Crafting Natural Footwear: Interview with Shamma Sandals


Shamma Sandals was founded by Josh Stiles and is located in Santa Cruz, CA.

JoshStilesHow did you get into the shoe industry?

Shamma Sandals started like so many other small businesses; as a passion for an activity or way of life. In this case it was my passion for minimalist and barefoot running. I was about 31 when I discovered the minimalist running movement and read “Born to Run.” I loved the idea of developing better walking and running techniques based on more feedback from our feet. . . . Once I realized how great barefoot running was I couldn’t stand any of my old footwear, and I was desperate to find something that would give me that barefoot feeling. The first thing I tried were sandals made from a thin sheet of rubber my father-in-law got from work at the water department. . . . Next I pulled the lining out of some slipper/moccasins I got for Christmas and ran in those. . . . Then I sliced the sole off a pair of Nike trainers. I realized afterwards that I had no way to put the sole back on and had only made a big mess and destroyed a perfectly good pair of shoes. At this point it was the beginning of winter 2010 and I decided to leave it up to the professional. So, I bought my first pair of Vibram KSO’s. . . . That spring I ordered my first pair of Merrell Tail Gloves and was relieved that I could walk around undetected in minimalist footwear. A month or so after that, I realized I needed some sandals for the summer months . . . So I decide to give Luna a try. . . . Despite the simplicity of the design and propensity to break in bad situations, I absolutely loved the sandals. . . . Before long I was making simple sandals with leather straps for my friends and family. I felt like I could make sandals for minimalist runners that were as good or better than anyone else in the market. Then in 2013 I decided to take the plunge and turn my hobby in to a real business. . . . So that’s how we got here in the “footwear industry” with sandals that are some of the best, if not the best, performing minimalist running sandals on the market.

What makes Shamma unique?

I think that what makes Shamma unique is our commitment to truly minimalist sandals, the quality of the materials, and our willingness to create a lacing system that is more complicated to make but is simpler to use. . . . Our lacing system is inspired by the ancient huarache sandals and their tie methods, but we have improved on all the aspects of the ancient tie methods and removed the tying and difficulty of adjusting those types of laces. I suppose we are also unique in that we are a small company and can be more personal and connected to our customers. Their enthusiasm for the sandals has provided a lot of encouragement to keep going, which is necessary for any business.



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

In terms of creating the company it was basically what I expected. I have had plenty of experience working in small business and working with customers on remodel projects where you are required to work with numerous people–suppliers and contractors etc–and bring lots of elements together. The hardest thing to imagine ahead of time is scope of customer service and the timely delivery of products.

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

All of our sandals I suppose would have what you call an “open toe”. Furthermore all of our sandals use the same sole pattern so there is no distinction between models in width/openness of the sandals. I would also say that one advantage of having a thong, or between the toes, style of lacing system as opposed to an over the toes style is that the foot splays naturally in our sandals. The more time I spend in sandals and barefoot the more sensitive I become to any pressure on the outside of my foot, even from socks, so I really appreciate that aspect of our design. As for the most natural sandal, I would say the sandal that allows your foot to relax the most while wearing them; so in some situations that could be the Mountain Goats, even though they are thicker, but most of the time it is a toss-up between the Warriors and Chargers.


How have your shoes impacted your customers lives?

Hopefully they have allowed our customers to enjoy moving naturally whether they are at home, running their favorite trail, or on a backpacking adventure. We get a lot of emails and kind reviews where people share what they are doing in their Shamma’s. [P]eople are doing anything and everything in them; running, backpacking, relaxing, mountain climbing, and one guy even slacklines in them.


Do you offer adult and kid’s sandals?

Right now we do not, however our smallest size (4) fit my 7 and 9 year old daughters. So while they may not be kid’s sizes it would be worth seeing if your child’s foot fits on the template. We are hoping to offer some toddler shoes next year.

Are Shamma Sandals customizable?

We do offer custom soles if customers want them. Custom soles are an extra $30 and it is non-refundable so we try to steer customers to our standard options first. We will also make any combination of our laces and footbeds that we don’t normally stock. In those cases we don’t usually charge extra but they are non-refundable.


What is most inspiring about your job at Shamma?

I think the most inspiring thing is when a customer tells us that they live in their sandals and they don’t wear anything else anymore. It’s just crazy to think that people get so much value out of them and they are choosing them over so many other shoes from much larger companies. It’s very gratifying and encouraging to all of us.

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

As a matter of fact, we do. We have been working on a new grip top footbed for some time. I spent last winter and spring running in a number of sandals with different grip top materials. I wasn’t thoroughly satisfied with any of them so we found a company that would make one specifically for us. The idea behind this material is that the foot is the road and the sandal is like a car tire. With that in mind we came up with a diamond pattern with channels surrounding each diamond. The diamond pattern provides a lot of flat, grippy surface area that is comfortable for the foot to interact with. The channels allow a clear path off the sandal for water, dirt, and oil. I believe our customers are really going to enjoy it and it will keep them running all winter. They are also going to be great for creek walking and anything having to do with water. I don’t want to make any promises but we are hopeful they will be available in early October.

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