Many brands and customers are wondering if 3D printed shoes will really exist following the shutdown of multiple high-profile 3D printing factories. Customization of shoes using 3D printed parts is possible and can provide an elevated experience to the customer. In this post Heeluxe shares the keys to a successful 3D printed shoe.
Between 2015-2018 Heeluxe partnered with a global footwear brand with the goal of producing a customized 3D printed shoe. This shoe has now been on the market for 2 years and continues to gain popularity in Europe and Japan. During this same time frame many footwear brands attempted to produce 3D printed footwear (complete with high profile marketing campaigns) and many failed to make a single retail product let alone a success. Here’s what made Heeluxe’s collaboration successful:
- Reasonable time frame to launch: On the first call with this client they made 2 things clear: that they were mentally and fiscally committed to this project and that their timeline was 3-5 years to launch the product to market. That timeline sounded crazy to the Heeluxe team since we typically work on 2 week long projects! The brand’s understanding of the long development timeline from the beginning set everyone’s expectations that this was a long project with many ups and downs along the way. This timeline allowed everyone to focus on the end date and budget accordingly. Lack of a reasonable timeline is the #1 problem we see in failed 3D printed footwear.
- Partner with Experts: The brand we worked with has many brilliant people on their staff…that are experts in the current way of producing shoes. In order to produce shoes in a new way, they partnered with experts in many fields: sensor development, wearable technology, 3D printers, and (Heeluxe’s specialty) shoe comfort. The experts and the brand collaborated well and met 1-2 times per year in person to produce rapid improvements. Had this brand attempted to make a shoe only using their in-house team the project would have failed.
- Identify How 3D Printing will produce a Unique or Improved Experience: The first 6 months of this project were spent identifying the shortcomings of shoes produced in the current way. Much of this testing took place at Heeluxe. While there were many areas of opportunity, the brand wisely selected 2 areas that they wanted their 3D printed shoe to outperform a standard shoe. Focusing on 2 areas allowed for massive improvement, while the other aspects of the shoe were the same as a normal production shoe.
- Validate with Multiple Variations of 3D Printed Shoe: When the first 3D printed shoes were available for testing, many versions were created each with a single small variation. Eventually we had 26 different versions! These versions were tested on many groups of testers to identify which customer had the most benefit from each version. The number of production versions are much fewer but still allows for a premium experience for the customer.
- Roll Out Slow and Plan for Growth: While selling lots of shoes in year 1 sounds great (especially to the financial arm of your business…) it is not reasonable with a new technology like 3D printed shoes. This product is experiencing success because of reasonable year one goals that were realized in practice. There was a plan in place for years 2 and 3 as well, which allowed for slow increase in purchase of expensive equipment (like the 3D printers!), training retail staff, creating demand with marketing, and fixing small issues that came up along the way.
Are you working on a 3D printed shoe? Contact [email protected] to share your story and learn more about how we can work together.