Not Yet Styled

LESSON: If a test does not exist but a brand needs it, Heeluxe can create it.

Durability with shoes is a tough subject. The customer’s expectation of how long a shoe should last will depend on the style of shoe and the activity: a contractor will want a shoe that holds up for a year of on the job stresses while a runner may only expect their shoe to last 3 months.  What remains constant is that a customer is never happy when the shoe fails faster than they expect it to.

In 2013 one of Heeluxe’s brand partners contacted us with a big durability problem: their top selling shoe began developing a loud squeak after 2-3 months of wear causing huge returns from unhappy customers. This shoe passed every machine based durability test with flying colors so why did it fail so fast in the real world? The brand was almost as upset as their customers. The factory was convinced they found the problem in an adhesive that was being used. But since the first adhesive passed all machine tests, there was no way to tell that this change fixed the problem. The brand did not want to wait 3 months to see if the product failed in the “real world” so they contacted Heeluxe to help solve the problem.

In communication with the brand we came to the same conclusion: the current machine tests did a terrible job of replicating the real world stresses placed on shoes. Heeluxe developed an action plan to help this brand’s current shoe issue and address the need for a new, more accurate durability testing machine. To address the current problem, the brand sent Heeluxe samples that had been returned due to squeaking. The team of scientists at Heeluxe analyzed every part of each shoe to determine where the noise was coming from. The problem was not in the adhesives but in a small gap between 2 pieces of the shoe. The gap would get slightly larger with use and allow a small bit of water into the shoe, creating the sound. The solution was to modify the shoe mold, not to use a new adhesive.

Concurrently, Heeluxe’s special projects team set out to create a new durability machine. We wanted to create a set of legs that never got tired, allowing us to simulate everything about human gait without an actual human that gets tired. After multiple failed attempts (we have divots in our concrete to prove it) Heeluxe developed the Time Machine durability test. This simple and effective machine accurately simulated human walking and running so well that it replicate a year’s worth of walking in just 4 days or 150 miles of running in 3 days. Mission Accomplished!

In its first 2 years of use the Time Machine took over 10 million steps. It has been used to confirm the durability of work boots, kid’s shoes, sandals, running shoes, hiking boots, walking shoes, clogs, and even high heels! The Time Machine is a great example of Heeluxe’s dedication to helping the footwear brands make better footwear for their customers.

LESSON: Heeluxe is committed to innovating tools that make shoes better.

The footwear industry has spent over 100 years guessing how to make production shoes fit as good as a custom made shoe. In the 1920’s X-rays were used in department stores to blast people’s feet with radiation to see if our bones were being compressed in a shoe. This technology was so dangerous to our bodies that it was outlawed years later.  In 1925 Charles Brannock created the “Brannock Device” to measure the length and width of our foot to get us into the proper size. This simple machine is still used in shoe stores today and it does a decent job providing a simple shoe measurement. But the Brannock device, nor any other device available in 2014, could quantify how well a shoe fit.

Since Heeluxe started in 2010, footwear brands have been asking for a better way to quantify shoe fit. They knew that asking for people’s verbal or written feedback on how well a shoe fit was not accurate or consistent—there has to be a better way. This idea stayed with the Heeluxe team for years. How could we accurately measure fit inside a shoe? The eureka moment came in Fall 2014 when Heeluxe was called to help make a custom shoe for an NBA All Star. Our current sensors for measuring the cushioning a shoe did not fit his size 19US shoes. We asked our sensor partner for a new “net” of pressure sensors that we could apply anywhere to the bottom of his huge feet. While flying home from that productive day of testing it donned on Dr. Gray, “What is limiting us from using these sensors in places other than the bottom of the foot? The sensors give great data there, let’s try putting them on top of the foot.” The Heeluxe team sprang into action. Every day for 3 months they experimented with our new upper fit sensors. We had to identify the key areas for fit, when a shoe too tight or too lose, and how different activities change shoe fit. With open minds and unmatched determination we quantified shoe fit.

The shoe brands were ecstatic to learn about our upper fit technology. They instantly began requesting this system to analyze the fit of every one of their shoes. This system confirmed what we knew about different shoe brands having different fits. What we did not expect is how different models from one brand will fit dramatically different which makes it difficult for a consumer to stay loyal to the brand. In the new paradigm of online shopping for shoes we find that shoe fit is the #1 indicator of how someone will review a shoe online: too tight in a key area and the Zappos score goes way down.

Shoe fit is now the most requested measurement in Heeluxe’s testing array. We’ve created our own sensor systems, including the Mach 5 sensor sock, which allow us to get fit measurements on anyone, anywhere in the world.

Lesson: New technologies are easier to validate and implement with Heeluxe on your side

New technologies are important to making better footwear. One exciting new development in footwear is 3D printing. The promises of 3D printing include customization of footwear (Heeluxe approves!), reducing waste in the production of shoes (Heeluxe approves!), and creating new types of shoes that could not be done with current methods (Heeluxe approves!).

Bringing a truly customized 3D printed shoe to market is no easy task. In 2015 Heeluxe began a partnership with a major international footwear brand to help them bring a new 3D printing technology to market. We knew that the project would take 3-5 years to commercialize. Heeluxe worked with the brand to set up a development timeline. We traveled the world to work with other partners to ensure that phase of development was successful and completed on time. Heeluxe’s 2 week testing standard helped keep the project on track and created measurable goals for each phase of development.

The first version of this new 3D printed technology launched in 2018, the earliest conceivable date we made when this partnership started. This new footwear provides a more comfortable experience for the wearer, uses less material to create a completed shoe, and lasts longer than a shoe made with standard constructions.

If you need to develop a new technology, whether it takes 3 months or 3 years, Heeluxe is ready to help you succeed.

Lesson: Heeluxe’s goal is to help make better shoes, it doesn’t matter if we are helping the biggest brand in the world or a small start-up.

All footwear brands benefit from independent, on-body testing. That’s been Heeluxe’s belief since we started. One day in the early years of Heeluxe we heard about a crazy new running shoe design. The brand was just starting out but developed a loyal following amongst a certain population of runners. Their shoes were not high on style so we knew there had to be something about the performance of the shoe. We reached out to the brand and they were excited to have access to world class testing to prove that their product worked. Our initial study turned into an ongoing relationship where we helped the brand identify their “secret sauce” that made customers fall in love with their product, find ways to grow their product line to appeal to new customers, and have performance data on their product to help them compete with the “big dogs”.

This relationship has been a dream for Heeluxe. Not only did the brand experience rapid growth and expansion, they continue to trust Heeluxe as a testing resource and partner for almost a decade. They’ve encouraged us to push our testing technology so that we can analyze runners outside while we encouraged them to have a consistent performance standard that their customers trust. This is a win/win partnership.

Heeluxe likes to create long lasting partnerships with every brand we work with, big or small. If you are looking to make better footwear, we look forward to creating a relationship with you.