How bad shoe practices do more harm than one can imagine

Luxury footwear designer Manolo Blahnik is believed to have once said, "Shoes are corsets you adore." But these pretty corsets, if worn wrong, can become cages that bind you.

Footwear is perhaps one of the most important wearables that the human body needs. It protects our feet from daily wear and tear and various life-threatening diseases. "Nature has made our feet in such a way that the pressure we exert on them maintains body balance. When we stand, the whole weight of the body should evenly spread across the feet. If there is no proper distribution of weight, it will lead to an imbalance that results in leg pain, unhealthy heels, knee pain and back pain," says Delhi-based podiatrist Dr Govind Singh Bisht.

Over the years, shoes have evolved from being important accessories to high-street style statements. If it is gladiators today, it could be block heels tomorrow. Oxford shoes may be the rage one winter, while boots will do the trick for others. High street fashion brands like Manolo Blahnik, Jimmy Choo, Gucci and Louis Vuitton have made shoes a luxury product. The shoes they make usually come with six-figure price tags.

There are important factors that go into the making of a shoe, says TD Sinha, a veteran teacher at the Footwear Design and Development Institute. "The most important factor is comfort and whether the measurement and fitting allows the user comfort in wearing the shoe. Materials used must be good, because shoes face the worst every day. In the shoe industry, leather is considered the best material as it lets air penetrate, but not water," says Sinha. "Bad material leads to smelly feet."

Bad shoe practices may cause more harm than one can imagine, says Bisht. "One must remember the purpose of a shoe and the basic factors it should serve. Many women's footwear do not adhere to the basic footwear tenets of comfort and wearability. The dominant style is what the user looks for, the dominant style is what the manufacturer gives," says Bisht.

Harsh Paul is the CEO of a chain of shoe manufacturing units in NCR that is also a key exporter to Scandinavian and European countries. He has been in the industry for three decades and says that Indian manufacturers try to cut costs at several factors, which usually results in bad shoe practice. "Manufacturers here do not adhere to the width system that western shoes come with. Several manufacturers do not invest in expensive machinery which will give you an accurate measurement of the shoe. Some do not spend enough time on the R&D model of the shoe," says Paul. "The are 25 key dimensions of shoe-making, and one has to pay enough attention to all of them to make a good shoe. The insole of a shoe is the most important, we use either a German or an Italian one."

Harsh's manufacturing units, which cater to women's footwear in these countries, says the trends are also vastly different. "In Scandinavia and Norway, there is a huge demand for shoes with the front half open and a narrow back. Yet, these shoes are big on comfort and wearability. In the UK, however, women are more keen on their fashion. It doesn't matter even if the shoes are a bit harsh on the feet," he says.

Shoe-making is tricky business, and the complexity, if added with expensive material usually shoots up the price of the shoe. "To explain how pricing works, one must look at the dynamics of the industry. If I pick up a pair of leather shoes from Khan market for 10,000 and take it to Agra, which has a thriving local shoe industry, and ask them to replicate it, they will give me the exact shoe for Rs850. But not before accruing almost Rs25,000 in the R&D model," says Sinha. "The R&D model is the first model of a particular shoe style, and a lot of work goes into that: how will the insole be placed, what material should it be made in, is the mid-arch lean or wide, the style of the shoe, etc."

Indian shoe companies, too, are venturing in the customised luxury shoe market business. Dhiraj Bathijia of Heel & Buckle shoes says that it is a small, unorganised set. "There are a number of players. But mostly, customised shoe makers are like local tailors. Customisation is not easy business," says Bathijia. Luxury footwear is also something that seems to be starting up in India. "Import duties make it very difficult, but yet, there are dedicated players. There is massive potential for luxury shoe makers here."

Bisht says that unsafe shoe practices is the reason for many diseases today. "Footwear is crucial for growing children, the elderly and the diabetic. In India there are more than six million diabetics, and shoes are crucial from them. Shoe bites, blisters, and cuts on shoes may threaten the life of a diabetic," he says. "Corns, callouses and fungal infections are all due to bad shoe hygiene. One must never wear shoes with wet feet. Flat-footed people also have it hard. In western countries, they have special shoes for children with flat feet to shape them up."

If you thought buying a shoe is breezy, think again. "Of the customers who come to us, only about 5% are informed about the basics. They are keen on the style of the time," says Suraj, who works at a reputed shoe shop in the capital. "I've seen women with corns come for peep-toes and men with smelly feet who have probably been wearing the same socks for days."

Podiatrist Dr Govind Singh Bisht on the dos and don'ts of buying footwear:

In rare cases, some people have one foot bigger than the other. This is a problem with 2-3% of the population. Incorrect shoe sizes cause back pain, bad heels, discomfort and cracked feet.

Walking shoes are not for running and badminton shoes are not for soccer. A marathon runner must change his or her shoes every 35 to 40 weeks to avoid injury.

The width of a shoe is very important. Indian manufacturers skip this crucial bit. But if possible, find a shoe with the right width.

Footwear must be well-padded for comfort and shock absorption. The area above the heel must not be too hard and must allow for motion contours.

The sole of the shoe is crucial. A good sole can be tested: pinch it with you nail. If your nail sinks in, you have a good sole.

Shoe stability is important. Bendable shoes are not good. Only shoes in which the toe joints bend are good for your feet. Never buy shoes whose mid-arches bend.

Light footwear puts less stress on the feet.

Always buy footwear in the evening, as feet tend to swell up at that time.

Maintain good hygiene and clean your shoes every week.

Make sure that moisture does not enter your shoes. This leads to fungal infections. If your feet are wet, make sure you dust them with anti-fungal powder.

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