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Normally I would not consider a tour of the offices and design lab of a shoe company a rare treat, but my recent tour of Sole Technologies and Etnies, was the rare exception. I had the privilege of a behind the scenes look at what goes into the design and technology of this popular brand of skater shoes, based in Southern California. You’ve probably seen Etnies in a store near you, but if not, you can shop for Etnies online.

One thing that makes this company unique are that they are the only brand designed around the community of skateboarders, and with their needs in mind. Skateboarders are phenomenally hard on shoes and the sport is famous for eating your shoes alive. Think about it – every time a skateboarder flips up the board with their toe/side of their foot, and the shoe contacts the sandpaperlike deck of the board, it’s gonna wear on the shoe. Furthermore  skateboarding exerts the most force on joints & feet of any sport. When skateboarders land their jumps, the force on feet and joints can be more than 5x that of their body weight. Probably why you don’t see a lot of old fat skaters on the rails!

What does all this mean to parents who are shopping for kids shoes? I think it means that skater shoes are a great choice whether or not your kid skates. They are durable. They absorb shock well. They are well ventilated. They are designed to perform. And when it comes to skater shoes, Etnies are the best. I won’t go into all the technical details – you can see some more  information about the testing process and technology behind these shoes in my Whrrl story about our Etnies visit, but suffice to say, these are the shoes I want my son wearing when he jumps off the playstructure at school! My son broke his foot landing a jump early this fall, and I had to wonder if that would have happened in more supportive and cushioned footwear.

Etnies was very good to us, allowing us to shop in the company store and giving us a gift certificate to use to try out some of their shoes. I went straight to the kids shoes and picked out something from their “Grow With Me” line of toddler shoes. Not only did the shoes that I picked look awesome, but I love that they were really highly engineered with the needs of toddlers and parents in mind.  The “last” used in the design cradles the foot, unlike many traditional shoes designs. The shoe also has a (brilliant!!!) removeable insole that gives you an extra half a size to grow into. That translates to these very durable shoes lasting much longer.  Kudos for the wide velcro opening that makes getting them on and off a snap too. My 20mo didn’t want to take these off and would not even let me come close to take off the tag, he loved em so much.

It’s nice to know the technology and personality that lives behind a brand you see often in stores. I’m genuinely impressed with the passion and commitment to technology  behind Etnies. Who knew skaters were such geeks?! And who knew that scientists at MIT and experts in the automotive/materials industry all have played a role in the development of this fashionable brand.

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