The Resource for Everything Running Shoes
13 Questions with Skora Founder David Sypniewski
Before the barefoot boom, shoeless enthusiasts were few and far between. As one of the early adopters, David Sypniewski knows all about it. Nearly a decade ago he stumbled upon the barefoot running form and began running in water shoes because there were no other options at the time.
Then in 2008, Sypniewski officially tossed his hat in the shoe-making ring. His Polish background influenced his company name Skora. The root word skóra literally means skin or leather in Polish. The next-to-skin type shoes Skora builds have become known as the crème de la crème for barefooters around the world.
How are Skora shoes different than other barefoot shoes?
One of the first things that differentiates our products is our attention to quality in terms of the choice of materials and the way we build our shoes. We’ve sourced some of the absolute best synthetics and meshes. Very strong yet breathable.
We use sheepskin and goatskin from England—one of the most supple and breathable leathers you can find. It’s not really anything like leathers you are accustomed to that are hot, sticky and sweaty. It’s the best leather you can get. European soccer brands use it. Prada buys the same leather because it is so strong, so soft and gets better with age.
We use double stitching throughout the construction. If you ever pull out an insole or insock on a shoe, you can see a lot of the stitch marks and the unfinished parts. It’s the behind-the-scenes ugliness of shoes. Instead of having that, we use stitch-down construction. The shoe looks as beautiful with the insole as without. Whether you wear it with or without socks, it’s comfortable because our stitching process is as seamless as possible both on the upper and the footbed. There is so much effort in the patterning and engineering so the shoe really gives the level of comfort that runners deserve.
What’s special about the Skora outsole?
Our outsole really separates us from other minimalists shoes. It is the most important part of the contact you get, or don’t get, when you run. We have completely curved the edges of our outsole just like your naked foot. There aren’t any straight edges; there aren’t any 90-degree angles that you have with a 2X4. We have completely curved every single piece of the shoe, which allows for very natural motion. It almost eliminates that teeter tottering effect. Our shoes are designed to get out of the way so the foot can do what it naturally does based on body mechanics and running style.
In the outsole, we use a firmer and more dense rubber EVA midsole. It gives the runner a denser and slightly stiffer platform. So you are not running on a marshmallow so to speak. You are running with a more resilient material.
How many miles can you put on one pair?
Because of our dense EVA outsole, we have high-mileage running shoes. Our tester and ultramarathoner has one pair that has reached over 1,300 miles. And the shoes are still going strong. Sure they look dirty, and the Velcro has grass and everything stuck to it so he can’t get it out, but the outsole is going strong.
When you have a higher density rubber, it is kind of like a car tire. Racing tires are very soft, but they shred. Look at race cars. They change tires midway through the race because the tires disintegrate. You look at all-season tires; they are very hard. You knock on them, and they sound like wood. That’s because the rubber is harder and at a higher density. The effect of that is so that you get 50,000 miles on a pair of tires, right? It’s the same effect with running shoes.
Not only do we give the runner a great ground feel through a higher density material, the shoes last. I can’t put a guaranteed number on it, but it’s more than your average running shoe. And we’re very proud of that. I would say on average they should be getting 500 miles on a pair of Skora shoes, if not more than a solid 200 miles.
Why did you decide to create your own running shoes?
It all started 10 or 11 years ago. I got injured like many runners do. I had a really bad IT injury in my right leg, and I couldn’t shake it. I was running in a traditional running shoe—over padded, over-controlling and was told to heel strike, which we know now that’s not the right way. I got injured, and I couldn’t shake the injury for a better part of a year and a half. Deep tissue therapy didn’t help. I was told to get orthotics and that didn’t help.
In my own frustration I started doing some research online for holistic approaches to running injury cures. I stumbled upon a barefoot running website. I read everything that night. I was just fascinated by how we can run naturally. That running barefoot or in a barefoot style is how we are meant to run. I started running barefoot the next morning. Even though I couldn’t run in any shoe for nearly a year and a half without pain after 20 minutes into my run with my right leg being on fire, I went for a barefoot run that day completely pain-free. I knew there and then that this was something more—before the FiveFingers and the Nike Frees of the world. It just made logical sense, down to the core of who we are as humans.
I always use the analogy: “Why do we need an expert to tell me that me that breast milk is best for infants?” We are so fascinated by studies that can be proven or disproven, but some things are just inherently coded in our DNA. I was doing all my mileage barefoot, and there was nothing on the market. All I could run in as an option was Aqua Socks water shoes. They would swim around and get all stinky.
And you decided to create your own improved version for running?
I knew very early on that maybe I could build a better mousetrap. I sat on the idea for several years, and finally in late 2007, I said enough dreaming and wishing. I started putting things together. It took us the better part of three and a half years because of sourcing, funding and design. We started from scratch—no factories, no material suppliers, no sales people, no distribution channels. It took us quite a while, but we wanted to build something better. Otherwise, why bother?
Skora’s Form has been called the Bentley of barefoot by Wired.com. Do you agree with this statement?
We take the finest materials, a fit that is unparalleled, and wrap it up in something that is a luxury product runners deserve. That’s what we wanted to achieve—build what runners deserve and don’t cut any corners. As consumers, we’re tired of that. I’m tired of that.
So, I totally agree. They hit the nail on the head. Maybe Bentley is shooting a little bit too high. Another blogger called us the Lexus of running shoes. It is definitely a performance product and being named with such caliber brands, I mean wow. We couldn’t be any prouder. And we are such a new company it’s kind of “wow, others get it.” It means we did the right thing.
Do you consider barefoot running a trend?
Quarter after quarter for the past year and a half, sales of motion control and stability shoes have been declining by double digits. And neutral shoes, which includes lightweight and minimal, has been increasing by a staggering 20 percent. The numbers don’t lie.
I think this is more than a trend. It is going to help reestablish the normal construction and thickness of midsoles—whether you have air, gel or all sorts of technologies that are really not much more than marketing spin. It’s a return to building shoes that runners and athletes need and nothing more. It’s stripping all the excess away that quite frankly has only added injury rates in runners.
Do you feel that natural running will be something we see for years to come?
Absolutely. The change can already be seen in running shoes, trail running shoes, trail trail shoes—you know the big classic hikers you need for approaching a mountain. It’s already starting to affect how manufacturers of all types are building shoes. I believe it’s more than jumping on market opportunity. Consumers are demanding this and standing up almost in solidarity saying: “We want less not more.” We went way too far since the ’80s looking at shoe structure and cushioning as the solution.
What do you call your shoes if not barefoot? What is the term you use?
I knew you were going to ask that. You know what we call them? And you are going to think it is a cop-out answer, but I hope you see the brilliance in it. We see them as real running shoes. Real running shoes for the real runner. It’s as simple as that.
What’s the biggest misconception about barefoot running?
The biggest misconception still revolves around the fact that runners, or consumers in general, think that buying the product is a magic pill. If you buy a minimal product, whether it’s a FiveFingers or a pair of Skoras, that somehow that’s it—that’s all you need, and you can continue in your regular trend with no change to your form or your approach to training. That is the biggest misconception.
We launched our sub-website RunReal.com with an open letter to the industry asking not only consumers but manufacturers within the running shoe industry to stop the bullshit and come together. We need to come together about using the right marketing language about what is barefoot and minimal. Some brands say “Oh, you know if you have anything more than 9 mm of total stack height in your outsole/midsole, then that can no longer be called a barefoot shoe.” We can argue that 7, 8, 9 or 10 is the right number, but as long as we keep arguing and making all these marketing gimmicks, all that does is confuse the consumer and lead to more problems.
Remember that lawsuit where a person spilled hot McDonalds coffee on themselves and sued because the coffee was not labeled as hot? We all need to take a little bit of responsibility to understand what running means in more low profile, minimal shoes. You need to work with your body and listen to it to train properly. Slow down your speed at least. But more importantly, reduce your mileage. Listen to your body. You might not be able to do your five miler right out of the gate. It could take you three months. Now that’s OK. We believe that it’s not about quantity of mileage but quality.
We’re all plugged in with our iPods, GPS with our watches and heart rate monitors. It’s all about technology. Just going out there and pounding the payment because your watch tells you need to do a 60-minute run today. We’re not in favor of that. We prefer to say unplug, disconnect and reconnect with your own body. Find your rhythm, reconnect and reposition your body so you can run stronger better for life. Because that’s the goal. We want to be running for life because we love the sport and the recreation of it.
Are there any types of runners who shouldn’t wear your shoes?
Interesting question. I am of the belief that anybody and everybody can run better through smart education through retraining and relearning proper running style. It’s all about shortening your stride length and quickening your turn over. In other words, more steps per mile—really short baby steps. I believe everybody can do that.
Now think about it. Close your eyes and imagine a relatively warm pavement parking lot. You park like a block away from the beach, and you’re barefoot. How would you run? Would you run like on your toes like really fast? Probably, right? I believe that everybody can run better with the right thought process and some education.
In a nutshell, I believe our shoes are for everybody, but for everybody who can understand, stop and think about what that means to transition and the process of it.
What do you hope Skora does for the running community?
I want runners to be inspired to stop and think. It is so important to reconnect with ourselves and running. And don’t say, “Oh, I don’t care about that. I just need to do my 10 miler, so it doesn’t matter if I run through pain. It’s normal.” Uh, no it’s not. Running should not hurt—ever. With the exception of maybe if you push yourself to a 100 mile race.
You should be able to go out for a nice 20- or 60-minute run and never be in pain. That means something’s not right. And I think runners forget that and think it’s normal to be in pain. And therefore they think they need highly padded shoes with a lot of gel with better support, and let me put some orthotics in there. That’s going to come back and bite you really hard. I’ve been through it. A lot of runners have. Hence the reason for the minimalist running shoes boom. So many people have gone through it; they never had an alternative. All those people who have instinctively knew that they wanted something different, there’s a variable now.
I’m really happy that Skora is part of it. I’m excited that big brands are coming into it as well. If we had all the knowledge we have today and could use a time machine to go back to 1969 or 1970 when Phil Knight started building the first waffle shoes, we would have said: “Stop, man. Let’s do it this way instead.” I think we would have reaped the benefit and not of had the injuries. Now we are trying to solve the problem that we surreptitiously created for ourselves.
What’s next for Skora?
We launched our women’s line this past summer and have been hard at work adding two new styles for both men and women to our collection. They are by far the most exciting styles yet! The Skora Phase is constructed using the latest lamination techniques, and the Skora Core features perforated Pittards Armor-Tan goatskin leather on the upper. Both are set to launch in March 2013.