The latest episode of “The Fit of Things” podcast, hosted by Volumental’s “tech translators”, Ashlyn Bohling and Rebecca Nelson, draws attention to the importance of footwear fit with stories from two very different spheres: heavy construction and fashion modeling. What connects these two disciplines? The impact of footwear that fits, the changing demands of each industry, and the search for that “wow” moment...
A Heritage Workwear Brand Adapts to New Tastes
Adam Ogden is a Chicago-based Regional Operations Manager at Red Wing Shoes, a purpose-driven shoe company that since 1905 has aimed to make a lasting difference in people’s lives. The company’s brands are designed for construction, industrial purposes, lifestyle wear and professions where people need solid footwear. For tradesmen and fashion enthusiasts alike, Red Wing is an icon of workwear Americana.
Adam explains that while Red Wing’s legacy is firmly planted in construction footwear, the company is focused on developing new lines attuned to changing consumer tastes and priorities.
In recent years, the footwear brand has broadened their product offering with several new categories. Red Wing Heritage, which blends the functional components of its work boots with a fashion-forward design, has gained traction with influencers. The brand has also introduced an eco-friendly work shoe line, EcoLite, constructed with sustainable and recycled materials. And an additional new product line called Vasque represents the brand’s foray into performance-focused hiking shoes with a more modern edge.
Cherished “Wow” Moment
“Fit is integral to Red Wing and we are dialed in on the fit experience,” says Adam. “Our store experts have the passion and take the time to get the right shoe for the right job.”
He continues: “That’s why we team up with incredible partners like Volumental to ensure we provide the perfect fit for our customers. We want shoppers to leave our stores with that ‘wow’ moment, a feeling like I had no idea shoes could fit this well.”
Red Wing’s brand additions consistently tie back to the durability and reliability of the company’s essence as a work boot.
“We consider Heritage a sexy brand, whose legacy dates to the 1970s when Red Wing owners in Japan and Europe wore work boots as a stylish fashion accessory,” Adam explains. “This helped us devise the Heritage line, launched in 2007 in collaboration with J. Crew.”
He says that the Iron Ranger, a Heritage line product, is popular with those who spend a lot of time on their feet. “They want to look good and feel good, whether they’re bartenders, brewery owners or others in the service industry who stand a good part of every day.”
A fun collaboration Red Wing launched was a one-off with Nintendo’s Super Mario Brothers franchise. Adam recalls a running joke within Red Wing that the loveable character appeared to be wearing a pair of Red Wing boots. A hand-crafted pair was made, using the same methods and materials that the company has used for years including a mushroom-infused outsole, a nod to the fungi-snacking Super Mario character. The pair is currently on display at New York’s Rockefeller Center.
A Painful Catwalk
Jess Cole, a model and journalist in London, is also highly conscious about footwear fit. Around six feet tall, she wears a size 43 EU shoe, which equates to size 11 U.S. Jess has repeatedly experienced catwalks where she had to cram her feet into shoes several sizes too small, with many fashion house shows only stocking up to a size 7 or 8 for women.
She relates, “On one of my modeling gigs, the event staff had to use an ice-like material to reduce the swelling in my feet so they could yank my boots off. The irony is that my job is to walk, but I’m expected to wear shoes that don’t fit and make walking painful.”
Jess was so frustrated that she wrote an article about her experiences for Vogue in 2018, “When the Shoe Never Fits.” In recent years, a movement for body positivity and more generous fashion sizing have gained momentum. Despite signs of progress, Jess says that many shoe companies and fashion houses still neglect to offer larger shoe sizes for women.
Cultural Stigma on Sizing
In her article, Jess suggested that women with larger feet face cultural stigma as they don’t conform to outdated beauty ideals of women with smaller feet. These misconceptions are reinforced through foot binding in traditional China and even popular culture like Cinderella fitting into the glass slipper. She reports that women’s feet have grown two sizes larger on average since the 1970s, making them longer and wider than many might like to admit.
Jess notes that there are repeated images in movies and shows that associate shoes with attractive, strong women. Yet, women who try to fit into poor-fitting shoes suffer injuries and endure conditions just to have social standing.
According to Jess, “The sociocultural pressure placed on women to buy ill-fitting shoes comes down to shoe manufacturers not accommodating a broader range of shoe widths and sizes.”
Goal: More Fluid Shoe Sizing
Jess used Volumental’s mobile FitTech™ 3D foot scan app. The results revealed that she is in the top five percent of women’s sizes in the U.S., while just .01 percent of women in Asia and Europe have larger feet than her, based on Volumental’s 20 million scans of women’s feet.
Many brands, Jess says, are unwilling to plunge into making larger women’s shoe sizes because women have grown accustomed to buying too-small shoes and accepting the pain. The only way to normalize all female feet, Jess says, is adequate and diverse shoe size representation in stores and the media.
At the end of the day, almost every workplace calls for a well-fitting shoe, from the shop floor of a factory to the catwalks of high fashion. But while a heritage workwear brand like Red Wing is looking forward, with AI-powered sizing and sustainable new materials, many fashion houses seem stuck in the bad old days of “one size fits all”.
Jess adds that while some brands are recognizing the benefits of offering larger women’s sizes, much greater progress is needed. “It is not enough to have just a few boutique stores offering larger sizes. Stores and society need to give women of all economic backgrounds access to well-fitting shoes. As gender views become more fluid, perhaps shoe designs and sizing can become more fluid too,” she hopes.