This article was created to encapsulate my 4 years of research related to the development and innovations of the footwear industry. I want to encapsulate with images and personal reflections what I have found, studied and understood also thanks to the research process done for @iHeel.
I will divide my research into 4 articles:
4) heels and engineering, the new horizons
Since I approached the world of footwear thanks to the work we do every day with @iheel, I realized how much the market tastes and the creative and commercial development of this sector have largely evolved. When I talk about "evolution" I am referring to both the needs of the end consumer and the new engineering applications that are happening a lot on both sneakers (for the most part) and heels. This will be the new frontier of footwear in my opinion: applied engineering.
The history of the footwear industry has gone from the long tradition of bespoke production to the mechanization of craftsmanship, and today both challenges and opportunities are dictated by automated manufacturing and 3D printing.
After illustrating the evolution of heeled footwear up to 2016, today we're going to look at all the structural innovations that have come out of 2012 to the present. With structural innovation we mean all those inventions born to solve the problem related to the uncomfortableness of heels.
In this sense we divide these inventions into 2 categories:
-the first ones concern footwear with new structural upgrades of which among other things iHeel is part.
-the second instead, technologies (or nano technologies) applicable on the inner soles of high heels to make them more comfortable
We'll see where the state of the art stands, how the mix between footwear and engineering is innovating the industry and the impact these products are having on the end consumer.
(As in previous chapters we will use an iconographic communicative approach.)
Introduction to the theme
A few days ago I was talking to the director of the Bata Museum in Canada and she agreed with me that today, the heel market must succeed in winning a not so superfluous challenge, to stay in step with the sneakers universe and evolve to meet the needs of the modern consumer.
Starting with the basics, we should ask ourselves, "So how does the average consumer behave during their typical day? "
The image is silent.
What do you see?
We might assume a computer bag and work materials, wobbly heels and therefore uncomfortable, spare bag? Does that add up? Who hasn't had a similar situation happen to them? (This image was taken a few days ago in Milan, February 2022).
Precisely in order to escape these situations of absolute discomfort and anti-practicality, after numerous market researches and analysis of the competition, we can safely declare that modern women, (and more and more the future generations), are tired of suffering to appear and for this reason they are no longer willing to suffer to wear a pair of heels in everyday life (both for work and personal needs). The heel is perceived as a special occasion, a special evening, an event and also a personal whim or passion.
This is a fundamental premise to understand what we are about to see now, and for those who, like iHeel, are involved in truly doing innovation and research, it leaves me perplexed on a daily basis. I can't believe that big footwear companies don't realize some obvious latent questions that represent an immense business opportunity for those who will be able to grasp them first.
Heels with new structural upgrades
The first inventions we will see are based on the concept of "transformable" footwear, you may have heard a lot about it.
These are shoes that, within their factory production process, have engineering mechanisms that allow the heels to be removed and changed with others of various sizes and shapes.
These solutions have certainly been a first approach to the problem, they have shown the big brands the existence of a very important issue for women but they are technically not very advanced solutions, a bit "cumbersome" for the end user, not very hygienic and ultimately not very scalable in terms of production.
We will now explain why.
I want to make it clear that I love the work that all of these companies are doing to bring innovation to the industry, we've all espoused the same cause. The purpose of this analysis is just to highlight the differences in the different technologies without discrediting them in any way.
Let's see some of them first
these solutions are the most common.
As mentioned before, the heel is engineered such that it can be easily changed and replaced with one of other sizes and shapes.
This process often forces the user to touch the heel with their hands (look at the images) , sometimes removing the shoe to change the heel and carrying the heel replacement in their bag....
We have to remember that building a shoe is no joke, people's health is at stake, the sole of the foot must meet high standards of comfort.
To address a very technical aspect, the toe of the shoe, should not point up when the fit is low.
It's not an easy aspect to solve as we can imagine: the concept of changing heels is still fun and definitely to be appreciated since you are trying to solve such an important problem for women, but you have to understand every detail and these are quite obvious shortcomings.
Moreover, we come from Italy, the home of luxury footwear Made in Italy, we have worked for years with these great companies and product technicians of excellence, all we have absorbed is the attention to detail during the fitting tests (especially since we are working on a concept completely cutting edge and extremely problematic from a technical point of view).
To conclude, all these features make this kind of inventions extremely limiting both from the production point of view and from the user experience point of view.
On the other hand, people today ask, "what shoes should I bring as a spare today?", how is this different from, "what heel should I bring as a spare?".
There is not much difference between the two statements.
Why are they lacking on the production side?
As seen above, the problem related to heels is extremely felt and important to millions of women. The industry could use a boost in innovation starting with a process that can easily be increased in the current supply chain.
How can engineered insoles become a production standard on a global scale?
Second tipe: RETRACTABLE HEELS
In this case the heel can be reinserted below the sole by hand, and here we return to the issue of the hygienic limits of these solutions.
However, we must appreciate the fact that they are compact solutions, in which the user does not have to remove and put anything on, but only lower the heel.
This in my opinion is an added value. From an aesthetic point of view, perhaps we find further limits because the technology makes everything too aesthetically "engineering".
Innovation should create value without hiding, these solutions try to hide it and therefore remain penalized.
Unlike other companies, iHeel is not a shoe brand but a process technology applicable to all shoes.
What does that mean?
That all brands or manufacturers can apply it to their shoe collections without altering their current production process in any way.
In 3 years of research and development, iHeel, together with one of the most important Italian research centers founded by major luxury brands (Casadei, Sergio Rossi, Zanotti, Pollini ..) in the "Shoes Valley" San Mauro Pascoli, has found a way to make the heel and the shape of any woman's shoe, two mobile elements and no longer fixed.
This allows the heel to move on 3 heights (from 5cm to 7cm and from 7cm to 9cm) with a simple click in less than a second, without touching the sole underneath with the hands, and to the shoe's fit to adapt to this height change. The outer part of the heel is customizable in both shape and texture, the changes do not affect the structural part.
The iHeel technology at the moment is for day heels but in the future we will come to develop much finer stilettos as well.
For the industry this stuff is astronomy, everyone had told us to be impossible to achieve from day one but we went ahead anyway and we succeeded.
This means that all those brands that are looking for a new glimmer of business and creativity can give light to a revolution and bring the industry to step 4.0, finally giving life to new product alternatives.
If you want to know more about please visit www.iheel.it
For the second category of products, we look at innovations on the insoles to try to make the jeweled evening shoes, the 12 heel, more comfortable.
All these innovations work on the arch of very high heels, trying to alleviate the pain they cause at certain points of foot support and trying to give the user a comfort comparable to sneakers.
These are all patented solutions currently on the market..
Personally I continue to appreciate even this type of inventions, everything that has been invented serves to solve a very serious and important problem for all women and anyone who espouses this cause so complex is already a hero.
Here some pictures
Here for now is the conclusion of what I wanted to share with you.
I wanted to make a broad and complete picture, starting from the history of heels, up to the innovations of the industry, with a brief parenthesis of comparison with the world of sneakers.
I hope that all this can be of inspiration to the companies that will read these lines.
We must create the future today, what are you waiting for?
We have a great opportunity and that is to finally create new products, functional and smart. In the phone industry at the time came Apple, in the heels industry the union of iHeel with a big name will create the revolution of the industry in the new millennium.
Founder/Ceo iHeel Technology