Kick Off Those Heels!

Originally published in The Moscow Times on November 13, 1999

It's a fact. In fast-paced Moscow 1999, more and more women are abandoning their beloved high heels for sneakers. The light, air-cushioned and shock-absorbing shoes are overtaking city streets and winning the feet of Russia's female population.

The sneaker trend knows neither age nor geographic limits among daring, comfort-conscious women.

"It's my style," Natasha, 44, said on a sightseeing trip to Moscow from Novosibirsk, Western Siberia. "I go everywhere with them, especially if I have to walk long distances. Each woman has her style and this is mine."

"I don't mind wearing them to go to the theater. People sometimes look at me, but who cares?" said Lyuba Savina, a 22-year-old lawyer from Nizhny Novgorod, Central Russia.

"I wear them to go shopping," said Fliura Zhukova, a 55-year-old pensioner on her way back from the market. "They are so convenient, and it's a shame to wear nice shoes when it's raining. These are cheap and they last a long time."

Those in the sneaker trade confirm there is an upswing in sales to female customers.

"In our spring 1999 order, 75 percent of all sneakers were for men, and only 2 to 5 percent for women," said Yelena Kulyabko, manager of Delta Sport, a distributor of Nike in Russia. "But for the spring 2000 order, 27 percent of our sneakers were for ladies. And even that is not enough."

Alexander Maslov, product manager of Reebok Russia, said Reebok sneaker sales have been increasing steadily ever since the company opened branches in Moscow in 1992.

ECCO-ROS, a distributor of outdoor and comfortable shoes, has also seen a surge in female customers. Advertising manager Grigory Avetisov said the psychology of buying shoes is changing.

"People are becoming more practical. They are starting to assess their outward appearance on different criteria," he said.

Comfort is the main reason some Russian women are giving up their heartless high heels - the culprit of so many foot aches and deformities. But what exactly started the trend?

The boom in aerobics and fitness classes four years ago was a catalytic event in Russian shoe fashion.

"It all started when New Russian men began doing sports," Kulyabko said. "Then their wives got into fitness, and after them, middle-class women. People then started to wear them to drive their car and run errands."

Most sneaker experts agree that women under 25 are the most faithful to sporty footwear, while most older women succumb to more feminine designs.

"Maybe it's the Soviet mentality. Older women don't dare wear sneakers outside. They think they are for men only. They don't even know there are models for women," said Alexei, a sales clerk at Moscow's Reebok store.

Indeed, not everyone is ready to trade in fashion for comfort.

As she was getting ready for her workout…

Read the full text at The Moscow Times.