Finnish running innovation emphasises natural movement
What do you get when you combine a sports shoe expert and a physiotherapist specialised in lower body problems? Our reporter met with the founders of a new Finnish running shoe company to find out.
Enter any sports shop today and you’ll be overwhelmed by choice. There are shelves full of running shoes for over-pronators, under-pronators, neutral feet, beginners, pros, and the list go on.
“I see it as marketing jargon, an easy way to start selling a shoe,” says Teuvo Niskanen, the man behind a new Finnish running shoe called ‘Feet’. “Our body is so wise that it naturally fixes movement faults. Even if there can be some structural differences, how the feet function is the same for everybody. It doesn’t need any extra cushioning or support.”
Which is why the Helsinki-based company named ‘Feet2’ is not offering tricks, but a running shoe which follows the anatomy of the foot as closely as possible. Suitable for any runner, Feet shoes combine the “natural movement” ideology of barefoot running and the comfort of a shoe.
As a keen runner, I had a chance to put this to test. Out of the box, Feet shoes feel light and surprisingly stiff. When first putting them on I was unsure about the fit, but after a few steps the uncertainty was replaced by comfort. Not from cushioning, but the movement feels natural and rolls forward — I almost forgot I am wearing new shoes.We aim to keep the running stride as natural as possible with a shoe, so it mimics the movement of bare feet.
“Our passion and interest is the human body. How the foot works is brilliant and its built-in impact reducing mechanism cannot be replaced by any shoe or material,” Niskanen explains. “We aim to keep the running stride as natural as possible with a shoe, so it mimics the movement of bare feet.”
Following in the footsteps of a legend: The natural feel to Feet comes from its unique construction of intermeshing layers. While many running shoes influence, or even change, the natural sequence of our movement, Feet’s sole design supports it.
The Feet running shoe is based on a unique multi-layer structure which allows the shoe to follow the anatomy of the foot. The Feet running shoe is based on a unique multi-layer structure which allows the shoe to follow the anatomy of the foot.
“In cushioned and strongly supported shoes, the small muscles in the feet don’t work efficiently. We don’t use any separate impact softening so the sensory stimulus in the sole happens which activates all the muscles in our feet,” says Niskanen. “A shoe is meant to help a runner move as economically and efficiently as possible.”
Niskanen knows what he is talking about. As a physiotherapist he specialises in the lower body and earned his shoe design credentials at Finnish sporting goods company Karhu. Together with mentor Matti Salminen, Niskanen created a line of lightweight running shoes often referred as ‘legendary’: the Karhu M-Series. Launched in early 2000s, the M-Series earned both praise and popularity in international running circles, but its manufacturing was discontinued when Karhu was sold to foreign investors in 2008. But for Feet this was a blessing in disguise. After a few years of breaking the idea down, Niskanen again teamed up with Salminen to design a new kind of running shoe. Their innovative sole construction was granted patentability in 2013 and Feet2, the company, was born.
Since its first steps, Feet2 has progressed quickly. While finding a manufacturer for the new shoe construction wasn’t easy, old industry contacts came to the rescue. A factory with the right expertise was found in China and Feet arrived to store shelves in March 2015.
It’s no small feat for a startup company to enter a market dominated by global sporting giants, but Niskanen and his business partner Jouko Havas believe their product is unique. “The only way to stand out is to do something original,” says Niskanen. “Our background helps as well, as people are interested in what we do. We haven’t received negative feedback from anyone who has bought the shoe. Everybody notices the difference.”
Currently the Feet shoes are only available in Finland and online, but next on the roadmap are global markets starting from German-speaking countries. Consequently the company is working on international patents and a new extra-light Feet racing shoe, based on the same ideology, will hit shelves in the spring.
“The signs for the next season and our growth figures are really promising,” Havas says. “It is not an easy market, but persistent work is always rewarded. In a few years we will hopefully be everywhere.” In the race for shelf space, Feet2 believes in the natural power of the feet.