Vivo Barefoot Review
I've always loved being barefoot; for no other reason than just the feeling of it. When I first StumbledUpon the Vibram FiveFingers, I ordered a pair on the spot. The Vibrams allowed me the barefoot sensation (close enough) while traversing questionable terrain such as urban sidewalks or enter a deli without being tossed out. That withstanding, the FiveFingers have not broken through to our culture as "socially acceptable" attire. This comes into play in offices and certain business situations. Enter Terra Plana.
Terra Plana designs a series of casual footwear called Vivo Barefoot with thin soles that allow barefoot enthusiasts to maximize sensation yet maintain the look of a traditional shoe. I had searched high and low for such a shoe and settled on Terra Plana for really a lack of other options. Though they originally billed themselves more as a environmentally friendly shoe company, they are a pioneer in casual minimalist footwear and are poised well to grow with the barefoot movement and the publicity of the book, "Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen," by Christopher McDougall, which examines practical and scientific aspects of running that highlights the benefits of being shoeless. As far as the "environmental friendly" pitch, I personally rationalize a bit different. Granted, the shoes are made from recycled materials and claims to force high standards on their factories, the shoes still came tagged with a large "MADE IN CHINA" sticker on the bottom and my first curiosity was on how much fuel it takes to transport the shoes from China and my second thought was how brilliant of the Chinese to find a way to capitalize off of their garbage. But in this day and age, I don't expect a cobbler to set up shop outside of my local landfill and given a choice, I'll take the company that is 1% cleaner than the next one.
I ordered the Oak Black Veg and was super excited to receive them. Great look, great feel. I wore them out all day and to my dismay had some discomfort on my right heel where the stitching was lower than on the left shoe and cause a small abrasion to the point where I had to borrow a bandaid from a collegue. The return policy was confusing and contradictory depending on where you looked on the their website. The customer service, which happened to be their Director of Operations for U.S., was more like "prove it" than openly willing ensure a satisfied shopping experience. My wife made the good point that for $150 shoes, if the quality wasn't going to be absolutely superb, the customer service better be. So in order to return the shoes, I would first have to take photos and send them in and if it was apparent from the photos then I'd have to ship them back so "someone else in the store could wear them around" to determine if it really was a problem (because apparently people make this stuff up all the time??) and either ship them back if they didn't think there was a problem of ship me a new pair if they did. Frankly, too much of a hassle for me.
Fortunately, by removing the memory foam insert, which provided way more cushion than I wanted anyway, it repositioned my foot to where the inconsistent stitching no longer irritated my foot. I'm conflicted because I do like the style and the overall feel of the shoe and I want to believe that this defect is an isolated incident. I'm also typically a stickler on customer service but in this case, I may still purchase more products from the company, until we see some competion come into the market and then I'll re-evaluate (Note to Vibram... Get in the dress/casual footwear game!).
A few things about the shoes themselves, which is probably why you are reading this... I picked the style that I thought would compliment business casual attire. I didn't see an option that I'd classify as a dress-shoe but there were several options that could probably pass in your work environment. They come with a memory foam insert which provides some padding and comfort to your feet, which is beneficial if you're accustomed to wearing typical shoes and your feet are not yet conditioned to hard surfaces. I go barefoot quite a bit or wear my FiveFingers so removing the memory foam insert was not an issue for me. Ultimately I'd recommend doing just that to maximize the benefits of a minimalist shoe but read your body and ease into it. The shoe model I purchased has laces but they are really just for asthetics as shoe more like an elastic booty with thin sole and a leather outter shell for appearance. One important thing to note is that by removing the traditional shoe sole, you are lower to the ground which if your ego can handle the drop in height, your pant cuffs may not. Terra Plana does sell a product called a "Trip Clip" which is a little ankle bracelet type device that keep your pants from dragging on the ground. I would have like to ordered black to match my shoes but they are only carrying bright colors like yellow, orange, and white.
Overall, I like the concept and I like the design of the shoe. I've had compliments on the style and I enjoy being able to keep my feet better conditioned while maintaining a professional appearance. I will chalk up my bad experience as an anomaly since I do not have subsequent statistics to draw a different conclusion but I would like to see more competition in this niche to continually drive innovation and costs.