Star Remix

Akwa's Blog

Walking shoes

Seven recommended specialized walking shoes are evaluated. Information is included on the price, construction and special features of each model.

Buying specialized footgear for walking may appear excessive — until you consider walking’s biomechanics. Walking is a heel-to-toe motion; running is forefoot-to-heel, and running shoes often have heel wedges to facilitate this strike. So, if you’re walking in high arch support running shoes, you are actually impeding your natural movement and risking injury. Similarly, aerobic shoes, with their added forefront cushioning, are not designed for an efficient walking stride. And the stiffer midsole in cross-training and court shoes can restrict the flexion in your forefoot as you push off.

Once you’ve decided you want a walking shoe, you need to check its rock ‘n’ roll. To help your foot roll easily, walking shoes have a good rocker profile — a flat heel with a toe that sweeps up, forefoot flexibility, low heels that are slanted outward for stability and evenly dispersed cushioning.

You can examine the amount of “rock” in your shoe by pressing on the heel. The shoe should easily rock forward on the toe. To check for forefoot flexibility, hold the shoe by the heel with the point of the toe on the floor and press moderately on the middle of the toe; it should bend. Also, the tread on the ball of the foot should have forefoot grooves (sometimes called flex points) that flex as your toes bend.

When you try on the shoe, make sure you have from a quarter-inch to a half-inch between your big toe and the end of the shoe, so your toes don’t get pinched in the push-off and landing stages.

You also want a snug fit’ through the heel, so your heel doesn’t slide up and down. Some Achilles tendons are more comfortable with a notched heel — available in all models reviewed here except Ryka. Several models — Easy Spirit, Etonic, New Balance and Ryka — are especially sized to accommodate narrow and wide widths.

Good traction is important if you’re walking on slippery surfaces. If you’re walking on pavement, which radiates heat, or if your feet sweat easily, look for a shoe that incorporates more mesh and/or synthetics into its upper. Leather is less breathable. A removable sock liner — available in all these models — allows you to air out or replace the liner.

Our testers evaluated 15 walking shoes for fit, traction, flexibility, stability, comfort and breathability by testing two pairs each for a minimum of 10 miles on pavement and trails. Seven of these fashionable shoes for bunions made the top of our chart.

AVIA 375

Best for:

* breathability

* light weight

* narrow to wide widths

* traction

The core of support in the Avia 375 ($60, 7.5 oz.) is its ArchRocker, a curved insert in the outsole that lends propulsion to the gait. Avia’s well-known cantilever design — the heel is cupped so the center compresses as your foot hits the ground — imparts both cushioning and stability.

Our testers thought the shoe accommodates various widths and arches equally well. Synthetics in the upper promote good breathability and reduce the overall weight. Traction is excellent on both slippery pavement and trails.

EASY SPIRIT MACH I

Best for:

* hard-to-fit widths (AAAA to EE in most sizes)

* traction

The Mach 1’s ($74, 12 oz.) biomechanics are straightforward. Two layers of shock foam, one in the sole and one in the sock liner, provide excellent cushioning, and its good rocker profile includes a beveled heel. Grooves in the sole at the foot’s flex point make the shoe very flexible and toeing off easier.

The padded tongue and collar ensure a soft but snug fit. Testers thought the shoe was exceptionally stable and had good traction on both trail and pavement. Because of its leather upper, it lacked breathability.

ETONIC TRANS AM WALKER

Best for:

* hard-to-fit widths (AA, B and D in most sizes)

* lateral support

The Etonic Trans Am Walker ($53, 11.3 oz.) is an exceptionally stable shoe. Heel and arch cradles in the interior add lateral support, which counteracted one tester’s tendency to pronate.

The grooves on this well-cushioned, sturdy shoe add good forefront flexibility to its rocker profile. A leather upper restricts breathability. The testers’ only concern was that the outsole grooving, which was fine on most surfaces, didn’t grip well on cinder trails.

NEW BALANCE WK540

Best for:

* hard-to-fit widths (AA, B and D in most

sizes)

* traction

New Balance’s WK540 ($60, 9.5 oz.) offers stability and ruggedness with its solid rubber toe bumper and firm heel counter. The outsole grips well on all surfaces, and the “Walking Wave” midsole has a stiffer density in the mid-heel that extends into the arch for propulsion, providing good cushioning and rocker motion.

A swept-up toe and low, beveled heel facilitate a good rolling motion. However, the leather upper doesn’t breathe well in hot weather.

NIKE HEALTHWALKER LITE

Best for:

* comfort

* traction

The centerpiece of Nike’s Healthwalker Lite ($70, 8.9 oz.) is the Air-Sole pocket in the heel, which offers additional cushioning during the heel strike. A Durathane plug in the heel also increases durability.

The grooving in the outsole gives very good traction on all surfaces, including uneven boulders. Our testers also found it extremely flexible — “it gives you lots of push-off,” but not quite as stable as a less flexible shoe. They liked the fit, too: The slipper-like, neoprene tongue is snug and comfortable. The Healthwalker’s ventilated mesh panels are a step in the fight direction, but still don’t offer enough breathability.

RYKA NITROGEN ULTRA-LITE

Best for:

* breathability

* light weight

* hard-to-fit widths (narrow, medium and wide)

Ryka has pared the Nitrogen Ultra-Lite ($60, 7 oz.) down to a feathery seven ounces without sacrificing stability or comfort. Nitrogen Energy Spheres in the midsole provide excellent cushioning, and a higher heel collar gives good support. The shoe is the only one in our test without an Achilles notch, but our testers weren’t bothered by this. The padded collar and tongue are extremely comfortable.

The shoe’s lightness keeps this all-garment leather upper (lighter than all-grain leather and less durable) breathable on hot days. The only drawback is that the shoe tends to slip on wet pavement.

SAUCONY JAZZ STEP

Best for:

* breathability

* traction

Saucony Jazz step ($60, 7.8 oz.) is very stable in the heel while providing excellent flexibility in the forefoot * The collar is lower than most of the sneakers for plantar fasciitis tested — a feature our testers found more comfortable but less stable in off-pavement conditions. Three flex notches in the forefoot section of the outsole provide excellent flexibility for toeing off.

Testers thought the traction was excellent on all surfaces. Good use of mesh in the upper makes the shoe light and breathable.

Ladies’ watches bloom with flowers, charms at BaselWorld

Jewelry and watch designers have eagerly met the growing demand among women who wish to wardrobe their watches. Women’s watches proliferated at BaselWorld, appearing in every shape, size, color and price point.

Pastel shades and feminine forms like hearts and flowers appeared most popular, and many designers seemed to have taken a cue from fashion trends while crafting their newest timepieces. Many of the women’s watches shown at Basel had straps made of nontraditional materials, from stingrays to pearls to silk.

The charm bracelet trend that has taken hold in the fashion jewelry arena has also asserted its influence within watches. Designers showed timepieces that hung on charm bracelets or were surrounded by tiny charms featuring letters, hearts, moons or stars. Other watches came with dangling briolette gemstones or pearls, reflecting a general trend in jewelry toward movement.

 

Several jewelry designers have noted the interest in fashion watches, offering timepieces with a distinct jewelry feel.

“Women are ready to invest in fine timepieces,” says Pippo National Sales Director Linda Gunn. “They’re more knowledgeable and they want to make an investment.”

Jewelry designers jump into timepieces

Jewelry designer Pippo, which launched its watch line in October, showed some exciting new pieces at BaselWorld. One highlight: the My Panse collection, which includes flower-shaped watches with topaz petals and diamond accents on bright sateen straps. Echoing a trend among many designers, the watches feature interchangeable straps and are streamlined to fit a woman’s wrist.

Another jewelry designer making the jump to watches is H. Stern, who crafted his Golden Stones watches to correlate to the jewelry collection by the same name.

It befits our tradition as a jeweler to have the watches come from the jewelry line,” says spokeswoman Andrea Hansen.

The watches use the same organic, asymmetrical shapes as the jewelry line, and come in a variety of materials including 18-karat gold, stainless steel and diamonds. Straps are made of leather or satin, and are long enough to wrap around the wrist three times.

But even traditional watchmakers have taken note of women with their collections this year. Watch company Ritmo Mvndo uses varying colors and textures to make all of its watches unisex, says spokesman Stefan Pollack. By adding colors like pink and baby blue, and dotting cases with diamonds, even their largest watches take on a decidedly feminine feel.

Philip Stein Teslar went in the other direction, creating a new women’s “mini” watch similar in size to a small bangle, with a slender case shape and a petite strap. Available in stainless steel or 18-karat gold, it comes with or without diamonds. Changeable straps come in satin, lizard and alligator, in hues like orange and kiwi.

The mini is our breakthrough in delivering what women want,” says spokeswoman Shaye Strager. “As much as women want the thick, chunky men’s watch, sometimes they also want a bracelet watch.”

Time plus fashion: the designers move in

Watches are the latest item to attract designer licensing deals. As watches become more of a fashion accessory, and consumers start buying wardrobes of watches, designers are capitalizing on the trend.

As Bill Blass sees it, “Watches have become like the concept of fragrances the consumer finds a label that suits him or her and buys it.’

Bill Blass watches are distributed by Robert Tabakow Co., a division of Jewelcor, Inc., based in Pennsylvania. Tabakow handles 10 other designer names including Givenchy, Nina Ricci, Oscar de la Renta and Pierre Cardin. A Jewelcor division, Gruen, manufactures the Blass watch line. Blass receives royalties between 5 and 10 percent, according to Earl Zimbler, vice president of marketing at Tabakow. The line wholesales from $45 to $135 and currently it is Tabakow’s biggest volume generator.

Through another licensing pact, Tabakow was recently named the exclusive distributor of Oscar de la Renta watches, manufactured by Martin Newman International. Martin Newman, owner, said the designer approves all designs for the watches, which wholesale from $60 to $125.

Tabakow will sign still another watch licensing agreement with Givenchy in June to be its executive distributor in the United States. “The watches used to be available primarily in our boutiques. We are expanding our distribution because the market for designer watches is rapidly growing,’ said an executive at Givenchy.

Steve Holtzman, vice president of sales at Tabakow, attributes the growth in the watch category to the success of Swatch watches.

“Swatch made watches a fashion accessory, and when watches became related to fashion, designers wanted to get involved,’ said Holtzman. “There is a lot of open-to-buy in the market, and good opportunities for watch manufacturers.’

Christian Dior is already an established watch name in Europe. Christian Dior-New York has licensed the Dior name to manufacture a line of watches for distribution in the U.S. by Memox Corp. Memox does private label watch lines for some major department stores. According to James DeMattei, vice president of Memox, Dior’s New York and Paris design staffs were involved in the designing of each watch in the collection, which took a year to develop. “We wanted the look of the watches to be clean and fresh, like the Dior look. The watch completes the total Dior look from head to toe,’ he said.

The collection will wholesale for $95 to $140; Dior will receive between 5 and 10 percent of sales in royalties. “We are in the fine jewelry price range and retailers are looking to develop this area, because there are so many watches at lower price points,’ said DeMattei.

Calvin Klein also recently introduced his watch collection by Emerich Meerson, which has licenseed the Klein name. The watches retail from $175 to $475, and opened in the stores in May.

Fashion trends bring attention to watches

Drug chains are seeing watch sales grow as timepieces make the transition from utilitarian items to fashion accessories.

Watches have been very hot for about the past three years,” says Marilyn Phelps, the jewelry and cosmetics buyer at Keltsch Bros., which is based in Fort Wayne, Ind. “Tons of articles that have been written about watches in fashion magazines have really helped sales.”

Price is another factor that drives the watch business in drug chains. “It’s an impulse category,” says Ruben Johnson, merchandise manager at Crown Drug, a 19-unit drug chain based in Advance, N.C. “Jewelry stores don’t get into the low-end watches.”

Price plays a crucial role in generating sales of watches at Keltsch’s 19 stores. “Impulse drives the sales, especially at gift-giving times,” says Phelps. “People see them in the cases and buy them.”

Keltsch switched to carrying primarily Lorus watches last August, in part because of the eye-catching appearance of the line from Mahwah, N.J.-based Seiko Corp. of America. About 20% of the chain’s sales are in fashion watches, which are merchandised as jewelry. “They’re too fancy to be used strictly to keep time,” Phelps says.

Crown’s customers also perceive watches as fashion items. “There is definitely a pickup in interest when there’s a new style,” says Johnson.

As an example, he cites the IndiGlo watch brought to market last November by Timex Corp., Middleburry, Conn. “We could have sold a lot more of them if we could have obtained them,” he says.

Horton & Converse Pharmacies, a 20-store chain based in Newport Beach, Calif., also had trouble meeting consumer demand for IndiGlo watches. “Watches absolutely are fashion items,” says merchandising manager Robin Koon. “We’ve pretty much stuck with Timex, because it has good styles and merchandising displays.”

The chain also offers watches from Swatch Watch USA, New York. However, sales of that line have declined lately. “I’m not sure if that’s because the fad has faded or because Swatches are available in so many other stores,” says Koon.

She adds that women (who account for the bulk of her chain’s watch sales) are especially interested in the products’ appearance, while men are more concerned with brand names.

Brand loyalty is more of a matter of social standing than gender among customers at lawton’s Drugs Stores, which is based in Nova Scotia, Canada. “Young professionals look for brand names and guarantees,” says merchandise manager Michael Knowlan. “Lower grades of watches are likely to be gifts and inspire little brand loyalty.”

Lawton’s offers watches in only seven of its 70 stores because of theft, a problem mentioned by other retailers. “As a general rule, watches are not sold in most of our stores because you’d have to bolt them to the counters,” says Knowlan. “A common problem is theft of the entire display.

“We put watches in high-profile stores in communities with larger populations that can support expanded merchandise offerings.”

In those outlets, lawton’s merchandises watches in show cases affixed to cosmetics counters.

Horton & Converse also keeps its watches locked in display cases. “They would walk out the door if we didn’t,” Koon says. “They are small and most cost from $20 to $60.”

Floor cases with approximately 100 watches apiece are used in many Horton & Converse stores. Others have 2.5-foot display cases near their cash registers.

Keltsch homes its watches in 5-foot cases and countertop displays in its jewelry department, which is staffed full-time to handle customer inquiries about the small, high-price merchandise.

Crown merchandises its watches in floor stands. “They only take up a couple of square feet of floor space, but they do really well for the amount of space they get,” Johnson says.