Every Component Matters: An Inside Look at the Insole
The average consumer can be broken down into a few broad categories when shopping for a new pair of shoes. The brand-driven customer: loyalty to a certain brand that they know and trust to deliver consistent performance. The person searching for a perfect aesthetic: look, color, popularity. Then there’s those who only care about the fit and feel test; how does their foot first respond to the shoe and do they feel comfortable and supported? Just then, the tech-savvy buyer walks in, micro-analyzing the firm grip of the outsole grade rubber wondering if it will unleash too many micro carbons into the soil. Last but not least, the bargain shoppers – scouring the floor for a deal versus the value seekers – hoping higher price translates to a more elevated experience.
But what about the insole? You know – the footbed, the sockliner, that foamy insert that slides in and out of the shoe. It has probably never crossed their mind, much less made up their decision in buying a shoe. It isn’t until something starts to go wrong with one’s foot that the conversation of an insole is brought to the table – usually through the recommendation of a podiatrist.
The insole has become an afterthought for most shoe companies, and thus users, and often a regular area to cut cost. ‘Brand name’ insoles tote performance but most of the time don’t provide any shape, support or advanced materials. This disregard to insoles has even opened the door for outside companies to step-in and sell aftermarket insoles to help increase the performance or structure of a shoe. But what many shoe companies, designers, bloggers, and users are neglecting is: the insole is the most important component of the shoe.
One thing most consumers have in common (at least with athletic or lifestyle shoes) is that they want it to feel good on their foot. The average person enjoys the ‘squish factor’. The squish factor feels good at first but will deteriorate after a few wears. What we don’t consider is how our shoes feel and perform after miles and months into their life cycles. The consumer deserves to have comfort AND lasting support, comfort and performance. We can give them both.
Every component has a role: the outsole connects the user to the ground, the midsole gives them the experience of the ride (the feel, the response), and the insole connects them to their shoe. It is the first layer the foot makes contact with, and therefore, the first opportunity to introduce your desired characteristics to the customer: support, stability, feel, comfort, performance etc. This is one of the simplest and most cost effective ways to add value to a shoe. Minimum cost for maximum results.
We have approximately 200,000 exteroceptors in the soles of our feet. These receptors continually gather information from the outside world, and within milliseconds, relay that information to the brain, making our feet one of the most nerve-rich and acute area’s of he human body. In addition to our proprioceptors, it’s these exteroceptors that tells us how to move, position, and feel; shifting balance with every minute change in ground environment. It’s these receptors that plug-in directly to the insole, being the first layer of contact and giving us experience to what we perceive as support and comfort. It is through the insole that we experience the rest of shoe, and thus the world around us. When an insole is imbalanced the foot become imbalanced. When an insole is uncomfortable, the foot is uncomfortable. It is the insole that bridges the metaphysical gap between the foot and the shoe. This is how we consider the insole when developing a shoe. Not just the insole but every layer works together as a unit. A gestalt. Where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
The standard shoe insoles are flat, however the foot is not. Adding the similar contoured shape you see in aftermarket insoles helps the foot secure itself into the shoe, returning a much more comfortable and effective ride. Because of these reasons, it is in our philosophy and research that the insole is the most important component of the shoe. Unfortunately, it is also the most neglected. Typically, most shoe companies will use a thin, flat ‘sockliner’ made of soft PU material that packs out after a few runs. It is degrading to the shoe’s value and the users experience. It’s a missed opportunity to add performance similar to what you would in a midsole, into a layer much more perceived and in direct contact with the foot.
If a midsole performed like the majority of insoles do (pack-out, no response, uncomfortable), the shoe would be immediately ruled-out and blacklisted. One reason perhaps is because the insole can easily be removed and replaced with a higher value aftermarket insole; a luxury you don’t have with fixed midsole and outsoles. Which leads us back to the main point: why not have the same aftermarket value and performance already built in on the OEM level? Why build a great shoe with a mediocre insole and give the user a reason to replace it? Does Porsche stock their cars with discount Pinto tires? So why would ‘high-end’ or ‘quality’ shoe brands do the same with their insoles? Just like driving a Porsche, a shoe is all about the experience of the ride and every component plays an active role in that experience. Don’t settle for anything less than the best.