Today, we are super excited to interview Lucy Beard about Feetz Custom 3D Printed Shoes. We had the opportunity to hear Lucy speak in San Diego at the Inside 3D Printing conference last December. We were really impressed, and went up to her after her talk to ask if she would be a guest on the show. She was more than happy to do it.
She was also requested by Eduardo Martini via Facebook, who saw the online promo video for their shoes and suggested her as a guest. We’ve been looking for female CEOs in the 3D printing world. She certainly is one. What I really loved about her, which is why I was so eager to get her on the show, is that she’s meticulous and has analyzed and researched every single aspect of their business and how they’re touching it and how 3D printing works and everything about it. I just loved that absolute immersion in it.
Let’s set up Lucy for our audience here. Lucy is a mathematician and actuary who grew to love customers more than numbers during her years working as an executive in Silicon Valley. Here’s a real numbers person, numbers driven. After interviewing her, I am so impressed with what she’s done, being such a numbers person, because she’s had to take some risks here in building this company, Feetz, to what it is today. I’ll let her tell the story of how she got into it and what her flash of genius was to start this company. I think it’s just really important for you to understand, she was a corporate person in corporate America.
She’s building a big brand, and this is a big company. It is also a technology platform for making shoes. You know what, there’s so much to talk about. I think it’s best if our audience hears her interview first. Let’s do that and then we’ll talk more on the other side.
Listen to the podcast here:
Feetz Custom 3D Printed Shoes, with Lucy Beard
Lucy, I’m so excited to have you on the show today.
Hi. How’s it going?
It’s good. Shoes are my favorite subject and design of shoes are my favorite subject. Before we get into that, let’s talk about how you started with Feetz Custom 3D Printed Shoes.
I know. It’s just one of those things of like, what was moment? For me, it’s a simple problem. I went shoe shopping and I tried on like eight or ten pairs of shoes, just simple flats, and I couldn’t find anything that fit. I walked out of that store frustrated and said, “Come on, I just want a simple pair.” I walked to the store next door, which was Starbucks. I walked in and said, “I’ll have a double mocha shot, extra hot, soy milk.” Next thing I knew I watched 87,000 combinations of coffee being made for me right there from two little machines. It was that light bulb moment when I said, “Why is my coffee more customizable than my shoes?”
I love that a-ha, that flash of genius that you just had.
It really was. It was like you’d see in a cartoon, you see this light bulb that happens up. The third part of that, there was these magazines on a table so I lift one up and it’s like the greatest technologies for the next 20 years. I opened a page and there was this MakerBot. It had maybe a heart organ or something sitting on it. It said, “This is going to change the world.” Underneath it it said, “Mass customization. You can print one of a kind of anything.” That was that third part of, “Whoa, my coffee is more custom than my shoes. Here is a machine that might actually be able to do it.”
Had you had experience with 3D printing before that?
No, I’m a mathematician. I’ve never physically touched anything. I don’t come from a fashion background. For me, it was like, I am a customer, I have a problem and I want to solve it.
I love it. I love how those things converged. You were meant to do this.
I was meant to do this. I was just bull headed enough to say no.
I love it. How long ago was that, Lucy? I’m curious.
That little moment was October 2013 where I sat in that coffee shop and said, “You know what, maybe there’s a different way.” I didn’t think of it like it was going to be this business or we were going to be a great source like DSW who have thousands of customers. I was just like, “I am a customer. I have a problem. This seems like there is a solution, nobody else is doing it or maybe someone else is doing it, but let me find out if I’m the only one with this problem.” I found out I wasn’t. It grew over six to eight months of becoming a real business.
Wow. Had you been an entrepreneur and started companies in the past or was this your drive to solve this problem that you started to figure out how to do such a thing?
No, I’m a big company gal all the way. I’ve worked in big corporations and had lovely IT functions and people help you and not worry about where the next paycheck’s coming or nice bonuses, not having to do a startup where it’s a completely different world. I did always know that I wanted to do something that was more material. As you get older, you just reflect on what are you doing with your life. I had this moment where I said, “I want to leave the world in a better place than when I joined it.” It was this journey for me for over a couple of years.
I ended up quitting my job, I got an RV and I traveled the United States, went up to Alaska. I watched beautiful things of nature, like the glaciers, like bears and animals and just seeing things and saying, “This is really what the world is about.” There’s this sense of nature and humans and the world going on after we live. That it’s not just about where I used to come from, which is meetings and data and structure and reports. I said, “Could this element of shoes actually help with that other element of changing the world for the better?” That’s when I learned how shoes are made and how we could change the world in that aspect and of course how 3D printing could all tie into that as well.
We come from this world of such consumer product waste. We get where you’re coming from there because that was really the attraction for us, for 3D printing, was we’ve been doing so many mass market products and it just felt vanilla after a while. It also was just this idea that there was so much that wasn’t getting made that people wanted. It was just the process itself was frustrating. The idea of mass customization, it’s actually what drove us to buying our 3D printer as well. It’s the idea that is what could possibly happen and we needed to figure out the skills and the process by which we could make that happen. We feel like you, exactly. We’ve been approaching it from more of the design side of things obviously because that’s where our experience lies.
That’s a great thing. The challenges, what is a slicer, what is the material, all the wonderful things, like 3D printing. You bump up and you get so excited with and you’re struggling with. That’s part of the community. What I first did was, I went to my local FabLab and I met everyone else who knew what 3D printers were how it was. I learned from the community. That’s how we learn and how we constantly give back. We do sessions, we do meetup groups, we teach what we know as well because we want to make sure that 3D printing is growing as a community. Because just like you said, it’s so powerful as a tool but people have to think about it as a completely different way to how we consume things or make things or design things today.
It’s really interesting because we bump up against that. It’s so true. We want the whole industry to succeed because then we feel that our contribution will be able to be more universally accepted. We’ll be able to make a bigger contribution if the industry starts tipping in, it starts taking off. The biggest area we found as an issue is the retailer, how it sold. You seem to have tapped into that really well with doing these popup shops at DSW. Tell us how that came about.
You got to admit, everyone’s like, “Just sell online.” I’m like, “You know what, over 70% of your shoes that you buy today in the whole market are bought in a physical store.” The key reason for that, mainly footwear but a lot of other products have this too, is you need to touch it, you need to feel it, you need to see what it is going to look like on your body. We couldn’t ignore the fact that we could just sell online of a custom product, we had to find a way into retail. What we found was, in retail, they’re searching for what we can provide, which is, I’ve got a lot of inventory. I don’t know if I’m going to need to sell this, I’m going to have to discount it just to move stock.
On top of that, I can’t serve all my customers because, like me, I walked into that shoe store and I couldn’t find a pair of shoes that fit. What happens? Why am I turning away those people? Because shoes don’t fit? Can you give me something that draws them into this retail?” The final aspect of retailers, what they’re looking for is theater. When you get to see a 3D printer and see it actually moving, the fascination, that first time where you see the layers just gradually take hours and hours to then create whatever it is that you’ve done. It’s such an enormous amount of pride.
When a customer goes into a store and sees something, for us, a shoe being made, they have a whole new appreciation of how things are made in general that opens up what we hope to say is, “You should question how everything is made in the world.” Retail is an obvious opportunity for this. As you noticed, we’ve tried both physical shoe stores, where we have been in DSW, we tried small kiosks where it’s just us and doing popup events and sometimes just being in a van and then of course like conferences and events as well. We’re constantly innovating on what is retail of the future. We’re not the only ones trying to solve that.
We’re actively trying to figure it out as well. What’s really interesting to me though is that what you’re tapping into is something that retailers have expressed for quite a long time, is what they call showroom-ing. People come in and test stuff, check it out, try it, but then they don’t buy it there. They click online to buy it. They buy it on Amazon. This is where retailers are very frustrated. By doing an event, you’re building that loyalty back in, you just gave them a show. Why wouldn’t they want to just buy it here, even if they could go online and get it? Because they’re already there. You’re involving them in the process and you’re giving them something more than they would be getting anywhere else. They can only get that in person.
We want to celebrate how things are made. That story is not just about price shopping because that’s just a whole different thing. You’ve got to create an experience that is un-Amazon-able. If you don’t, any business model you create can just go on there and that’s going to win. Retailers have to fight it. To a customer, they want a story. Remember when we used to shop years ago, for me, I’d go with a couple of girl friends to the mall and we’d try things on and laugh and giggle and things. I don’t think our generations do that today. I know at my age, I’m 38 now, I definitely don’t want to go to the mall ever. Why would I go? I want to have that experience. I want to have something where I’m like, “Wow, I could not have done this online on my mobile phone.” You can’t do that anywhere else.
I would think the retailers are really grasping for remaining relevant in an increasingly dot-com world. I think you’re right, people generally want to try on shoes before they buy them so maybe shoes are a little more immune to this than certain other product lines. We found, because we do a lot of product categories, that that’s the same case in furniture, that you want to sit in your chair before you buy it because you’re going to sit in it all day long. There’s a couple of areas in which that makes sense, but at the end of the day, in furniture, it’s so big that you’d still rather have it shipped to your house so you don’t have to put it in your car and get it home. It has that flip side. They’d still rather buy it online at the end of the day. But shoes are not that big. I want to walk out in those shoes.
They do but there’s also people that don’t. If you start with that model, then you’re right, there’s plenty of other options for you. On top of that, the fact that we make a custom fit shoe, our audience who first come to us struggle to find shoes that fit. They’re like, “Even if I search online, even if I did this other thing, I don’t really find anything anyway. I can go on Amazon and there isn’t anything over a size sixteen.” If you go into Zappos, you’re not going to find a shoe. If you got a really narrow heel compared to your ball to heel ratio, you’re not going to find a flat that fits. Nobody makes it specifically for you. They make seventeen preset sizes and they just try and sell it.
Which is ridiculous amount of waste on top of it. The inventory management nightmare of stocking as many sizes and trying to anticipate where the most sales are going to be. You’ll never run out of some sizes. Because it has a size style connotation that’s happening, certain sizes will play with a certain audience who maybe have smaller feet. You have that dynamic going on, which is very complicated to manage.
You just mentioned you come from design. It limits your design creativity. If you have to say, “I have to be really confident. I’m going to sell this in eighteen months. By the time I’ve designed it, it’s made, it got to the store and I’ve worked out what prediction of trends are there.” You can’t be creative, versus now with 3D printing the design, things that you can do that you can’t do with traditional manufacturing. If somebody wants a bright orange shoe, it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to sell 30,000 of them, you can sell 1000 of them and it’s a success.
That’s fantastic. For instance, my sister has always struggled with shoes because she has to buy two pair of shoes to get one pair that fits because she has one foot significantly larger than the other. Can you tell us a little bit or let our audience understand how it is that you do help them get shoes that are custom fit to them?
We’ve tried to make it as easy as possible. We had to work out, what do you have in your house first? We realize people couldn’t print off all these designs. We said, “Print off a grid and do this and this.” Nobody even has really a printer anymore. What they do have is they have this computer that’s so powerful in their pocket called a smartphone. We said, “How can we use a smartphone to understand the measurements of your feet?” We’re like, “Wow, we’re going to do it.”
We created an app and we used photogrammetry where you take three photos of your feet with a white sheet of paper. We’re like, “Those customers can find a white sheet of paper.” You can’t print on it but you can find white sheet and you take it from three different angles on the right foot and the left foot and you can see the 3D model being generated on your phone right there in under a minute. That’s amazing when you think about how we do custom sizing no matter where you are in the world just like that.
That’s fantastic. How’s the photograph? Is it a piece of paper that’s always 8.5×11 or A4 that you get the size right? How is the scale absolute?
You got it, Tom. That’s the magic. As a mathematician, it’s all about the numbers. We know how big the size of the paper is and then we know what shape we’re looking for, which is the hardest thing in 3D scanning. 3D scanners are great but they don’t know what they’re trying to looking for. If you scan a room or a person, are you trying to measure their waist or their body or the chair behind them or their foot? We have instead built a database of feet and we’ve trained it to actually say it’s looking for a foot. That means that we can get really, really smart about it. If use our app to take pictures of your cat, it’s not going to work. It’s going to be useless. If you do it for your foot, it’s going to be wonderful and it’s going to be within two millimeters of accuracy on your foot dimensions.
Wow, that’s fantastic. That’s amazing. I love it. It’s getting smarter every time you do more. That’s so great. I love that. Your deep dive, and this is what I really was fascinated about when we met you and heard your talk, you really dived in and get your printers and you worked on the materials and you really dived in to refine it to the nth degree. I love that about what you’re doing here. Talk about those challenges that you faced finding the right printers and the materials as well.
I started that journey right in that coffee shop. I saw that little picture, I was like, “Great, I will just buy a MakerBot and all will be well.”
We laugh because we thought the same thing.
Then materials, I’m like, “I just search on this website. They got PLA and all these.” I’m like, “Great. It’ll just work.” That was where the frustration and why it took two long years to get this right, because every time we found one challenge and solved it, we had another one. In terms of printing, we could get a printer that could print something that looked like a shoe but it wasn’t wearable. It’s hard PLA or it’s what the industry uses for prototyping. You could get it to a wonderful Stratasys machine with multi material colors that’s kind of flexible and kind of wearable but it would cost $3000. Then we were like, “We can’t sell that. That’s not going to be good.”
How much variation can you do? We had to first try all these different printers out. Being part of FabLab and talking to the community in the maker fair world really helped us because we got to narrow it down to say, “Now, we understand. Do you need a Z level bed? Do you need a Bowden extruder? What is that? What kind of slicer programs do you use? How much variability do you have?” Then we narrowed it down and now we use a good vendor that we partner with and then we augment those printers to work for us. Because even though we don’t build our own printers, 3D printers are trying to print everything. They’re not a 3D printer for a shoe company, they’re a 3D printer for anyone that wants to make something with 3D printing.
I think you just heard our conversation that we just had on the podcast we recorded right before yours, because that’s exactly the words that came out of Tom’s mouth.
If I’m trying to print furniture like you guys or if I’m trying to print a shoe, it’s very different in terms of the structures I need, the lines I need, the materials I need, the strength and where the strength profile should be. That will be the evolution of 3D printer manufacturers. Will they start making it for specific applications? They’ve just got to make sure there’s enough money for them to succeed and keep growing.
I absolutely agree with you. I think that has to be. I haven’t actually seen any of your shoes being printed. I’m dying to actually tour your facility at some point. I can imagine with shoes, in certain styles of shoes, the unique aspects of something that has maybe a higher heel that isn’t completely flat, you typically have some empty space under there on the sole of the shoe and some pretty high distance. I would imagine you would try to, instead of just printing shoes on a completely flat conventional build plate, like you said for a printer that can make anything, maybe you’ve customized that and don’t have to have any support material because you’re providing a customized service on what you’re building your shoe. I’m making an assumption there. I imagine these are some of the types of customizations of the machine you’re talking about.
It’s our own extruder, it’s our own system for the materials to actually go in. We’ll get to materials in a minute, but this is wet spaghetti were doing. Try and control spaghetti, you can’t because it’s so flexible. You can’t hold it. Then you think about, “What’s the tool path I’m sending this printer on?” Slicers are amazing. They can do so many amazing things but at the same time sometimes they’re just insanely frustrating. If you try and print a square, you’re like, “Oh, it’s just a line, perimeter of the square,” and you see all these straggly bits because they go from corner to corner and all sorts. You’re like, “You’re just wasting all this material in time. Why don’t you just make it so it knows that it needs to do a square in the most efficient tool path?” Again, that goes to the same thing with the printer, these slicers are trying to make everything versus the path or the tool that you’re trying to do yourself.
Once you know what you want to print, it makes it a whole lot easier to customize it for that.
Right. Because we run the perfection route of you become an expert when you do 10,000 of something. We’re like, “Right, we’ve made 10,000 shoes so now we’re the experts at it.” If we just tried to do one of those, one of these and one of these, it wouldn’t work. We’ve optimized the tool path even more so. You think of the upper of the shoe, there’s zero support material on these shoes.
I love it.
You think about the degree and angles that you print at, how frustrated you get when you get to anything, you’re like, “It immediately needs a support structure.” No, we’ve optimized this with the degrees, the angles, the patterns that it’s doing, that there is no loose threads, there’s no straggly components and there’s no support structure. When it comes off of the printer, it is ready to go to be assembled and to be made. Post processing, which is such a huge thing in 3D printing, it’s the thing we don’t talk about much but can seriously take all your time, is something we have perfected because we’ve had to.
You’ve customized the machines to a large degree and you must have employees internal at your company that are coders and helping to refine your own proprietary slicing to achieve this.
Yeah. They are very smart people. I was like, “They’ll be all these people …” but they’re not. They’re these weird and wonderful people. Our team, we call it geek chics because we have people who were from the fashion world who know design and we have people who are NASA scientists and algorithmic PhD mathematicians. Because if that’s what it takes to understand not what it should look like but how it should be made at the same time. We are the geek chic team.
I love it. You’re just making me so jealous, I want to come work for you.
When you walk through, you’ll just notice people that look all fabulous and they’re looking all beautiful. You go in somewhere else and this guy’s got a slobby t-shirt on and is in shorts. They interact and they debate and they discuss throughout the day and they have to learn each other’s language to say, in the end, remember the customer as well. What is it that the customer wants? That’s what we have driven also as a culture, of you can use 3D printing, you can use technology but unless you keep focused on that problem that I initially had, not finding shoes that fit, who are those customers? We give them names. We have their profiles so we talk about them. “Is this person a Zan? Are they a Tiffany? Are they a Charlie? Are they a Faye?” So that we can talk about why we are designing or making or printing something for that person.
Oh my gosh, I love it. You guys have such good practices as a corporation and the diversity is there. I just love it. It’s wonderful. The material, you touched on it a little bit. Didn’t you have to develop your own material because what existed really didn’t fit the bill?
We were like, again, “Here we are. There’s 26 materials on the market, I’ll just press this one.” You would find PLA and then there’s soft PLA. “Soft PLA? That’ll do it.” I’m like, it’s still hard plastic. It’s like, “No. There’ll be a softer one.” I keep finding it and finding it and there’s just nothing there. I instead went back to shoes and I took a bunch of shoes. I ripped them apart, I melted shoes and then luckily I found somebody who was really good with chemistry and materials and said, “Tell me what this is made of.” Research what shoes are made of. Other than saying fabric or leathers, they don’t give you a chemical component of what shoes are made of. Went out and found it and then I said, “Can I derive and make our own materials from this base compound and then turn it into something that is a filament format and then can I print with it?” Of course, you think of all these manufacturers dealing with a startup and they’re saying like, “Our minimum is one ton of the material.” I’m like, “I just kind of want ten pounds.”
We have been there. We’ve been there with that on a color. How hard is it in today’s world to make a small amount of color? It shouldn’t be that difficult.
It’s very, very hard. It’s a whole industry on its own. I can’t say we’ve cracked it. We now have three tons of material.
I’m sure. You’ve had to do what you had to do.
You have to do it. It’s not just us, but the whole 3D printing world. If somebody is listening to the podcast, focus on materials and don’t focus on the hard materials because there’s plenty of people doing that. Nobody is focusing on the soft materials. When you think about all the applications of fashion, which is a multi-trillion dollar industry, people are searching for a new system and they don’t have that. They don’t have fibers and natural man-made leather. They don’t have plastics and rubbers that are soft but also durable or some kind of food components but things that are also good for you for wearables if you start thinking about watch straps or things closer to your body.
This is what I keep saying. I have a textile design degree. I don’t know if you knew that, Lucy. My background is in textiles materials and I worked for one of the biggest and best textile company called Milliken & Company right out of college. Their material science that they devote into researching and engineering this, I can’t believe that no one has come up with something over there yet. It just boggles my mind. I think part of it is that the textile industry is still so entrenched and holding on so tight to the old processing that they can imagine the new yet. I do believe it’s going to happen. I do believe they’re going to move towards it because they have to.
Absolutely. It’s also, the customer doesn’t demand it. Some do. Things are shifting, people are a lot more, the Generation Y loves how things are made, wants to see the whole supply chain, they want to be aware of it. There’s products and companies who are starting to push that now. It is definitely a shift that’s happening. For the most part, especially in footwear, I was aghast when I found this out. I would go to them and say, “We’ll help you 3D print your shoes.” They said, “We outsource all of our R&D and our manufacturing.” I’m like, “What do you mean?” “All we are, are sales and marketing.” “How do you design stuff?” “We draw it on a piece of paper and then we send it to our outsourcer who’s in China or India and they give us a price.” I’m like, “What about choices of materials or other things?” “We can choose from two things and that’s it.” I’m like, “Whoa.”
Welcome to consumer product retail world. It’s crazy. It’s old school computer product retail. Lucy, I’ve been in one of those factories in China that makes sneakers. I understand what they were saying and where they’re coming from. I think that American consumers today, if they really understood what is happening in the sourcing of products that they’re buying at retail, they would have a very different perspective and a much greater respect for a product line like yours that is truly customized for them and they actually have more material options or better materials available to them. Retailers just go to China primarily and shop from one factory to another for products to bring in. There’s very little actual complete design development consideration giving to most consumer products. The companies that spend a fortune on it, like Apple and other places, could do their own, that’s different.
In the general products, the 90% of what you buy out there is like that. They do what we call, which is this idea, is that they’re taking the materials that exists and a cost structure that already exists and they potato head it. That’s exactly the words that we use. Basically, they stick a different set of lips and then eyelashes on it. They say, “This is a new shoe.” That’s not a term we came up with, that’s a term that is in the industry of product development. “Oh no, we don’t have the time or don’t want to spend the money to develop what the ideal product is. We just want to find some different components and put them together and we’ll make something good enough.”
That is such a disappointing situation. It’s really refreshing to learn what you’re doing here. It’s disappointing. Consumers don’t get that. This is why they’re not in love with their shoes. This is why they could care less if the thing fell apart because they’re already have moved on because they didn’t love them. That’s because they really weren’t designed for them or by someone who understands them.
You have nailed on the head of our challenge, it’s the education, it’s the awareness. It’s the reason to actually want a difference, when people to start to understand that. It’s a long game and it’s not just us doing it. It’s all consumerism. It happens in your food. Now organic food is in every single shopping center. You go buy your food, there’s always an organic section. Yet that didn’t exist ten, fifteen years ago. It was very niche, it was just wholefoods. The same thing will happen with your clothes. “I understand this is more sustainably made or where it was made.” The made in America actually means made in America, not just like, “Oh, they sewed on a tag of the whole thing to make it finished.”
Boy, you really have gotten an education in the consumer product world.
It’s very disappointing. Then again, before this, I was that consumer, I just bought my stuff. Fashion is the third world’s largest polluter. Remember, I want to leave the world in a better place than I joined it. I think that’s the responsibility of every human being. We are growing like anything. Seven billion people in this planet, oh my God, we better look after it. In any little tiny way, each of us can contribute. That’s what I’m doing with Feetz. I’m saying, “Look, I found out about how shoes are made. I found out that fashion is a hugely wasteful resource.” I found out that if you go into one of those factories, everyone is wearing a mask, they’re using dangerous chemicals, they’re using fourteen different materials of which only two of them can be recycled.
On top of that, all the inventories. Why can’t we just make what we need when we need it? If you make the product that is better with only a couple materials, we use three, and all of them have either been recycled when they get to us or can be recycled when you’re done with them. On top of that, we take ownership of that. When you’re done with your shoe, you send it back to us and we will take care of it, we will rechip it, remelt it for one component of that or recycle in a different format for the parts that we can’t make another shoe from. That’s the way we’re trying to change business and educate consumers to say, if you want to make a stand, then other businesses and individuals and consumers will start to appreciate that more and that will create a movement across the whole of society.
Fantastic. You mentioned this when we saw you speak last month. You are internally actually testing shoes that are made from other shoes that have been ground up and recycled, isn’t that right?
That’s right. Super scientist. Most things that you have are partly recycled in some formats. We can take the main component of the shoe for the 3D printing audience, that TP rubber plastic aspect. You can remelt it. First, we chip it by putting it through a little hopper chipper, then you remelt it and you put it back through its filament format. The challenges that we always have are, do we strip out the color first, do we add in new colors, what part of the shoe should it become afterwards? We have done it where first our employees and our beta customers are always the ones who are trying up the new things before we even get it properly tested and shipped out to consumers. It’s absolutely possible and we’re doing it.
I love that. It’s fantastic. I can imagine like we see battery recycling bins when you walk into Best Buy. Maybe DSW will have a, “Here, put your old Feetz shoes,” and then you could bulk ship them back to the factory. That’d be pretty cool. It’s incredibly great. This is something that we worked on a lot when I worked at Herman Miller. They thought the same thing. There’s no reason for you not to have multiple materials as needed, but that didn’t mean that that relinquished your responsibility as a manufacturer of that to figure out a way to make it work. You’re taking on that responsibility and that’s wonderful.
Thank you. We’re not alone. We’re trying to create movements. We’ve got plenty to learn but we’re saying, if you’re going to reinvent a whole business, do it for good and not just for profit.
At the end of the day though, shoes are a fashion element. You’ve started really basic here. You said something in your talk that really fascinated me, that you hoped that you would move this into basically letting all kinds of designers and design companies and styling companies and future shoe companies to be able to use your technology and use your process, is that what I heard?
You’re absolutely right. If you asked us, are we trying to be a shoe brand or are we trying to be a technology platform, we’re absolutely trying to be the latter. You’re not going to want to buy every shoe you have from one brand, you don’t. You buy your sportswear from one, you buy your ski boots from another, your dress shoes from another, you casual shoes, your beach shoes from different places. To attempt to say one brand and label should do that, you wouldn’t ever make that happen. Each one creates a persona around what that means with you anyway, we want you to have that relationship with the brands that you know and love. What they don’t know how to do, which goes back to that manufacturing thing we had, they don’t know how to make it in a new way and they have these problems of inventory and sizing and being able to be creative in whole new ways and test new different types of designs. We’re experts in that.
As a customer, that third party, you don’t want to have to go shopping anymore, you just want to know someone that knows you. If we already know your size, remember, we don’t call you a size seven or a size eight, we call you a size me because it’s the only shoe size you should ever know. It’s like, “I’m size me.” We know that about you and then we just say, “Here’s three or four different designs from,” whether it’d be Steve Madden or this small designer in Florida who’s doing something creative and knows you love this e-gaming platform or it’s the latest craze or the Superbowl winner. You can choose which shoe you want and you press buy and then it could be printed directly for you in the size and the preferences that you want. That’s the end goal because that’s really the game changer. The consumer wins, the sustainability wins, the brands win because they get new customers and then we win as a company too. The whole then eco system wins.
I love that. That’s exactly the way we like to see lots of other product categories go in 3D printing in general and where we see on demand consumer products.
Of course it’s hard. You’ve got all these wonderful logistics of, “Who owns this and who owns that and how much money and how does everyone …” If you don’t make a stand and you don’t try, then you’re never going to win, you’re never going to get there in the end. We will always make mistakes. We’re a startup, we’re learning and we walk the industry and we say, “What works well and what doesn’t?” We learn with customers and we’re really open and transparent with them about saying, “You guys are on the first generation of something new.” Think of this as the early version of your cellphone. This is not even really maybe at the iPhone level. 3D printing is nascent consumer products in what it can do.
Maybe it’s Palm Pilot level.
Maybe it’s getting into the Blackberry with the QWERTY keyboard. We’re like, “Whoa, I really get it.” It’s still only for a type of audience, like the business owners. There’s no killer app yet, it’s still like your phone dies half the time, you can’t charge it, Siri doesn’t recognize my voice, it doesn’t order my pizza correctly yet. There’s so much more for 3D printing and customized products to actually deliver upon. We want to make sure the customers embrace that we’re on a journey and that we’re going to fail, but teach us and work with you and we’re all working together. It’s amazing what this future’s going to be.
That’s the exact passion that I really think that this industry needs, voices like yours. Really, what we’re trying to do here at WTFFF as well as just really get that out there because it’s going to require many of us to accomplish this. It’s not just going to be one. Unfortunately, in this industry, it’s not going to be an Apple that’s going to push us that way. It’s going to be all of us that is going to make that happen because there’s so many moving parts here.
Coming from corporate and other industries, I really love the 3D printing community. I think it’s very open, especially the makers. Everyone’s like, “How do you this?” “I don’t know.” “Have you found this or have you heard about this person?” You email somebody. Somebody’s always willing to share something. It’s really cool to be part of a community. Actually, that word doesn’t always mean something, it can be very corporate. This is a true community. We help each other, we find out what works and what doesn’t and we generally don’t try and kill each other. “That’s a crap product.” It’s like, “No, they’ve done this better than this person. How can we all find out how to do it so we can all do it better?”
It’s collaborative community. I love that too. Wow, thank you so much, Lucy. This has been so much fun interviewing you. I’m sure our audience is going to really have enjoyed this interview when they hear it.
Thank you. I’m excited to followup with your sister, Tom. Two sizes, that’s what we do.
You know what, I need to connect her with your company. She struggles with this all the time. We’ll definitely make that happen.
As well as hear more about with your furniture side and your design there.
Feetz Custom 3D Printed Shoes – Final Thoughts
What’s staying with me after that interview so much is Lucy’s passion. She is really the perfect example of what we know about when you go into business and you decide you’re going to leave corporate America and do something completely new, you have to have such focus and passion for what you’re doing. Certainly as she started this, she didn’t know it was all going to work or how it was going to work.
I look at this venture, I would’ve really been nervous and I’m experienced building businesses and doing these things and developing product. I would have been nervous. There’d have been so many moments where you could have balked. I don’t know another way to describe it, except that you would’ve come up against something and you would’ve gone, “Wow, this is daunting. I have to now reinvent materials. I have to now reinvent machines. I have to now reinvent that.” What I really think, to her credit, is she didn’t do it herself. This is the number one thing that we see. It’s great to have passion and excitement about this but so many people think that they can build a company all by themselves.
I think she’s a really great example of a quote that a friend of ours, Aaron Young, recently has said to those of us that follow him, is that, “Winners never quit. Quitters never win.” She clearly had a lot of points at which when you get into, the machines you can buy off the shelf don’t really do exactly what they need it to do. Like she said, they’re made to do anything so they’re not specialized. Or the materials that were available weren’t really there. What did she do? They go and develop new materials, which we’ve done. But it’s not an easy thing to do.
She didn’t do it alone. She didn’t just reinvent all these things. She went out and got the best material scientist she could find. She’s gotten these geek chics as she calls them. That team is why she’s been able to accelerate at the pace that she has. Those that are still sitting back, trying to build these businesses and doing everything are not making it at the speed at which she’s making it. That you can reach critical proof faster when you surround yourself with these experts, both because their expertise keeps you from going down the wrong path so often and they get infected by your passion, which obviously she has in spades. There’s no question about that.
I’m sure it’s taken quite a bit of money. I didn’t want to pry into her business as to how much money they’ve gotten invested in their company, but clearly it has to have been a lot to hire those employees, to buy all those machines, to develop those fabrics, to buy three tons of material that’s custom made for you. This is not a small effort but I do think it is paying off absolutely. For our listeners who are more interested in some of the technical aspects of what they’re doing, I also didn’t want to put her on the spot because I heard her talk about it at Inside 3D Printing. A lot of people asked at that show, “What 3D printers are you using?”
She was really, at the show, very vocal about how they’re printer agnostic. They haven’t married themselves to a particular kind of printer because the technology is moving so fast, number one, but also they’ve had to highly customize what they’re doing. However, I want to satisfy some of the techies out there. I have a suspicion just from some of the photographs of their manufacturing facility that it seems pretty clear to me that the primary machine they’ve been buying is an Airwolf 3D 3D printer, but they’ve customized it so much.
I think especially with the flexible material she talks about, it’s like spaghetti. I know that the Airwolf 3D printers are a Bowden machine that pushes the filament from the very back of the printer over the top and down. You cannot do that with this flexible material. Not do it successfully and consistently and all of these things. No, they have to have customized the filament delivery system and they have to be pulling that material from the extruder and putting it right into there or else they wouldn’t have control.
When you see photographs of their product, they have complete control, like she was saying, no support material. They’ve really highly developed the process. It blows my mind. We have recently been reviewing different slicing softwares for our listeners. Obviously, for the vast majority of us, we’re not going to go develop our own slicer, we need to use an available slicer in the market. Just having the, I almost want to say audacity but I don’t mean it in a negative way. To have the audacity to say, “The slicers aren’t doing exactly what we need them to do. So we’re going to go develop our own.” Most people in business probably would stop at that point and say, “The slicing software isn’t there yet. We’re going to wait.” They’re not going to say, “I’m going to hire people. I’m going to start with what’s been done and I’m going to make it work for our needs.”
Or they might not wait. First off, I don’t think they can get too far into their business but I think they’ll do what we’ve seen happen way too often, is that they’ll try and work in partnership with the slicing company and getting them to do that. It’s like pushing a mountain because they have their own problems and their own issues to solve and yours is not important enough. It takes ten times longer than it’s supposed to. You don’t realize that until you spend months and months trying to get them to solve a problem that you know you could’ve solved yourself with a little bit of smart resourcing. And obviously, the money to be able to pay someone to focus on it for you specifically.
Trying to get other companies like that to do it, I use the analogy, it’s like trying to get the Titanic to turn 90 degrees on a dime. It just doesn’t happen, that’s why it ran into the iceberg. You just can’t make your priorities their priorities. It’s not going to happen. The reality is that, that time lost though, for a numbers person, she has really analyzed the time lost is so much greater than the money spent. If you don’t get it right, you don’t get a lot of extras, you don’t get another shot at it. It’s got to be right.
I think her biggest challenge in the next year, and it’s the one she knows she’s got to solve, is the design side of things because I’m a big, big critic of TOMS shoes. They are the ugliest shoes I’ve ever seen. I would never put a pair on my feet. I would buy them because I like their story. Their mission is very worthy. I would buy them and let’s donate both pairs because I don’t want to wear it. That’s how I feel about it. That sounds harsh, but to me, I feel like TOMS has been around long enough that they should’ve improved by now.
Shoes are a very fashion and personal accessory. I’m proud of my shoes. I’ve had my shoes photographed. I love the shoes that I choose. I’m proud that I find these bargains and I find really cool shoes. They’re not the cheapest shoes, so bargains are relative in the terms of, “I’m not spending Jimmy Choo dollars.” Thank goodness. Under 100 bucks, I’ll buy a pair of shoes. I find them and they’re great and they’re very cool and they look great when I’m on stage. They do all these things. I’ve had a lot of people comment on them.
I wear a lot of black and they’re my one fashion accessory that I wear. A lot of women think of their shoes like this, they think of them as a very personal expression. You get into a point at which you can’t ignore the design and style side of it. I’ll wear my flip flops around the house and maybe to the grocery store, but I’m not going to wear them out in business. When you draw the line at that from a pair shoes, it’s got to tread into, pun intended, tread into the real truly fashion territory. When she can do that, when that happens, when brands who are fashion icons are building on demand shoes, that’s going to be an amazing marketplace. I’m really excited to hear about Lucy’s understanding of that and commitment. We need to get other designers in the fashion industry into creating shoes that we can manufacture. That makes a lot of sense.
The one thing I really want to know is, if you order 3D printed shoes, does that mean you’re going to have shoes you’re more happy with and will have less of them? Because Tracy’s shoe passion becomes my headache of dealing with all these shoes, especially when we move or I’m tripping over them in our closet. She has a ridiculous number of shoes.
The reality is, and this is what happens to many, many people, I think men included, is that you buy a pair of shoes and you think they’re going to be comfortable. You buy them because you want a brown pair, you want a black pair, you want a gray pair, you think they’re cool, you like the style of them, they look good with a suit. For us, they look good with this dress or whatever. The reality is that they all aren’t comfortable. There’s a lot of shoes that are sitting there that I really should get rid of because I’m probably never going to wear them again because they hurt my feet like there’s no tomorrow.
The reality is, if I could consistently guarantee that they were going to fit my feet and feel comfortable at the end of the day, that’s a big, big deal. But style has a lot to do with that. That’s where the risk happens. I could buy the same pair of shoes but by putting a point toe style on it, all of a sudden I created something that pinches my big toe. It could just happen. You still wouldn’t know until you printed it and then wore it and then it didn’t feel comfortable. Getting that through, that style and comfort connection, is a very, very large challenge for shoe designers everywhere, shoe manufacturers everywhere. This is why you buy a size in one shoe it fits you in a six and a half, in another shoe just fits you in a seven. It’s more comfortable in a seven. It happens but you can’t express the connection to it until you put it on your foot. That is still the challenge at the end of the day.
That’s what’s so exciting about Feetz I think, is that they see themselves as a technology platform more than anything else. In the future, many, many different brands and designs of shoes can be made using their technology and then combine the fashion aspect with the function aspect and comfort aspects that you’re talking about. I think you can, in the future, if you have a design you want of their shoes, a new design, they know your size, it’s custom for you and they’re going to make it comfortable and fit you. To me, that’s the best of all.
That tie in between style and comfort all has to do with a whole lot more than just your feet. For instance, how much you weigh, how much forward you lean when you’re talking about heels and other things. There’s a lot of combination of things that are going to go into it and you’re going to find that you’ve printed these shoes but they still aren’t making you happy and they’re still not comfortable enough. That’s an unfortunate part because it’s going to make it seem like the technology is not doing what it’s supposed to be doing and actually the technology has the greatest ability to affect that.
If all of a sudden, I’m getting pinched in my big toe, I feedback that to them, the next print would be better. If you can find a way where you can return exchange and be able to do that without having to re-buy an entire pair of shoes, if there can be a way to do that, then you’ve got something. Today, I can try on a pair of shoes, I can even bring it home, put them on my feet and then return them if they really are that bad. A lot of times, it takes wearing them multiple times before you realize they’re never going to wear in and they’re never going to feel good. It takes you doing that a few times and then it’s too late to return them. On the most part, you would bring them home, you’d be like, “I just made a huge mistake,” and return them. You can’t do that here when you’re printing on demand. That’s a bigger problem. It’s a satisfaction problem at the end of the day. Solving that, maybe there’s a technology solution for it. She’s meticulous. I think if anyone can figure it out, it’s Lucy.
I think this company is a really prime example of a company that didn’t exist prior to 2013 or the seed of the idea didn’t exist prior to 2013. She didn’t understand a lot about 3D printing other than what the average person understands from the articles they’re reading in magazines or online or whatever. She just had the passion to solve a problem. A model in Starbucks decided to, “Why can’t we apply that to shoe sales and the shoe buying process and the manufacturing process?” Then went and did all the research necessary, came up with a plan to use the tools that were available but then to customize those tools and make them more what they needed to be.
From an operational and a business building exercise, I think it’s from all appearances, it’s been perfectly executed but then she also and her company completely understands the need to combine that with then the fashion and design aspects that are necessary to satisfy consumers of shoes. It’s really a perfect marriage of tech and design. I think it’s a great model for other potential businesses in their niches.
A couple weeks ago, we were talking about the 3D print market and has it reached levels of saturation on certain markets. I gave an example of BeeHex doing the pizza 3D printing as a really good example of a company that’s diving into a particular niche and that that’s a great market for them made a lot of sense. They’re not going to suffer from any market saturation. I think Feetz is not going to suffer from it either. I think they’ve carved out a niche for themselves and are developing a great future for their company.
Even with Wiivv Wearables who we talked to recently, I think there’s room for more than one player in this arena. I think that they’re actually approaching the 3D printed shoe market from different perspectives. I think Wiivv is focused more on comfort and fit with the insoles and things. I think it sounded like, although they didn’t confirm anything, that they may be branching out from that in other areas of shoe manufacturer for their consumers. I’m hoping to see that in the future. They’re definitely approaching it more from comfort first.
Maybe it’s not the recyclability as much. Maybe it’s not printing everything without support. I think they’re approaching it different ways. I don’t know that Wiivv Wis developing their own materials, maybe they are. I think they were. I think that they’re approaching it from different perspectives. I definitely think there’s room for both of them in the industry. I don’t think they’re saturating themselves. I don’t question that at all. It’s not without competition in this sense.
I think that really looking at the growth of a business industry and the growth of a niche within it, like you were talking about the pizza. This is a fabulous proof of concept. They’ve proven that this model works. Really what I think that she’s proven more of is that by realizing that you can’t discount retail in the process and do it online only, that’s where most of the 3D printing niche businesses have fallen apart, realizing that it’s part entertainment, which is what BeeHex and the pizza printer believed as well. It’s part entertainment, it’s part of what drives people in for an experience. There’s a premium to that experience.
It’s part, this is where people are, this is where they’re shopping. 70% want to buy shoes in a physical store, they don’t want to buy online. I want to reorder a different color online, but I want to stick my foot in it. I want to experience that. Being able to go into a physical store and have that experience and not discount that in the process is extremely important in the scope of things. I think that more and more 3D print businesses are going to have to figure out how they’d bridge that gap between maybe where they’d like to be, not invested in physical brick and mortar retail anywhere, but still having to find ways to work with brick and mortar retail to have those touch points.
I think it’s brick and mortar’s problem actually more so than anything that they haven’t gotten around to it. It’s even an online retail problem, it’s an Amazon problem still at the end of the day. Zappos, what they did is they gave free shipping, free return shipping. So that there was really no reason for you not to try on a pair of shoes, there was very little risk for you. Except for waiting the time for it to ship to you and then maybe having to ship one back and wait for another size to be shipped to you. They try to make it as easy as possible. But that was the only innovation that they could do right there.
The reality is that, at the end of the day, you’ve still got to stick that on your foot and say, “Does this look good on my foot? Do I like it? Does it go with what I wanted it to go with?” All of those things are, as challenging as it is to try to figure out how to give that in an online experience, at the end of the day, “This is something I am putting on my foot. I got to feel it.” Anyone who buys an office chair and doesn’t sit in it is making a huge mistake. You and I have known that. That’s huge complaints, huge problems. It’s a similar situation. A shoe, it’s a very personal experience. Shoe, I think, is even more so.
I’m going to buy a pair of shoes. I’m going to buy one of Lucy’s shoes, I’m going to try them out. They’re not my style, I have to admit that. I’m not a flats girl. There’s nothing wrong with the style of the shoe, it’s perfectly fine. But I’m not a girl who wears flats. I wear flip flops or high heels. There’s nothing in between. I’m going to try them because I want to go through the full shopping experience and I want to see what it’s like and I want to experience it to the end. We’re going to do a separate product review. Just like we do reviews on printers and other things, let’s do a separate product review. I can’t just do it in time for this to air because I need to experience wearing them for a while and see how I feel about them.
We will let everybody know in the blog post at 3DStartPoint.com, in the comments field, when it airs so you’ll see it there. We’ll also of course push it out on Facebook and Pinterest @3DStartPoint, which is our handle there in the two sites that we’re continuing to use this year. Of course, the product review itself will be on 3DStartPoint.com.
I think that’s fantastic idea. I like that. I’d love to see Tracy actually do a review from her perspective. She’s the shoe person around here for sure. I can count the pairs of shoes I have on the fingers of one hand because I just want them to fit well. It’s not so much a style thing for me. That’s great. I think that that’s much needed. Maybe, as other things happen similarly with products like this, we should review some others as well. I’m excited about that. Maybe doing more of that in 2017. I think that’d be a lot of fun. We can talk about the whole experience of it, the shopping experience of it as well as how it fit and how it felt when I got them on the other end and how the packaging was to open. You really get an unboxing and an experience of the whole thing. We’ll definitely do that. We want to do more of that coming into this year.
You know what we’ll do also, I will take some video of Tracy using the app to take the pictures of her feet so that our audience can see that as well. If that’s done in time, maybe I can include that on the blog post for this episode. If not, it will certainly be in the review. That sounds like fun.
We hope you guys enjoyed this as much as we did. We just love her passion about the community and the makers and the share. That’s what we feel from you guys every day and that’s what keeps us going on this podcast, is that community and that willingness to share that you guys have given us, that our guests give us and that we want to give right back to you. Let’s keep that collaboration and community going here and let’s get 3D printing really to tip this year.
Love it. I’m super excited. I’m inspired in fact. FFF 3D printing of shoes, they research every different way to do it. That was the way that made the most sense. That’s exciting because that’s not prototyping, that’s real product. So cool. I could go on forever but we’re not going to. This is already a pretty long episode. Hope you enjoyed it. Thanks for listening, everybody. This has been Tracy and Tom on the WTFFF 3D Printing podcast.
About Lucy Beard
Lucy is a former mathematician and actuary who grew to love customers more than numbers during her years working as an executive in Silicon Valley. She experienced her entrepreneurial epiphany one day while she was shoe shopping and realized she could customize her coffee order, but when it came to buying shoes she was stuck with the same ten size options. It was then that this two-time Ironman finisher decided to focus all her considerable talents and energy on reinventing the footwear industry.
About Feetz – the Digital Cobbler
Lucy got the idea for Feetz after an unsuccessful shopping trip (couldn’t find her size/comfort level, then when a correctly fitting shoe was found it wasn’t in the color desired). You can customize your Starbucks coffee 87,000 ways – why not your shoe wardrobe?
Feetz was born and went on a two year journey to build the technology to make custom fit shoes for every person a reality. They’ve brought in experts across the globe from New York fashion designers to Italian shoe cobblers. We built amazing new technology from 3D printers to make shoes in hours, designed software to custom fit our shoe designs to your feet, and we are using materials that are good for you and the planet. Now it’s time to step into the future with us and get what you deserve… shoes that fit!”
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