After ducking targeted Instagram ads for months, I recently broke down and tried a pair of Kizik sneakers. Kiziks could be ungenerously described as an Allbirds dupe, but their selling point is that they are “hands-free;” they can be stepped into from a standing position thanks to a proprietary heel. They represent a clever mashup of a Nike Free Run and the men’s mules trending on Farfetch. Any DTC brand popping up at the intersection of a trend and an IPOed startup deserve to be treated with some skepticism, but after wearing the Kizik Athens sneakers for a week, I’m a convert to the hands-free lifestyle.
Ads couldn’t convey the intricacies of this sneaker the way wearing it did. The Kizik Athens Cage, essentially a spring design, replaces the traditional rubber heel cup. It compresses easily and pops back into shape once it’s over the heel. There’s no struggle to wrangle the back of the shoe from under the foot. Providing further ease of use are the breathable, stretchy knit fabric upper, the generous width, and the lightweight foam sole. After walking about eight miles at the office and throughout my neighborhood, it was clear that they were very comfortable. But I also realized they could serve a larger purpose.
My diabetic relatives would have loved a shoe like this — one that wouldn’t cut off their already poor circulation, that they wouldn’t have to struggle to put on, and one that came in cool colors unlike the loaves of bread that are most orthopedic shoes.
Kizik claims they didn’t try to create an orthopedic sneaker. But there’s a much larger opportunity here to serve differently-abled people.
I think the question is whether Kizik is Clubhouse or Twitter. Let me unpack that. In December 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Clubhouse became the hot new social media sensation by allowing for hosted virtual conversations. The company went from a valuation of $10 million in May 2020 to $100 million in January 2021. The problem was that Clubhouse turned out to be a great feature, not a great company. Twitter released Spaces in November 2020, which had similar functionality. In April 2021, Twitter discussed buying Clubhouse for $4 billion. The valuation became a joke – the ridiculous high tide mark of a venture capital market gone insane.
How is this similar to a hands-free shoe? Well, it’s a great feature, but Kizik lacks the design appeal that’s found in, say, anything from Nike — who, by the way, is currently licensing a patent from the former to make a hands-free shoe.
Different people have different prejudices. I will never own a pair of Adidas slides. I associate them with communal dormitory showers, fungus, and Mark Zuckerberg. That might not be totally fair, but I prefer a shoe and I’m not alone in that. I also like getting out the door quickly. Kizik saves a few seconds. If there were still newspapers to be plucked from the end of driveways, I would invest.
The drawback is that the appeal is largely practical. Compared to other popular men’s sneakers, the generous width and round toe of the Athens make the shoe look short. Additionally, the thickness and height of the Cage heel have a foreshortening effect on my legs, making me look kind of stubby. None of it’s a dealbreaker. But despite the hype of the dad shoe, sneakerheads are probably not going to be copping these at Stadium Goods. I’ll rock mine with shorts come summer; they’ll be a coffee run staple.