This summer we wanted to check out as many minimalist shoes as we could, and companies like New Balance, VIVOBAREFOOT, and OluKai happily obliged. Wait—OluKai, as in the flip-flop makers we loved and heaped praise upon last year? Yes, that OluKai. OluKai doesn’t just make killer flips, they make shoes as well—in this case, very unique minimalist shoes that kick serious ‘okole.
Our “goat toed shoes” as Becki, our other tester, called them, are perhaps the most visually trend-setting shoes I’ve seen since Vibram dropped their FiveFingers bombshell on the footwear market. The restrained fabric, cut and style, and execution of the Malikos made them an instant favorite when we pulled them out of the boxes, but one feature truly stood out.
Your big toe gets segregated from the others in Maliko, purportedly for better flexibility and agility (say on a surf board), and in between them is a very breathable mesh that lets cooling, drying air in with every forward stride. The cloven-toe look is simultaneously more stealthy than a FiveFingers shoe and yet thoroughly unique and somehow appealing (and with the rubber protection and abrasion-resistant coating, also practical).
The Maliko comes with a removable three-quarter length “injection molded heel and arch chassis for anatomical foot support” that I quickly learned I preferred to do without—and all true minimalist will ditch right away. With or without, the feel of the footbed is comfortable and inviting, and the entire shoe is ridiculously flexible, as it should be. The non-marking sole is very grippy and excellent for any water sport activity but especially good for kayaking or boating.
I really wanted to love all of this shoe—seriously, I fell in love with them when I opened the box—but we had a few minor trouble spots. First, one of my testers shipped with missing a plastic joiner on the lace toggle. Not a huge deal, it raised questions about quality control, though it’s possible ours was a press-piece and not sold for that very reason. Second, my left heel blistered after extended use, showing a hot spot in the construction of the fake-suede heel lining. And finally, while I love the feel of the quick-drying mesh upper, I yearned for the thinner mesh like that of the split toes—the Maliko got hotter than I expected in a mesh-y water shoe.
Fortunately, we had two testers, and Becki didn’t experience any hot spot issues and had a perfect and cute female version she wore without incident. We splashed, walked, and lounged in the Malikos, and we mostly loved every minute (minus my heel rub).
We’d love to see OluKai add some more light mesh ventilation for the upper and perhaps add a touch more heel padding. Still, at $100 on OluKai’s website, they’re in line with most of their competition in price and give you something unique to show off.
For a first foray into the minimalist water shoe market, the Malikos are an amazing achievement, and OluKai has made a styling statement and cast caution to the wind that they aren’t just a flip-flop plaything manufacturer. They’re into shoes now, ladies and gentlemen—and their shoes mean business. It’s time to get makai—toward the ocean—with OluKai’s Malikos!