Karl Harter, the owner of Movin’ Shoes, has been in the running business since the 70’s and has seen and experienced many changes in the industry. One of our employees (and early customers of Movin’ Shoes), Pat, asked Karl when women-specific shoes appeared in the market. Enjoy Karl’s thoughts on the subject!
As best as I can recall, the first women’s running shoes were probably the Nike Lady Waffle Trainer in it’s signature color, yellow with a blue swoosh, and the Nike Lady Cortez, which had a leather upper and was white with a blue swoosh, both were introduced in 1978. Nike was also the first company to make a track spike in women’s sizes.
Other brands followed Nike’s lead but the real innovation came in the early 80’s. The first models of womens running shoes were built on a mens shoe last and scaled down in size (shoe lasts are very expensive to make, costs for a last can be $250,000 so it’s more economical to scale down a mens last than create a whole new womens last) and the ratios of sizing, i.e. the ratio of heel width to forefoot width, length of arch, etc, remained the same, so essentially womens shoes were mens shoes only in smaller sizes. The most common complaint was heel slippage because the ratio of heel to forefoot is different in women than in men and even though the shoe was a womens sz 8, the heel was often too wide.
In the mid 1980’s Nike developed a womens last for it’s Womens shoes. I don’t remember the first model to carry this innovation but it greatly improved fit and comfort and everyone else in the industry followed Nike’s lead. In general women have a narrower heel to forefoot ratio (they may be an A width in the heel but a B width in the forefoot) and the new womens sizing accommodated for this, it also incorporated other variations in the shape and size of the foot. In the old days most female runners ran in mens shoes; the size difference was approximately 1 1/2 sizes, so if a woman came in and said she was a size 9 in a womans shoe we sold here a mens 71/2. Today we almost never sell a woman a mens shoes because of the vast improvement in womens models and the expansion in sizing.
Nowadays Asics is at the front of pack, they’ve refined the science to include bunion windows (biomorphic fit) and because of anatomical differences they actually cushion the womens shoes differently than the mens, so the cushion in a womens Gel Nimbus is not exactly the same as in a mens model. They are also trying to accommodate for the fact that a woman’s foot changes during her menstrual cycle and this affects her stride and her strike pattern, they also believe the pronation pattern in women is different than in men and that women in general pronate later in their gait, so the emphasis on slowing the rate of pronation should be shifted toward the mid or forefoot, hence the Gel 3000 series.
Nike has always been the leader in running footwear, they’ve dumped more money into R&D than any other company, they were making minimalist shoes 25 years ago, way ahead of the curve, they’re a huge global company with over $20 billion a year in sales, they do whatever they want (remember the Shox, where did that go?), they’ve had big hits and some misses, however, when it comes to innovation, whether it’s technical in terms of materials or technical in terms of concept – like hey, let’s make a womens running shoe that might actually fit a woman’s foot – from an historical perspective, Nike is almost always the first place to look.