Can a shoe be women specific?

I’m sure you haven’t managed to escape the hype about the latest shoe release from adidas, the Pure Boost X. This is the first shoe designed for women, by women. The thinking here is that, to date, all women’s running shoes have just been smaller versions of the men’s shoes, without any specific thought going in to any particular needs of women. Thus, the Pure Boost X was born. 

Now, my initial reaction to this launch was, shall we say, cynical. With the recent(ish) upsurge in the popularity of women’s fitness, it’s easy to presume that fitness products targeted at women are jumping on a bandwagon to cash in on an trend. With the success of amazing programmes like This Girl Can and the work of the Women’s Sport Trust, it’s easy (and a bit lazy) for brands to summon up a girl power campaign and use it for commercial gain.

This isn’t to say that (a) I don’t approve of brands using their power to promote female participation in sport (I do) and (b) I wasn’t excited about the shoes themselves. I love new kit, am a huge adidas shoe fan (especially Boost technology) and was intrigued by the concept of the floating arch (more on that later). I just can’t say I’m immediately sold on female specific versions of products that aren’t gendered (like body glide or bic pens). 

I couldn’t find many specifics in the press materials about what elements of the design were female specific, and what female specific issues they were looking to address. I know that a lot of other runners and gers were asking similar questions, including my own readers and followers, and I found it frustrating that I didn’t know and couldn’t give an answer. Having visited adidas HQ, including their incredible innovation lab and bespoke athlete services, I felt like it wasn’t very ‘adidas’ to come up with empty claims, so I did some research!

I contacted adidas and they put me in touch with the VP of Design for adidas running, Ben Herath. From his explanation, it appears to me that the “women specific” angle is much broader than just physiological requirements, and also relates to female preferences for design, feel and performance. On the physical side, adidas’ research has found that women’s foot shapes vary wildly, as compared to men’s but also from woman to woman. Building in inherent flexibility (primarily evidenced by the new floating arch) allows the shoe to adapt to these varied female foot shapes, providing a snug “personalised fit”.

Further, adidas worked with hundreds of female athletes to listen to their preferences for design and feel of a shoe. They found that most female athletes undertake a varied fitness routine with running at the core (familiar!) and so versatility was important. The flexibility of the Pure Boost X allows it to be worn in a variety of different situations, and to provide a comfortable fit in all of them. Design wise, adidas found in their research that women like their trainers to look streamlined and preferred trainers that made their feet look petite (so, the opposite of ‘traditional’ support trainers!), so this was the focus with the aesthetic. I personally have very wide feet, and I like the way the floating arch wraps around the arch of my foot and makes them look a bit less like cuboids. Vain maybe, but I can’t deny that I like it!   

Also, I was very kindly invited by adidas to appear on a panel at their Oxford Circus flagship store to talk about ‘Positive Energy’ in celebration of the Pure Boost X launch. Also on this panel was Jo Knight (editor of Women’s Fitness magazine and also We Heart Living), who mentioned some research that had come across her desk that showed that the length of a woman’s plantar fascia changed according to her monthly cycle. This prompted me to do some further digging, and I did find (for example, here, here, here) that there seems to be a link between increased oestrogen levels and the risk of ligament injuries. I am in no way professing to be an expert (and would love to talk to someone who does actually know something – drop me a line if that’s you!), but if the ligaments in your foot are changing on a weekly basis, a super adaptive flexible shoe might make sense? 

Anyway – do I actually like them?

In short, yes. They look nice and they’re ridiculously comfortable, genuinely like walking on clouds. I know that some others have had issues with the high back rubbing their heels, but I haven’t had any issues like this. 

The floating arch is weird at first, but I really like the snug fit. When I say “floating arch”, the arch of the shoes is actually suspended – it isn’t attached to the sole – and instead it’s like a cradle. When you put your foot on the ground the gap closes up under your foot, which means that the fit adapts to your foot shape. Weirdly, I have actually had cramp in the sole of my foot when wearing them for a particularly intense workout (the Zanna van Dijk bootcamp at The X being one of those times!), which I’ve put down to having to get used to the floating arch. 

I’d personally say the Pure Boost X were more suited to workouts rather than running. adidas say they’re for running up to 10km in, and you need to work up to that, so the Pure Boost X are probably better suited to workouts involving running rather than being purely running trainers. I actually wear them a lot for walking too! So, if that’s what you’re looking for, it’s worth giving the Pure Boost X a go.