The world of natural foot health is populated with many passionate individuals, practitioners and foot health advocates alike, who are working to increase awareness about the benefits of a more natural approach to feet, footwear, and foot health. In this article, we interview Anya Jensen, the dynamic founder of Anya's Reviews, to get a better sense of her personal foot health story, the mission of her company, and what keeps her motivated in her pursuit of better foot health for all. As you'll read below, Anya started out with foot health difficulties, and through her journey to restore optimal foot health, she created Anya's Reviews—a website dedicated to helping others improve their foot health and making minimalist footwear more accessible.
Here are the 10 questions that we put to Anya:
- What preceded Anya’s Reviews?
- What is the mission of Anya’s Reviews?
- What criteria do you use to evaluate footwear?
- Who are you trying to reach with your work? Why?
- What, in your opinion, makes a foot-healthy shoe fashionable?
- What are your top three most-used and most-loved footwear models?
- What, do you feel, is the most valuable thing you offer to your readers?
- What general health-promoting practices do you and your family employ?
- How do you balance a busy family life with the work you’re doing at Anya’s Reviews?
- What are the most impactful books, podcasts, or websites you’ve read, listened to, or visited?
In addition to the above questions, we also asked Anya a few “bonus” questions that touched on a variety of topics, including mentors, non-foot-health-related interests, and start-up advice:
Read on to learn more about the amazing Anya of Anya's Reviews!
1. What Preceded Anya’s Reviews?
Before I started my blog, I was a new barefoot shoe wearer trying to find more options. At the time, there was very little useful info online about the subject, and it was really difficult to shop. I was at such a low point with my foot health that anything but a wide toe box shoe caused me a lot of pain, so I was determined to find shoes that both felt good and looked good.
I ended up discovering so many hidden gems as I researched, and I even was able to get some small shoemakers on board with custom foot-shaped shoes. I felt like I needed to put it all in one place for others navigating this world, and thus Anya’s Reviews was born! After a few years of interfacing between barefoot shoe wearers and brands, we launched our own retail store, Anya’s Shop, to bring some of the hard-to-reach brands to the US. And then we followed that up with a second website, The Barefoot Shoe Finder, which is a directory of brands from all over the world. It helps people find specific types of footwear for their size, region of the world, and foot type.
And at that point in the Anya’s Reviews history is where “I” becomes “we”—my husband Justin co-founded the retail shop with me, and we’ve been partners ever since. We also have added a few other employees who do critical work, so I can’t talk about Anya’s Reviews without mentioning Samantha, Heather, Ian, our customer service team, and our warehouse team.
2. What Is the Mission of Anya’s Reviews?
The mission of Anya’s Reviews is to make minimalist footwear accessible to the masses so that foot-shaped shoes can go mainstream. I aim to help people through all the barriers to better shoes. And eventually, I want you to be able to walk into a shoe store at the mall and see barefoot shoes as an option.
To get to that point, we are doing our best to educate people about the shoe options they have—most people don’t even realize anatomically shaped shoes exist!—and the simple lifestyle changes we can all make to drastically improve our foot health. The wonderful thing about those two seemingly small messages is that they have been so life-changing for so many people that word of mouth alone has been carrying the message far and wide! And a beautiful side benefit of this spreading of the message is that lots of small barefoot shoe businesses get supported along the way.
3. What Criteria Do You Use to Evaluate Footwear?
There are many ways to evaluate footwear, but we look at the following points as our primary criteria:
Sole Shape: We support shoes with an anatomically shaped toe box with space for all toes (this essentially means the shoe is not pointy).
No Heel or Arch Support: Everything on our websites and in our shop is totally flat from heel to toe (zero drop) or can be with the insole removed. We believe this is an important component of natural alignment.
Sole Thickness: We look for shoes with a thin sole so you are able to sense the ground. There is a lot of wiggle room here though, as some people want more cushion as they transition or if they are dealing with a foot pathology. But because current research suggests that cushioned shoes can affect your gait, we focus primarily on thin, flexible shoes.
Beyond this, we also avoid toe spring (where the front of the shoe lifts the toes up) and generally do our best to promote quality shoes that are ethically produced. You can learn more about each of these points and why they matter to us in this article on the benefits of barefoot shoes.
4. Who Are You Trying to Reach With Your Work? Why?
We’re trying to reach everyone! So many people go through life feeling uncomfortable in their shoes, and an alarming amount of people have some amount of chronic foot pain. Whether you are just wanting comfortable shoes to wear to work or looking for a complete overhaul in your approach to feet, we have resources.
We also make a special point to reach parents and caretakers through our kids' barefoot shoe guide, because little ones present a wonderful opportunity to prevent foot issues before they begin. And of course, this information is of particular interest to runners; the best running shoe debate rages on because injuries are so rampant among athletes. We hope to provide practical tips for people in all walks of life.
A few other resources we have created to try to reach all people are the following:
And so many others! Every article and review I write is meant to help people navigate the confusing world of shoes and feet.
5. What, in Your Opinion, Makes a Foot-Healthy Shoe Fashionable?
For me, stylish barefoot shoes have clean lines and a sophisticated design. There didn’t used to be options that fit my style preferences, so I went out and designed a few! It’s been my pleasure to help bring to market some fashion-forward barefoot shoes, and I’ve got a few more in the works.
In my opinion, there is no reason why we can’t combine the features of natural footwear with visually appealing designs and aesthetics. And based on the popularity of my women’s stylish dress shoe roundup, it’s clear I’m not the only one who wants these types of shoes. But even if your style is not like mine, there have been so many new designs made available over the years that it’s easier for all kinds of people to choose healthier shoes. For example, you can now find TONS of stylish barefoot sneakers.
6. What Are Your Top Three Most-Used and Most-Loved Footwear Models?
Rule #1 of interviewing Anya is that you can’t ask her what her favorite shoes are! Just kidding, sort of. I think it’s safe to say that my two most-worn models are the Zeazoo Dingo (a warm boot) and Shamma Warriors (sandals). And then, if I had to narrow it down to one more, the Mukishoes Cloud (a white sneaker) gets tons of use as well.
It should go without saying that my shoe-wearing experience is different from a typical person’s, but patterns do emerge. When I travel, I tend to reach for the same brands (Wildling, Mukishoes, Shamma, Crupon, Vivobarefoot, Laboo), but often choose different models from that brand each time. I LOVE shoes; let’s put it that way.
7. What, Do You Feel, Is the Most Valuable Thing You Offer to Your Readers?
The most valuable thing I offer is practicality. When I started Anya’s Reviews, I set out to create the resources I wished I had access to. I don’t write about something unless I can offer something valuable to my readers, and I pride myself on giving them the useful information they need in as succinct a way as possible. I want you to walk away from my website saying, “Damn, that was so helpful!”
8. What General Health-Promoting Practices Do You and Your Family Employ?
I don’t feel I am doing anything totally right, but when I switched to barefoot shoes, it was part of an overall lifestyle change, and today I am low-key crunchy. I avoid sugar, and in general, we don’t have anything with refined sugar in our house (my kids LOVE that). I am also huge on getting enough sleep, and we primarily sit on the floor.
While this isn’t what people necessarily think of when you mention health practices, I am a firm believer in being open-minded, grateful, and responsible for yourself as a way to approach life. We try to keep it as real as possible while still getting overwhelmed regularly by the craziness of life. There are about a gazillion health things I wish I could employ in my household, but ultimately I need to be a good person first and foremost. The rest will fall into place.
9. How Do You Balance a Busy Family Life With the Work You’re Doing at Anya’s Reviews?
EXCELLENT QUESTION. Honestly, it’s been tough. The last two years, I’ve noticed some of my good habits slipping and have struggled with feelings of overwhelm off and on. Running a small business is not for the faint of heart, and in particular, our business has more dimensions than usual. Between creating content for three different websites and social media, running a retail store, designing shoes, planning events, and participating in education groups like the Healthy Feet Alliance, I could work all day and night and still have more to do. It doesn’t help that it is so personal to me—I really pour my heart and soul into it.
After grinding so hard for a couple years, I hit a low point and realized things were off. I’ve been doing my best since then to reestablish those boundaries that had slipped and am finding renewed joy in my family and hobbies because we only have one life and my two boys will be grown before I know it (they are my everything, I can’t miss that!). Having better life balance also helps me appreciate my work so much more—I genuinely feel like I have the best job!
But let me assure you, anyone who looks like they have it all together from the outside does not. Nobody can do it all.
10. What Are the Most Impactful Books, Podcasts, or Websites You’ve Read, Listened To, or Visited?
Whole Body Barefoot, by Katy Bowman, was hugely influential for me as I started out on my healthy feet journey. I am an avid reader, so it’s hard for me to pin down only a few favorites, but I was also deeply impacted by The Body Keeps the Score, Essentialism, Breath, and Outliers. Oh, and I’m obsessed with the podcast Revisionist History.
Bonus Questions for Anya!
As mentioned at the top of this article, we asked Anya her thoughts on a few additional topics, and here is what she had to say ...
Do You Have Any Mentors or Role Models Who Influence Your Thinking?
I think one of the most fulfilling aspects of this work is connecting with other passionate people. I am so grateful to have been able to cross paths with incredible humans like Courtney Conley and Jen Perez of Gait Happens, Ray McClanahan of Correct Toes, Petra Fisher of Petra Fisher Movement, Irene Davis of Harvard, Steven Sashen of Xero Shoes, Podiatrist Andy Bryant, and many others. I can’t say I have one individual mentor, but being able to consult with these amazing individuals and ask them for advice has been very meaningful to me. In fact, I feel a little emotional just thinking about it! The day-to-day life of running a business can wear you down, but these people help remind me why I’m here. I can’t speak for everyone who works in the natural footwear world, but nearly everybody I’ve met so far is deeply passionate and really wants to help people.
Internally, Justin is incredibly helpful as an editor and mentor. He has amazing ideas and really helps me fine-tune my message. Samantha, my assistant, also does wonderful work and helps in more ways than I can count. They are what I like to call my “back-up brains,” and I am constantly checking in with them. If you spend some time on my site, you’ll see why I need that extra brain storage—we cover A LOT of material.
Would You Like to Share a Testimonial or a Heartening Piece of Feedback From an Anya's Reviews Reader or a Personal Acquaintance Who Has Been Influenced by Your Work?
I got this message on Instagram from Lauren recently (which I'm sharing here with her permission):
I just wanted to write to you and tell you that I just recently started wearing barefoot shoes about 5 months ago after I came across your social media pages and website. I have suffered through debilitating back pain and arch pain for over two decades and couldn't do intense exercise without some type of pain ... My arch pain has now completely gone away, and my back pain has also been receding. My back hasn't felt this healthy in years. And I haven't even been going to the chiropractor recently, which I have relied on to feel normal in the past. Thank you for putting this information out there, because I NEVER would have known. I thought it was just genetics and bad luck! It turns out there is nothing wrong with me, and the solution was actually so much simpler than I ever thought!
We love hearing this!
What Are Your Biggest Interests or Passions Outside the Realm of Feet, Footwear, and Foot Health?
Two of my favorite things to do are hike in the forest and pick apples, berries, tomatoes, or anything edible—any reason to be outside. I also love reading. I’m a total nerd about cool facts, so when I get on a kick, I’ll check out three or four books on one subject and annoy Justin and my best friend Miranda endlessly with what I’m learning.
I love movies too, but you don’t want to watch them with me because I will spend the whole time analyzing them out loud (again, Justin and Miranda have incredible patience with me!). Oh, and I have an obsession with Beyonce that my family gives me a hard time about—my kids say they learned all the swear words from my music … but they secretly love it too.
What Advice Would You Give to an Aspiring Entrepreneur?
If I were to start over with a new business, I would make sure that my idea checked two critical boxes. One, that it had a specific niche, so I knew exactly who I was trying to reach and the language those people speak. And two, that my idea is genuinely useful and fills a need. Once it’s got those two things, then it’s time to work, work, work, work, work, because quality is king (or queen, I should say). I believe a business that is niche, useful, and delivers a high-quality experience will be successful if you put in the work that’s actually required to get it off the ground.
The Best Ways to Connect With Anya ...
Many thanks to Anya for sharing her thoughts above and for being a bright light in the natural foot health community! We encourage you to check out the links Anya provided in her interview responses and peruse her site for other helpful resources. In addition to her blog, where she regularly publishes articles and shoe reviews by herself and guest authors, the two best ways to connect with Anya online are to subscribe to her newsletter and follow her on Instagram, where she maintains a vibrant and engaged community of minimalist footwear and natural foot health enthusiasts.