft be simultaneously durable and have a good, consistent fit, and we pride ourselves on the quality of workmanship that goes into every pair.

Another thing that makes Softstar shoes unique is that our shoes are made to order in our Oregon workshop, and not imported from large batches made overseas. You never need to worry about your size being out of stock!

Finally, how many shoes are made by elves? We have 30 skilled craftspeople and friendly customer service associates in our family that go above and beyond to meet our customers’ needs.

hawthorne-chukka-red-shoes

Was the process of starting and creating Softstar Shoes different from what you expected? How so?

Yes. When I was originally introduced to Softstar in 2005 it was strictly a children’s shoe company. We made ridiculously cute, healthy shoes and moccasins exclusively for little ones. Adults could only get our moccasins by special “friend” request, and later as a special feature on our website. When we realized that adults were running trails and finishing marathons in our moccasins we realized we needed to create solutions for healthy feet of all ages.

How have your shoes impacted your customer’s lives?

We have super customers who make life very rewarding, and they share great feedback on how much they like our shoes. While we always stress the importance of a gradual transition to minimal footwear and do not make any medical claims, many customers share stories about how switching to our shoes helps them recover from years of knee, back and foot pain. In my own experience I know our shoes have made my feet stronger, my posture better and given me a more kinesthetic connection with the environment in my day to day activities. Our feet have such an incredible ability to take in information and senses that come alive when barefoot or in my Softstars. The biggest reward, however, is when we are able to make a custom shoe for children with disabilities who have differently shaped feet or medical issues that make conventional shoes impossible. Sometimes Softstars are the first pair of shoes they are ever able to wear, and their joy and pride is so fantastic to witness.

What’s your widest toe box shoe? What’s your most natural shoe?

All of our shoes have healthy toe boxes. We are launching a new PRIMAL style this fall which I dare say will have the widest toe box of any shoe anywhere in the world. Our most natural-feeling shoe would be the Moc 3 RunAmoc because you feel like a little barefoot kid in them. As far as materials go, our most natural shoe would be our Roo moccasins. They’re made entirely of leather, including the sole, and feature a very cozy sheepskin fleece innersole—definitely a fan favorite!

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What is your biggest requested customization?

We do not customize for specific ailments, but rather we make soft, flexible and roomy coverings for all-around healthy feet. Many of our customers tell us their ailments are lessened and/or cured by adapting to minimal shoes, often with Correct Toes. We hear this most frequently with bunions, hammertoes, neuromas and plantar fasciitis. They usually come to us after they have exhausted all conventional medical routes and orthotics and are pleasantly surprised by how well they do with less—often discovering they can abandon orthotics altogether after a careful transition.

Do you offer adult and kid’s shoes?

Yes, all ages from infant to adult.

Tricia-Cruz

What is most inspiring about your job at Softstar?

In the beginning, Softstar for me was about making a beautiful kid’s shoe and not a health solution. While I intuitively knew it was better for my toddler to wear a soft flexible shoe I really was not tuned into foot health as a more mature adult. This was something that evolved over the years. Listening to our customers is what led us into adult footwear and the minimal footwear movement, which has been an amazing journey. I am inspired by every customer who tells me their quality of life has improved with our shoes.

Do you have anything new and exciting in the works for later this year or next year?

Yes! Our PRIMAL RunAmoc shoe is launching this fall… stay tuned! This will be the first in a line of shoes with a new sole shape that provides extra spacious toe boxes. Big thanks to Dr. Ray McClanahan for helping us test an early prototype of this shoe. His feedback was very valuable to us.

What’s the best way for people to connect with you? 

Really the most impactful way is in person. We strive to make real and meaningful connections between our customers, our shoes and the people and work that go into making them for you. If you ever find yourself in Philomath, Oregon then we encourage you to stop by and take a tour. If you can’t visit, then feel free to pick up the phone and call us. We have a variety of videos on our website and Youtube channel that give you a look inside our workshop and our shoemaking process. And of course we are amazing with email and social media as well, especially Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest. Take your pick!

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