in Aug 22, 2023

Hi friends.

In this weeks Microdose for the Sole, we're diving into footwear sizing.

One of the biggest challenges we face as a natural footwear retailer is helping people select the right shoe size so today I'm unpacking that challenge sharing ideas on how we’re working to create a better experience for our customers.

Finding the right size when purchasing shoes online is currently a messy and confusing task. Different sizing systems (US, UK, EUR), different dimensions per size between brands and even different dimensions per size within brands. Getting the right size without trying shoes on first is like a rigged game where the odds are stacked against you. While our long term aspiration is to upgrade to a simple, intuitive and universal sizing protocol, our short term mission is to increase the likelihood of our customers choosing the right size when purchasing shoes online. 

Before we get into how we’re planning to upgrade our sizing experience at Sole Freedom, let’s talk about fit.



How should a shoe fit?

How do I know I have the right size?

How much space should there be at your toes?

These are all valid and important questions that we get asked frequently at Sole Freedom so I want to share my perspective.

Too small: my feet feel compressed, squished, and my toes are pressing uncomfortably against the end of the shoe.

Too big: there is lots of extra space at the toes, the shoes feel clunky, and my foot could shift around inside the shoe which can create blisters.

Just right: A snug fit with with almost no extra space at the toes. My foot is firmly held in place in the shoe, doesn't shift around but doesn't feel compressed or restricted.


Fit is largely personal preference. Some people prefer less extra space and others prefer more. As long as your toes aren't pressing hard against the end and your foot isn't moving around, you are the best person to decide what "just right" means to you.

In my days of wearing unnatural footwear, I would typically go 1-2 sizes bigger than my measured size to get extra width. I have wide feet so narrow shoes never felt very good. Because natural footwear is wide, I don't need to go up in size anymore so I actually buy shoes that are 1-2 sizes smaller than what I used to wear.

Another point to mention is that because natural footwear is flexible and moves with your foot, having more space tends to be less of a problem in terms of causing blisters. With that said, my general recommendation is that less extra space is better because it minimizes bulk and extra weight.


Upgrading the Sole Freedom experience

The lack of clarity with sizing is currently a major friction point in our footwear purchase experience, and solving that problem is major focus for our team right now. When thinking about how to solve the problem, I find it helpful to first imagine the ideal experience for a customer purchasing shoes online who can’t try them on in store.

Ideal experience:

Joan lives in Vancouver and heard about Sole Freedom from Jim, her doctor. Jim directed her towards natural footwear in order to eliminate the cause of her bunions (unnatural footwear which is pointed) and as a tool to help her heal her bunions. She visits the Sole Freedom website and wants to buy her first pair of natural shoes. Joan wants a pair of everyday shoes to wear when she does activities like walking, shopping and hiking.

She uses our filters to narrow down the options based on her preferences. She selects "everyday", "womens" "athletic", selects her price range and enters her size. These filters narrow down the selection of shoes to the ones most suitable for her criteria and that we have in stock.

She picks a shoe, pays, receives the shoes, they fit, Joan is super happy and her feet are instantly feeling better.

That’s the ideal. That’s the lighthouse we’re striving for and working to achieve.

The problem we're focusing on right now (filters are on the list as well) is sizing.

In order to ensure a high likelihood that Joan receives the correct size, she must be able to measure the length and width of her feet and use those dimensions to choose the appropriate size.

Our immediate solution: add a sizing chart on the product page of each individual model that includes length and width measurements, and a sizing tip from our team that offers some extra sizing nuance. Good solution but not great.

A great solution: Customers enter their foot length and width measurements into our website size wizard, it autoconverts that measurement for all models and only displays shoes that we have in stock in that size (which may vary in US/EUR size but all align with the foot dimensions which is what matters).

We're aiming high and aiming towards geting our sizing error rate below 2%, meaning 98% of customers receive shoes that fit (ambitious but possible). I don't know what we're currently at but I know it's much higher than that.

If you have any feedback, idea or input to share, please email us at We appreciate the feedback very much.


Universal Footwear Sizing (aka UFS)

UFS is a long term project aspiring to establish a standardized protocol for sizing footwear. This protocol allows anyone to know what size shoe is right for them with a high degree of precision by simply measuring the length and width of their foot with a ruler. A few years ago we created a UFS sizing tool that we will be testing in our new Ottawa store opening Spring 2024. This simple tool allows people to stand on a wooden device and visually see their exact foot dimensions. We plan to open source the template and hope that manufacturers and footwear stores around the world will adopt the new standard.


The idea is simple: With UFS, if you can measure the longest and widest part of your foot in cm, you can choose your size with a very high degree of precision. Time will tell if this new protocol catches on and receives meaningful adoption by manufacturers over time. In the meantime, our team will be working to convert dimensions of each model we stock to UFS so our customers can have a better chance of receiving the right size shoe when shopping online.


In summary:

- Footwear sizing is a confusing space right now and that creates a frustrating experience for people purchasing footwear online.

- Fit has a lot to do with personal preference and finding the sweet spot between not too small and not too big. With natural footwear, we can usually choose a size closer to our measured size and we have more flexibility in size range because the shoes are flexible and move with our feet.

- Our short term solution is to make it easier for our customers to choose the right size when purchasing shoes online. We're aiming for 2% or less sizing error.

- Our long term goal is to promote UFS as a simple, intuitive sizing system that allows for a high degree of precision when choosing the correct size.


Thanks for reading. We hope this article improves your understanding of footwear sizing and stimulates discussion among footwear brands looking to evolve their sizing system to be more user friendly for customers.

Next weeks Microdose for the Sole topic: Transitioning to less shoe

Wishing you lots of Love and great week


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Jenny Verwiel

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