When Tech & Fashion Collide – How Feetz Is Using 3D Printers To Make On Demand, Customizable Shoes In Hours
Posted on October 21, 2017 by Tara McCollum
Feetz Founder Lucy Beard presenting with Andy Dunn, the founder of Bonobos.
“Imagine a world where you never have to try on a pair of shoes again, where you just had a shoe when you needed it, it was made for you, once you were done with it, you shipped it, re-made it and turned it into something else,” said Lucy Beard, founder and self proclaimed “chief cobbler” of Feetz, a company that specializes in customized 3D printed shoes. “You didn’t have to have 50 pairs of shoes all the time; you didn’t have to go to stores … If everything was in this digital closet, and it was just made for you, so much world of opportunity is there and Feetz allows you to do that because we can make it on demand and we have your size.”
Creating these shoes of the future was never in Beard’s life plans. As a former mathematician, a career in fashion was never on the radar until one day she just could not find a single pair of shoes that fit her right.
“I just went shoe shopping one day and it was that simple thing of trying to find a pair of shoes that fit,” explained Beard, “I walked out of the store after an hour just like ugh, I can’t find anything and next door was a coffee store, so I walked into the coffee store, and I ordered a double mocha shot, extra hot, and I just saw that 87,000 combinations of coffee could be made from one little machine in a coffee store, and yet next door, hundreds and thousands of shoes and I couldn’t find anything that fits. I was like, hold on, why is my coffee more custom than my shoes? And that was like that little moment of the customer problem and I opened up this magazine and it showed 3D printing, matched customization and I was like oh hold on, can I not just use a 3D printer to just make a shoe and it can make any size, and it can be my dream, my color, my style, what I want — and all those things came together in the space of like 24 hours and then off I started.”
Just as she said, within 24 hours, Beard was off and running. She received an e-mail about a fashion starter weekend and thought, if anything, it would be a great way to meet interesting people and see what she could learn from it.
“I spent 48 hours and I pitched this idea and I had never seen a 3D printer, I’d never heard of one before, my background is I’m an actuary mathematician, so I’ve never physically made things in my life, I’m definitely not an artist or a fashion person and I just stood up and said hey, is this a problem for anyone else? Suddenly everyone stood up and came over and said, ‘I want to work on this with you all weekend’ and just ‘we think this is a problem, too’. And after 48 hours we pitched, and this woman came up to me and said, ‘Do you want to make this a real business, because I run this accelerator program that teaches you how to be an entrepreneur and actually how to start a business.’ That was called the Sanders Institute and that’s what happened.”
Diving head first into the one-night-a-week, four-month program at the Founders Institute, Beard was on a fast track to what would quickly become Feetz. She made a business plan, made prototypes and even looked for people to hire on.
“Watching ta 3D printer is just like – it’s serene in terms of it just goes back and forth, you just watch this little machine and it just makes this ‘brrr’ noise,” recalled Beard, “It takes hours, but your first print when it comes off, you look at it and you’re so proud, like a mom, you’re like, ‘My God! I made that!’ It might be the ugliest thing in the world, but you made it and that sense of creation we’ve lost in society because we don’t really make anything anymore, besides little humans, and I realized how important that all still was for society. We are a consumer organization that we just buy stuff and when we’re done with it we just throw it away. And we don’t really appreciate the time or the process of how something has to get made. And that pained me over time where I started to learn how shoes are made and I was like whoa! Fashion is the 3rd largest polluter to the environment.”
With a now, first-hand view and new appreciation of just how much it takes to create something, Beard was revamping her mission. She was not only out to solve the problem of ill-fitting shoes, but she was going to do it in a way that helped the environment and made a difference.
“The story started like a year before this business started. I took a trip and I went up to Alaska. I quit my job, bought an RV, just started driving and said, whoa, where are you going to drive? Let’s go all the way to Alaska! And I got to see and drive up to these amazing things like the glaciers and seeing the gold mining that was done for the past 150 years and seeing bears and the salmon and just raw nature in this huge variety. And I saw how much that we had changed the landscape and the environment in the last 200 years, which is equivalent to what we’ve done in the last 20,000 [years] and just, when you see something like that, like a glacier and how much it’s eroded, you realize how much a human being in one lifespan can have an impact on the world we live in,” said Beard, “and it just makes you step back and go, if you’re going to spend your time doing something and making the world a better place, I want to leave the world a better place when I leave than when I joined it.”
Four years out from her first class at the Founders Institute, Beard, now teaching classes there herself, with Feetz, employs a staff of just under 20 people, has sold thousands of shoes and is the world’s biggest 3D footwear company, with the ability to make hundreds of shoes a week, all customized. They’ve partnered with the shoe heavy-weight, DSW and are launching a collaboration with former Project Runway winner, Seth Aaron, later this month, revealing what Beard promises to be “amazing designs.”
But just how does the shoe of the future come to be? Well, with an app of course.
“So a customer will download an app, it’s called, Feetz, and they can take three photos of their feet on a white sheet of paper, and we know how big a sheet of paper is right? So we know how big your foot is. Right there on your phone, within 60 seconds you’ll see a 3D model generated of your feet and will give your exact size and length,” explained Beard, “ You actually walk away saying, ‘that’s my feet!’ with all the little details on it — it looks pretty, we promise. And then from there you can then press OK and say I want to design my own shoe, so we have about eight different styles right now from heels, to slides, to casual day to day wear to walking shoes and we have more coming out all the time, including Project Runway winner, Seth Aaron, he is launching his brand new collection, the world’s first designer collection for 3D printer footwear. We’re very excited about that launching. So you decide, I want this shoe, I want to choose this color — you press ‘buy” and we will send you your shoe in three weeks.”
And while this is a brand new take on shoe fashion, even a new skill set in technology, Beard is confident that it will just keep growing.
“The world of design is evolving,” said Beard, “because there are not many people who can design in 3D for footwear. There are 3D designers and there are footwear designers but there are not 3D footwear designers because it’s a new kind of skill set. Also with new technology, think of the first version of your iPhone like what apps, for example, were [available] then versus what apps you have now … it’s the same thing with 3D printing because it’s evolving. Compared to last year we have eight styles versus one, next year it will be twenty styles. Now we’ve got crazy high heels and boots and flats and it’s just — it’s evolving. But technology is always interesting, like what can you push it’s limits to?”
While Beard continues to work on expanding her library of designs and adding new distributors, expanding into European and Asian retailers, her ultimate goal is the “closet in the cloud.”
“The industry makes 20 billion pairs of shoes a year, and we’re like are you serious? That’s a lot of shoes. In the U.S. alone we throw away 200 million pairs of shoes every year. There are like 300 million people in the U.S. and yet 200 million shoes every year have been thrown away, well what’s happening to those shoes?” asked Beard, “It’s a massive opportunity there for us, to do that, — you shouldn’t have to buy a shoe in a box. You shouldn’t have to try on a pair of shoes again, you should feel confident that when you get a pair of shoes they’re made just for you, and the styles and the colors and the fit is unique to you. There’s so much room in there.”
Beard’s future is coming soon. For $25 a month, customers can sign up for the upcoming Feetz Closet in the Cloud, where customized shoes on demand, up to six per year, will be available at the swipe of a smartphone. In keeping with the Feetz mission to make sustainable footwear that reduces carbon footprints by using recycled and recyclable materials, the program works by choosing a pair of shoes to keep and wear for as long as you like, then returning them to be recycled when choosing your next pair.
While most companies once they start to gain serious ground and attention often like to veer off into different areas of interest and create a larger variety of products, Beard is, for the most part, sticking to shoes and is excited to see what technology will allow her to do next.
“There are 7 billion people on the planet, so there are a lot of shoes to make,” affirmed Beard.
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