20160210_134727I hate shoe shopping. I’ve never understood the fuss, the excitement, the Sex and the City-esque love for the shoe department. A lot of this stems from the fact that I have a hard time finding shoes — I’m a 6-foot-tall woman in a world celebrating high heels that I do not want or need, and I have a shoe size to reflect that I’m no dainty flower — but shoe stores have always been pretty stressful for me. Things don’t always fit right, and even when they do, it’s sometimes a pie-in-the-sky hope that in addition to fitting they’d be shoes I’d want to wear in public.

Thanks to modern technology — I’m looking at you, online shopping — shoes are becoming easier to find, with wider selections appearing all around the ‘net. But it isn’t just Zappos that’s showing major promise, though business models like this offer a dizzying array of choices. We’re seeing a brave new world where “choice” isn’t always enough anymore. Why choose from existing designs that may or may not fit or be the right color or heel height, when you can actually choose everything about your shoes and have them made to fit you exactly? Thanks to 3D technology, we’re seeing fully customized footwear become an immediate reality.

20160210_134855And today, the Feetz 100 launches, with Chattanooga, TN-based Feetz presenting “the first 100 pairs of shoes custom fit and fully 3d printed,” as founder Lucy Beard explains to us.

“We’re on a mission to revolutionize footwear so that every shoe is made custom fit for you using your smartphone and a 3D printer. It not only solves the problem of great fitting shoes but is also a more sustainable way to make shoes – reducing our carbon footprint with our additive manufacturing and recyclable materials,” Beard notes of the Feetz mission.

Going a step farther than simply telling us about Feetz, Beard sent a pair of demo shoes over so we could check them out in person (I took all photos used in this article of the demo pair of Feetz Flatz Casual with Pink). While I’m definitely not a sample size (I’d probably fall over if I wore a size 7.5), fortunately staff writer Clare Scott is. So while I was able to unbox the shoes with, admittedly, unabashed excitement over seeing what they were all about, it fell to Clare to test them out on her own feet(z).

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Clare wearing the Feetz Flatz (and holding Smaug the giant cat)

Before sending the shoes over, Beard told me that the common reaction to Feetz shoes is that, “You will likely ask yourself ‘this is 3d printed???'” and, as it turns out, she was right. While I read dozens of 3D printing stories on a daily basis, have seen some incredible prints in real life, and am certainly familiar with a number of varieties of 3D printed shoes… somehow I still wasn’t prepared for how… viable these shoes were. These shoes are extraordinary for how almost (almost) ordinary they seem — and I mean that in the best way possible; they come out of the box feeling like, well, shoes, not like some plastic, 3D printed novelty. The soles are sturdy, the entire shoe is flexible, the insole is raised at the arch and nicely squishy, and Clare and I had to look pretty closely to see the print lines visible in the soles. That was when it clicked: oh, these are 3D printed!

20160210_135123Some of the secret to the “wait, this is 3D printed?” aspect lies in the FlexKnit material on the top of the shoe, which has helped the shoes come a long way in no longer ‘looking 3D printed.’ As Beard explains:

“FlexKnit is a totally unique way to mimic knitting but without all the current waste in traditional shoe manufacturing – there is no shoe last and no excess material cut away or wasted.”

3D printed shoes are coming, and there’s no denying that anymore. With big names like New Balance, Adidas, and Nike getting in on the game, at least on the insides, and fashion designers falling all over themselves to create incredible designs that would probably make most of us fall all over the sidewalk, fully 3D printed, completely custom, actually wearable 3D printed shoes have still seemed a little bit far-fetched.

20160210_135116The team at Feetz is here to contest that assumption, showing us that, indeed, fully 3D printed shoes that wouldn’t look out of place running errands or just hitting town are here, and they’re ready now. Brought to us by a team led by a “female founder and former Ironman athlete that has just been awarded Most Creative People by Fast Company,” working alongside a team ranging from “a rocket scientist, a supercomputer algorithm nerd, to the former CEO of Reebok,” Beard and her team drive home her point: “Great teams change the world!” The shoes are 100% made in the US, created using “sustainable manufacturing and recyclable materials.”

Today’s launch of the Feetz 100 brings the first hundred women’s shoes from the Flatz collection to an initial line of customers. The limited lineup will be available via a “random weekly drawing” for the $199/pair shoes. Shoes will be made and delivered from February 15th through March 31st.

“Welcome to The Feetz 100! The very first 3D printed shoes available in the world that are custom fit to you!” the website notes. “We’re celebrating these are the first, the best, the most celebrated of a new revolution in how you buy shoes. So we are making it a chance for you to buy a pair of the Feetz 100 shoes.

“We ask you tell us ‘What these shoes will do for you’ in the entry form [on the site] and we’ll randomly select people weekly to be part of the Feetz 100 starting Feb 15th for the next 8 weeks. Shoes are made weekly and delivered to those lucky 100 customers to enjoy their shoes and share their stories.”

20160210_134904Last year’s funding rounds raised some impressive capital for Feetz, and the company is still looking to grow and make their shoes available to everyone. Until then, the Feetz 100 is ready to get the shoes off the ground, by getting them on the ground for 100 initial customers.

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Mr Pond and the Gremlin are giving the shoes a furry nod of approval

To finish out my terribly scientific round of tests on the demo pair of Feetz Flatz, I showed them to some tough critics: my cats, dog, and husband. The animals (you can see some of them in our terribly scientific test photos) actually loved the shoes, so chalk one up to these printed shoes not smelling offensive — which could definitely be a concern when it comes to new materials, 3D printing, or shoes, much less a product combining all three. When my husband saw Clare wearing the shoes, he asked if she’d tried on the 3D printed ones yet; they looked so natural a footwear choice for her that he’d assumed they were hers. He actually had the “These are 3D printed???” reaction that Beard had noted as the Feetz goal.

In the next couple of weeks, I’m looking forward to going through the Feetz customization process, so I can see start to finish how it all works — and at the end of it, actually be able to wear the shoes myself! Keep an eye over here for a full review for how Feetz Flatz work from design app through grocery shopping! Discuss this new product in the Feetz 3D Printed Shoes forum over at 3DPB.com.

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My Feetz-less feet (left), with Clare’s Feetz-ed feet (right). She won the style contest this time around, but I’m excited for my own pair of custom Feetz to come!

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