Asking for feedback from customers can be risky business. A favorite topic of our customers over the years has been the looks of SOMs. The comments on some of our first pairs were to the point, saying that SOMs were “not winning any beauty contests,” “even uglier in person,” and a personal favorite “mutt shoes.”
several of the first SOM Footwear prototypes
In our case, we think that beauty may be on the foot of the beholder. While SOMs may not be the most fashionable of shoes, style was never our main focus. SOM shoes are built in service of the foot. From the very very first prototype, we have been focused on the function of our shoes first. SOMs were created to meet a need: shoes that allow the feet to move naturally. While we are always working to improve all aspects of our shoes—including the style—our focus remains providing shoes made to serve feet.
We believe that we are in good company when it comes to putting feet first. Fellow shoe makers Dansko were featured in the New York Times for their production of the timeless clog. Often seen as clunky and ugly (said lovingly from one “mutt shoe” maker to another), these clogs are nevertheless a staple across on-your-feet professions. As the writer puts it, she “actually consider[s] them beautiful—a kind of appreciation usually reserved for natural objects… Dansko clogs have a tool-like utility to them.” It is that well-designed usefulness that keeps their customers returning for more pairs, regardless of the looks.
Prototype II... we've come a long way!
There is something to be said for the underlying beauty in a product that is simply designed to fit a specific need. The foot in itself is part of an incredibly well-designed machine: the human body. Each part of has a precise function that it has become specialized to perform well. Not too many folks would consider the foot an exceptionally beautiful part of the body, yet the work it does is nothing short of extraordinary. In looking through the lens of function before form, we are aware of another world of beauty.
Designing a shoe to meet a specific need and valuing the function over the looks is exactly what drives us to produce the shoes we do. It is the opposite of the force behind many high-fashion shoes, which will often give up usefulness for style. We believe you don’t need to sacrifice one for the other, just shift. Appreciating the beauty in the design can be just as moving—and usually a lot more comfortable.