Some things never change: the sun rises in the east, sunscreen is always a good idea, Cleveland sports fans know “there’s always next year”, everyone we love on Game of Thrones dies, and I hate shoe shopping. While these truisms each have some exceptions (maybe not the sun thing, but the Cavs did win another game in the finals last night and Tyrion is still sassing everyone in Meereen), it’s the last of this short list that I hadn’t foreseen changing. For those of us who fall outside ‘average sizing’ shopping for apparel just isn’t a fun time, and as a rule custom-made just means throwing down more money.
A few months ago, staff writer Clare and I were lucky enough to see a preview pair of shoes that held a lot of promise. As Feetz prepared for the launch of its first commercially-available shoes with the Feetz 100, a sample pair landed on my doorstep looking just as hoped: as a somewhat standard-looking pair of wearable shoes. As Clare showed off on her sample-sized feet, they were also fully functional and (gasp!) comfortable. It’s not that I was jealous, exactly, watching her strut her stuff in them… but I wanted my turn, too! And not so very long afterward, I got it. I signed on for the Feetz 100, and so it was that in mid-March a pair of custom shoes made just for my feet(z) showed up.
Looking back now, it all seems very easy, but there were some steps involved in the process. First, I had to scan my feet using the Feetz app. I’m not among the iCrowd, and the Android app did have a few small issues when I tried to do the three scans required for each foot. The nice thing about startups and smaller businesses, though, especially those with a pre-launch event like the Feetz 100 that are directly looking for feedback, is that they are incredibly receptive; I emailed in that I was having problems with the app, and within 30 minutes had received a response. Within about a day, a bug had been diagnosed and the app was updated — and this time it worked perfectly. The only difficulty I had then in getting the three scans (one on each side of the foot and one from above, all over a plain piece of 8.5″ x 11″ printer paper) was keeping my cats out of the frame. Once I had cat-less images, I concluded the scanning efforts and filled out a short questionnaire for the Feetz 100 — tellingly, one question on it was about my current favorite pair of shoes, so the team could see what already worked. Checking to see what mine were, I could see that I’ve worn them so much there was no label inside anymore, which I took as a good sign for it being high time to invest in a new pair of casual flats!
I sent my scans and questionnaire in on February 26th, and my shoes arrived on March 11th. I couldn’t immediately wear them, though, as on my recent trip to London I had developed a series of water blisters from overzealous urban walking in, apparently, the wrong shoes. I had big plans for these shoes, though, and was looking forward to wearing them around town — both mine and the Big Apple, where I wanted to wear my 3D printed shoes to Inside 3D Printing NYC.
A few days later, trying them out in the world on my somewhat-healed feet, I wrote back to Feetz to ask a question about fit. Again, the small business model shined through for me here with Feetz, as I shortly thereafter ended up on a phone call with Founder and CEO Lucy Beard, who asked all the right questions about my shoes, my feet, my experiences, and what I actually wanted out of my shoes. It turns out I’d gotten hold of Feetz again at a strange time, as the entire company was packing up and moving operations from Chattanooga, TN out to Silicon Valley, joining the 3D printing scene in California in hopes of finding the right environment for a tech startup in terms of talent and capital availability. Because it turned out that a few tweaks to my custom design would enhance the fit and feeling for me of my shoes, the Feetz team was eager to ensure that I had the shoes done right — because what’s the point of custom shoes if they’re not exactly right?
I found out later that the team actually unpacked a 3D printer from the boxes ready to go out west and made my new shoes that night. The next day, they were at my doorstep, and included a return label so I could send back the first pair to be recycled — with material waste so profound in today’s world, it’s beyond refreshing to see a company actually using previously made creations to live a second life through reuse. This was the same fate that met the sample pair Clare and I had seen in February, as Feetz recycles shoes for materials and/or testing as they continually work to discover the best way to run the business and design functional shoes.
I was able to wear my custom-made pair of Feetz at Inside 3D Printing NYC just a couple weeks ago, which was their first major walkabout testing. I’d worn them around town, including to my best friend’s birthday celebration and running errands, but New York was their big test: how would these 3D printed shoes hold up to fast-paced life in the big city? My hotel was about a mile’s walk from the Javits Convention Center, and then there was the conference itself to walk around, followed by navigating a couple airports on my way home.
Any trip to the city will require various forms of transportation; walking, running, jumping (over puddles, mostly), people movers, sitting comfortably in various places (conference chairs, restaurant tables, airport bar stools, cabs/limos, airplanes), and more: so how do Feetz fare?
Feetz shoes feature a really stellar insole that I’m going to use lightly hyperbolic language to describe, because having arch support in women’s flats is that out of this world. The insoles are the right kind of squish, offering support and give with each step. Learning in London how susceptible my feet apparently are to nasty blistering with heavy-duty city walking, I was a little apprehensive of heavy walking in another urban center — needlessly, as it turns out. Zero blistering, on either the bottoms or backs of my shoes.
The heel area cradles the backs of my feet nicely, with a little curve that follows the shape of my foot. The toe box — which was what had been reshaped in my iterations of shoes — was much more comfortable in this version. The only surprise I had was that, as the day I wore them in NYC was a rainy one, the material used on the bottom of the shoes squeaks a bit when walking inside on dry tile after having been out in puddles. I only got a few surprised looks squeaking through the Javits; it wasn’t a bad squeak, but was audible (and a little duck-like). To me, that was the only clear indicator that these shoes were, indeed, 3D printed; while the materials used have certainly been holding up to weather and (thus far) light wear, that sound was unambiguously plastic-y. Otherwise, all was smooth in this outing; I was even reminded that flats are the best choice for airport wear, as getting through security was pretty speedy with pull-on shoes.
I had been excited about Feetz since we first heard about them here at 3DPrint.com back in 2014. As more details and plans were released, funding raised, and then the Feetz 100 announced, my excitement just kept building. Now, owning my own pair of custom shoes and knowing that Feetz is moving onward and upward (and westward!) I am definitely both impressed by and thrilled to see where this company will go next. We’ll certainly be staying tuned to Feetz as Silicon Valley welcomes the latest in 3D printing and footwear, as big things are afoot* and the company keeps striding* forward, one step* at a time. In the future, Feetz will be offering more designs for women as well as opening availability of men’s styles. What are your thoughts on 3D printed shoes? Discuss in the Feetz 3D Printed Shoes forum over at 3DPB.com.
*Puns intended.[All photos taken by Sarah Goehrke]