History of Softstar Shoes

[Click here to see an infographic on the history of Softstar Shoes]

Softstar Shoes has been handcrafting minimal shoes since 1985. Tim Oliver and his wife Jeanie started the company as young parents who wanted a soft, quality shoe for their baby girl. As their family grew and moved, so did their business—from a garage in Laguna Beach, CA to the back of an old bus in rural Texas (scroll down for that story) before finally settling into a little workshop in Corvallis, Oregon. The Olivers raised their girls alongside them as they made shoes for mail order companies and local fairs. Over the years they have sold shoes to families, Waldorf and Montessori schoolscelebrities, and even President Ford!

In 2005, Larkin and Tricia joined forces with Tim with a desire to introduce more people to this beautiful product. Tim's girls are now grown and exploring the world, but between Trish and Larkin's two families there are now 6 new little ones who have made their homes here in our workshop, carrying on the tradition of integrating our families and work lives. We have made some changes since 2005—including some big renovations to a website that once simply said "call to order"—but there are some things we don't ever want to change, like our foot-friendly designs, our friendly customer service and our ability to satisfy each person's unique needs and styles.

In 2010 Softstar expanded its line of leather moccasins to accommodate the needs of minimal and barefoot runners. Most of these early customers either grew up with Softstars or were owners of our adult-sized moccasins. We were surprised to learn that many of our customers were actually running long distances and even finishing marathons in their mocs! We called on our online community of fans to solicit input to design a new shoe designed specifically for runners that was lighter, more ventilated and featured running soles that were, thin, flexible and durable. Customers provided valuable feedback and even ultimately voted to choose the name for this new athletic line: RunAmoc. Since the launch of the Original RunAmoc we have also introduced the Dash and the Moc3 as well as many new casual wear styles for adults. We are proud we have taken our fundamental design concepts that promote natural foot development for children's feet and expanded it to a adult shoes so the whole family can benefit!

Most recently, in 2016, the Softstar workshop moved to a larger location in nearby Philomath, Oregon.

The Early Days

Corina in front of bus

We are proud to tell people we’ve been making shoes since 1985, but anyone who saw our shop back in the early days might be surprised to see how much things have changed. The biggest difference: Softstar once operated out of an old school bus! 

Softstar Shoes was founded by Tim Oliver, and his wife Jeanie shortly after the birth of their first daughter, Corina. Frustrated by failed efforts to find soft, flexible shoes for their new baby, they decided to make their own. They began learning about shoemaking in 1984, but things didn’t take off until they brought their product to the Sawdust Art Festival in Laguna Beach, California the following year, when Softstar was officially founded. The profits made from selling shoes at the festival allowed the young couple to purchase a plot of land just outside Wimberly, Texas. Tim was previously a carpenter and they began to build their first house with their own hands. The property was located in the hill country alongside the crystal clear waters of the Blanco River.

During the construction process, the family needed a place to stay. The solution was found with the purchase of an old run-down school bus. In 1987, Tim cleaned out the bus, fitted it with running water and a wood stove and the three of them moved in. They lived in that bus for about a year and a half, then moved into the still-unfinished house as soon as the walls and roof were up. When that happened, the bus became the official Softstar workshop.

For the next three years, which included the birth of daughter Violet, Tim and his wife worked happily out of the bus to make their handcrafted shoes for mail orders, wholesalers and the occasional craft fair. Tim even managed to fit a (relatively) small leather-cutting clicker inside the tiny space. At that time, the product line was limited to just a few styles of children’s shoes. According to Tim, the official Softstar policy was for everyone to jump in the river at the end of each workday.

The family stayed at that location until they decided to move to Oregon in 1990. Sadly, the bus, which was unfit for the trip, stayed behind. Softstar Shoes then moved into a building just a few blocks away from its current location.

Below are some photos which chronicle the early days of Softstar's first workshop:

 

 

Sawdust Festival

Softstar shoes at the Sawdust art festival in 1985. Proceeds from this festival allowed
Tim and Jeanie to purchase land and build a house.

 

bus arrives

The new temporary home/workshop.


Corina explores

Corina explores the new space.


renovations_begin

Renovations begin to transform the bus into a cozy home.

 

stove

A wood stove kept the family warm while their house was under construction.

 

fridge

In addition to the stoves, the bus was also outfitted with a refrigerator and a sink with running water.

 

table

That table made its way into our current workshop where it remained until 2013.

 

house

Tim and his family lived in the bus until they finished building this house.

 

walk to river

Each day ended with a trip to the river.

Today, more than three decades later, Tim is still working hard in the workshop. Softstar now employs a dedicated family of elves and the product line has expanded to dozens of different shoe styles for babies, kids, youths, adults and athletes. With the growth of our website, our sales are now worldwide—although everything is still made by hand in one big room in Oregon. If you ever find yourself in our cozy town of Philomath, feel free to stop by for a tour. If you do, you’re still likely to see Tim putting the finishing touches on a pair of moccasins.

 

Tim Oliver

Softstar founder Tim Oliver, then and now!