On one hand, I think the Ra is the most foot-friendly shoe I have EVER worn, even considering athletic and casual styles!
On the other hand, if I wanted to make a favorable impression, I would not wear these...
In 2016, I wrote a comparison review between the original Vivobarefoot Lisbon & our Fer v3. I wrote it for 3 reasons. First, to see what I can learn from my peers. Second, to get the word out there that Hey I'm making some barefoot dress shoes that are worth a look. Third, to place the shoes side-by-side, so that Primal Professionals like you can make an informed purchase decision.
Since that review, the Lisbon has lost some aesthetics with a change in sole design, and the Fer has gained some aesthetics with a change in upper design. Rather than doing that comparison, I thought I'd check out the Ra II. (Fun fact: I started designing barefoot dress shoes 8 years ago because I was unsatisfied with the original Ra.)
This was a strange comparison because the 2 shoes, while both technically "barefoot dress shoes", sit on opposite ends of the "barefoot--dress" spectrum, and it's a no-brainer which shoe is on which end.
So... What is the best zero-drop, minimalist, barefoot, Primal, Paleo, thin, flexible, ergonomic, and wide toebox dress shoe? That you can wear to interviews, work, the office, weddings, funerals, clubs, and other formal events?
We'll be covering every little detail, starting from the bottom-up, and inside-out.
Expect a lot of ties in the feature match-ups, as well as "it depends on your preferences."
The Ra has no midsole, and a 3mm TPU outsole that's "Patented, ultra-thin, puncture resistant layer. 5x more puncture resistant than a standard sole of the same thickness" according to their website.
The Fer has no midsole, and a 4mm PU outsole. The outsole utilizes Chronology's patented hollow heel, so you get the look of classic dress shoe, but the health and comfort of a zero-drop shoe.
Both outsoles are synthetic, so they'll have better traction than leather outsoles. The Ra has little lugs with more depth than the lines on the Fer, and combined with the Ra's more flexible sole, the Ra should have more traction. The lugs do detract from formality though, especially since they are visible even from the side.
Outsole (& Midsole) winner: tie. Depends on your preferences.
The Ra has a thin leather insole. They also have a removable footbed, "3mm of recycled foam with a natural cork deck." I think this is a great idea that allows the wearer more options in customizing their fit.
The next version of our shoes will have a removable footbed as well, but at present our shoes do not. They do have a leather footbed over a thin layer of Poron cushioning. Not only does the Poron make the shoes more comfortable, they also slip around less.
Insole winner: Ra.
Because of the stitching on the inside and outside, I believe the Ra is made with Strobel construction. Most sneakers are made with Strobel construction and it makes sense for the Ra to be made this way. It allows for a very flexible shoe. But because the stitches go from the outside of the shoe to the inside, it's not very water resistant. The stitching on the Ra does not add to formality because each stitch is really long, about 7mm.
The Fer is made with cement construction. The sole is not stitched to the upper, and I've actually had 2 customers return shoes because they consider visible stitching as a necessary indicator of quality. But, the only construction method we can think of to use with our patented hollow heel is cement. Fortunately, foregoing stitches gives us a more water resistant shoe.
Construction Method winner: Fer.
I don't believe there is any way to resole the Ra.
The Fer, being Cement construction, can be resoled, given the right equipment in the right hands. We offer a comprehensive resole and restoration service to customers around the world.
Resoling winner: Fer.
Upon first glance, the Ra leather is uninspiring, but there's actually a lot to it! The Ra is made with "African leather tanned by Pittards®, from the hides of free roaming cows; animals that have lived a little and made love under the sun." I think that's so cool!
The Ra leather is likely vegetable tanned as well. Compared to chrome tanning, veg-tan is more environmentally friendly, both in production and disposal, and has a more varied and organic look. Veg-tan is usually stiffer, but not on the Ra, where it's super soft. Veg-tan is more susceptible to water damage. The Ra leather appears very matte out of the box, but it can take a shine.
The Fer leather is impressive right out of the box. It's made with leather from conventional US cows, tanned in Mexico.
The Fer leather is tanned with chrome. Chrome tanning does use harsh chemicals, unfortunately. The leather is typically softer (but the Ra is softer in this comparison). Chrome-tan is more uniform, dressy, and impressive right out of the box. it resists water damage better, and is just overall more durable.
(For more about vegetable vs chrome tanning, here's a great article from Carryology.)
Leather winner: Ra.
The Ra has ZERO noticeable resistance to any movement of my feet. Amazing.
Flexibility winner: Ra.
They're both really good at 10 stitches per inch.
Cut and Sew Quality winner: tie.
The Ra has thick laces. The eyelets on the Ra are pretty small and not reinforced with metal, so the laces have a hard time sliding through. The laces are not waxed or glazed either, so they're fraying from the friction.
The Fer has elastic shoelaces that look normal but turn your lace oxfords into functional slip-ons. Our hidden eyelets are sized so that your laces can slip through them easily.
Shoelace winner: Fer.
The Ra is an open-lace blucher derby. This is regarded as less dressy, but it's easier to make, and fits a wider range of feet.
The Fer is a closed-lace balmoral oxford. This is regarded as the most formal of styles. They're harder to make, and doesn't fit as wide range of feet. However, I've never had a return because the laces were too tight. And if the laces are too loose, tongue pads will easily fix it.
Shoe Style winner: Fer.
The Lisbon is a plain-toe.
The Fer is a cap-toe.
Toe Style winner: tie. Depends on your preference. Luckily, we offer a plain-toe shoe, the Zetone.
The Ra has the widest toebox I've EVER experienced. I feel my "foot tripod" engage in a way that has only ever happened while barefoot. And there is zero pressure on any of my toes. It's wider than everything I've tried from Lems, Xero, Softstar, etc. They are all very foot-friendly shoes, but nothing compares to the Ra's toe box.
Unfortunately, this also makes them more clownlike than any other shoes. There isn't much vertical height to the toebox either, and the flatness makes them look even wider, like duck feet.
The Fer has a wide toebox, but not as wide as the Ra. It has a sleek taper, although I've even heard some consider these too clownlike as well. There is a tasteful amount of vertical height that makes the shoes appear more narrow and also feel more comfortable (you can wiggle your toes inside).
Toe Box winner: Ra for Barefoot. Fer for Dress.
I am comparing a EU 40 Ra against a US Men's 7 Fer.
One shoe of the Ra II weighs 8 oz (227 grams) without the removeable footbed, and 8.5 oz (241 grams) with the removeable footbed.
One shoe of the Fer v4 weighs 9.9 oz (281 grams). Some weight was shaved off when we stopped using cork filler in v4.
Weight winner: Ra.
The Ra retails for $140 USD. I read somebody say that he never pays anywhere near full price on Vivobarefoot, because they always go on steep sales eventually.
The Fer is $350 bought new, as low as $300 if you preorder early, and can be had for as low as $175 through our official Outlet Store.
Price winner: Ra.
Finally, I wanted to answer this question that I see often in comments: How do they look with a suit? I set the camera at an angle similar to how someone else would see your shoes while you're wearing them.
"Suit-ability" winner: I'll let you be the judge of that =)
At left is a typical dress shoe, same size and same Wide width. You can see that it is still 1 or 2 cm longer than ours. Most sleeker dress shoes have a fair amount of unoccupied space in the front. We took advantage of that and used it to give you a wide toebox without looking like it. Dress shoes get even longer if we start looking at chisel-toe and pointy-toe styles. But even though these conventional dress shoes are longer, you still feel cramped because of the heel lift and the fact that their shoes are widest at the ball of the foot. Ours are widest at the toes, as a foot naturally is.
Regarding groundfeel, Chronology's outsole is 4mm thick, with another 4mm of leather and cork between that and your feet. The polyurethane we use for the outsole was selected for durability, which is more important than groundfeel in a shoe like this. The 2-part (polyurethane + leather/cork) design allows for the shoes to be resoled like good dress shoes and unlike most minimalist shoes.