Having customized shoes once meant wearing orthopedic shoes with no flair but lots of support. Today’s customizable kicks are hot-ticket items. Athletic shoe manufacturers are shifting from off-the-shelf standards to made-to-order styles and highly personalized shoes based on an individual’s biometric data.
One of the first innovators in the custom shoe space is Nike. The company has offered online customers a build-your-own-shoe option for more than a decade. Nike took that a step further when it opened the Nike NYC House of Innovation OOO on Fifth Avenue in 2017.
The retail location features the Nike Makers' Experience, a design-your-own-shoe studio that delivers customized shoes in 90 minutes. VIP shoppers don an existing shoe model, which acts as a white canvas. Design elements are displayed on the shoes in real-time, and the final design is then fabricated in-store. The Makers’ Experience is enabled by Live Design, a tech platform developed by W+K Lodge. It uses dynamic object tracking, motion capture, and projection systems to bring an augmented, virtual reality version of the custom design from the screen to the foot in real time.
Biometric Shoe Design
New technologies, such as 3D printing, now allow companies to move beyond personal style. Insoles and midsoles were the first to enter the mass market. Additive manufacturing enables companies to build lattice structures that offer support and flexibility, while being lightweight. The next shift in shoe customization is to create individualized shoes that incorporate the wearer’s biometric data.
New Balance has teamed up with Superfeet and HP to create unique insoles on demand using HP’s Fitstation platform and Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing technology. A consumer steps onto the Fitstation platform, which uses 3D scans of the foot and dynamic pressure mapping technology to collect thousands of biometric data points, including foot shape and gait cycle.
The resulting FitstationID is a precise biometric profile that can be used across brands. New Balance is using the FitstationID to print custom insoles on site with the HP Jet Fusion 3D Printer. Competitor Brooks is piloting a program that uses the FitstationID or “run signature,” to develop its custom-made Genesys running shoes.
Image credit: HP
Even Dr. Scholl’s is getting into the biometrics game through a partnership with Tekscan. The company uses kiosks equipped with Tekscan’s pressure-sensing technology. Sock-footed consumers step onto a platform that measures foot-pressure patterns, arch type, and foot length. An artificial intelligence engine processes the data and compares it against Dr. Scholl’s products; the kiosk then recommends the best type of orthotic insert for that consumer.
Additive manufacturing capabilities are reshaping how Adidas is approaching shoe designs for professional athletes. The company created the Futurecraft.Strung shoe technology, which uses custom robotics, software, and high-resolution scans of runners’ feet to design and place every shoe thread. Adidas’ Strung textile and manufacturing process uses an athlete’s data to position each fiber of the fabric.
The Strung robot has 10 spools of thread in varying types and weights to provide differing levels of support and flexibility, and it automatically creates the shoe from a digital design. The result is a one-piece upper with zones that contain specific performance properties, which is then fused to a 3D-printed lattice midsole.
All feet are unique, so tailor-made shoes can provide a level of support never before available to the general public. In addition to the health benefits of wearing customized shoes, additive manufacturing ensures production is easily adaptable and nearly waste-free. That offers companies more flexible design options and a more environmentally friendly manufacturing process.