Today we’re talking flip-flops, sandals, 3D printed sandals. We haven’t been able to talk about it since we visited Wiivv Wearables’ factory a month and a half ago. We went down to San Diego and got to see their whole operations with how they make their custom fit insoles today, but they gave us a preview that we couldn’t talk about until now. We had such a great conversation with Shamil Hargovan of Wiivv Wearables almost six months ago now. We did our first interview podcast with him. As soon as we were done we were asking them, “When are you going to make flip-flops?” He was like, “When I come down to San Diego next, I will share something secret with you but you can’t air it.” So, we’ve been holding out. It’s only been maybe about six weeks since we were down there. We haven’t had to keep that secret too long. It was fun to not only see how they were currently making their flagship or their first product line that they’ve really refined that manufacturing process.
For those who don’t remember or haven’t listened to that episode, we’re talking about their custom fit orthotic insoles. They fit the form of your foot. That’s what they primarily make in that factory in San Diego. They will be adding this new line to be making the Wiivv Wearable sandals. It’s really an interesting idea that they’re really looking at their factories not being 100% 3D printing. That’s going to come across a little bit in the interview with Shamil here. We are doing something a little bit out our ordinary course of Wednesday, because it’s a Wednesday podcast, and we’re adding an interview in here because we thought you should hear straight from Shamil about why they’re doing this and some of the great features that they built in.
Listen to the podcast here:
Wiivv 3D Printed Sandals with Shamil Hargovan
Shamil, thanks so much for coming on WTFFF for the second time.
Thank you for having me, Tracy and Tom.
We’re really excited to talk with you today about your new project. I remember when we interviewed you the first time, it was actually my wish list, “When are you going to do a flip-flop?” Now, flip-flop sandals, you guys are doing it now, so I’m so excited.
There you go, Tom. We work really fast.
I want to really dig in to some of the details of this project which is now an active Kickstarter project, right?
Why did you decide to do sandals?
It really, to us, is an extension of our company vision. Frankly, when you think about bringing the application of 3D printing to people’s minds, having them understand what’s possible, it’s an actual finished product that you can see. A little bit different to our insole product, which is in your shoe. We want the conversation to really get going, but we also realize we could leverage what we’ve built with insoles with the sandals a very natural extension. What you’re seeing in the market right now, the shoe market specifically, is you’ve got these 3D printed shoes being talented by some of the bigger companies. In many cases, they are offering a prototype. They’re $300 plus. It’s at low volume. The worst part is, we’re seeing them miss the mark in terms of the 3D printed part oftentimes isn’t truly custom. It’s usually using it from the 3D printed material properties as opposed to, “I’m going to make something unique to your feet.”
It’s more like just a little more flexibility or things like that?
Right. Lighter weight, more flexibility, unique material property, but what we’re saying is the whole power of 3D printing is custom. We wanted to really showcase that with this product and then tell the world, “Look, you can actually have custom fit shoes. You can actually have custom fit footwear.” Part of this is following our thesis of local manufacturing; assembled in the United States here, hybrid product again when we’re talking 3D printing married to the traditional manufacturing process to get this product out to you. To give you a statistic, and I won’t say the company’s name, but there’s a very famous footwear company that ships from Vietnam in 42 days. We’re still going to be, when this thing goes mainstream, shipping within seven days in the United States.
The really interesting part to me is that you didn’t try to alter the expectation of style for flip-flop, for sandals for most people. They still have this very comfortable, stylistic feel and synergy. That was really smart because if you do too many things at once, you can convince people that this is going to fit well, it’s going to feel well, it’s going to look good. You’ve got too many things going on. You went to say, “Let’s get the look very flip-flop-ish, but let’s change everything else about it.”
There’s this $17 billion flip-flop industry in the world. Now, mind you, there’s a much smaller market when we’re talking above $50 per pair. The key point here, and this was part of the design objective for the team, was there’s a reason people buy flip-flops. It’s convenient, easy to wear. They’re not always comfortable, but again there’s something you can just take with you and not really think about it. Let’s not forget about why people buy flip-flops. It’s almost like invisible technology. Let’s give them the benefit of enjoying a mainstay product that we all have these awesome memories in or we just love having on our feet during the summer time. At the same time, let’s reinvent the whole thing from scratch.
I’m one of those people that love flip-flops. I live in Southern California here and half of the year at least, maybe probably more than half the year actually, the way our weather is, I’m in flip-flops and because we have a home office. Unless I’m going out to a real business meeting that flip-flops are not appropriate, I’m wearing flip-flops. I’m still wearing a pair that’s easily three years old that were ones I got off Amazon. I don’t even know the brand because it’s worn off on them by now. It was a pair that you stick in the oven at 200 degrees, warm them up and then stand in them to have it try to mold to your feet. They’re the most comfortable ones that I’ve had, and I’ve tried a lot. I am super excited to try yours. I did back the new Kickstarter campaign. It was interesting because when I did, I went online to check it out. If you’re listening to this current in last week in March, this is very current.
I went on the Kickstarter page and you guys happen too at that same time, two minutes after I got on to it, I’m actually starting to watch your video on the Kickstarter page that you can play. That’s right at the top of the Kickstarter page. Then I heard some other audio. I’m like, “What else is playing? What am I hearing? I don’t get it.” Then I scroll down below and there you guys are doing a live stream video about the campaign, talking about the project. It was just dumb luck that I happen to be on there at the same time. That’s a new Kickstarter feature, relatively new?
It is. It’s a way for you to really talk to the community real-time and then offer this back and forth experience. It’s actually really cool. We really enjoyed doing it. We’re going to try and do one or two more before the campaign is over just to talk to folks out there.
That’s a great idea. You see some of these really slick videos now on Kickstarter and you don’t really get to see the people who are making it and hear from them and get to talk to them directly. It makes you wonder, “Is this all marketing or are there people behind it?” which is one of the reasons we wanted you to come on the show and talk. What really attracts me to the product and what we’ve learned your company is all about, while you’re a company that is on the forefront of 3D printing on-demand for consumers, but your product is not all about 3D printing. Your focus is custom fit, isn’t that right?
That’s right. I think you’ve heard me saying this before, but I fundamentally believe that some of the things haven’t changed about the world; finding a customer, finding a need, creating a product. When you come at it from the angle of, “I’m going to learn from customers and bill something based on the needs,” if you happen to have 3D printing in your disposal to offer something compelling, absolutely go for it. Even in our company’s vision, we talk about adding active meaningful years to people’s lives. There’s no 3D printing in that vision statement. At the subtext of that is, I know and I think you know that, that our company has realized this extremely powerful tool that is 3D printing that’s going to allow us to offer this custom product. That’s a big part of our thesis, to add active, meaningful years to people’s lives, to give them unique consumer products.
That’s so smart. Use 3D printing where it’s appropriate to provide a better customer experience. But you’re not necessarily marrying yourself to 3D printing. At the end of the day, maybe the consumer understands it down the road, maybe they don’t. All they know is they’re getting something made just for them. Let’s talk a little bit though about the parts that are 3D printed, that are really done personalized on the flip-flop. Because you’ve got a great diagram here and I love how there’s a little animation that keeps showing the art section. Talk a little bit about the actual features of it.
This product is customized three ways. The way I would describe it is, A) There is the custom toe thong capability. One of the biggest complaints from customers is, “When I wear a flip-flop or a sandal, that toe thong is super uncomfortable.” Because we do the digital mapping using a mobile phone, we’re actually within two-millimeter accuracy. The factory is going to punch a hole based on your foot where it needs to go. That’s the first one.
The second one is the ability to adjust the straps based on your volume. In fact, we used 3D printing a tremendous amount to prototype this capability until we finally landed on a design. But ultimately, the part itself is injection molded, which is the little sides of the flip-flop have this place where you can throw in your strap based on different volumes of your foot. You can go further back or further up on the sandal sides to adjust the strap perfectly.
You’re saying volume but you mean how big your foot is, right?
Yes, a bigger foot or a narrower foot, that kind of thing. We’ll put it out on the factory based on where we think it goes. Sometimes people want a looser fit, sometimes people want a tighter fit, so we’re going to let you adjust that.
There’s a combination of leather and suede straps from what I can see here, and that stretches over time. You’re giving them the ability to shift that back as that stretches out, which is what happens. Such as why you break them in and you know you have to go buy a new pair, you want to cry because they’re already finally broken in to that perfect loose fit that you’ve wanted all along.
Exactly. Then there’s the hero feature. This is the part that is so unique to this product, which is the custom art support. That’s really building on what we’ve done with insoles and taking that capability. We actually embed a 3D printed part underneath the footbed of the sandal that holds a sandal in the perfect place to get your arch mapped to your foot. That whole part is 3D printed. I’ll be real, longer term, I actually think in the next three years we could 3D print even more of the sandal based on the technology that are coming out. It’s just a matter of not necessarily rushing to that right away, but there’s also a possibility here where we could do some other parts of the sandal, which are 3D printed. I love that we’re getting our gen one out there and we’re going to learn from customers.
We talk to clients about this all the time in our product design business. I think this is so smart. What you’re doing here is you’re really testing your market. You’re understanding where their needs are and you’re not trying to force fit and say, “It all has to be 3D printed or all has to be made on-demand.” You’re doing essentially a hybrid solution here because it makes sense until you’ve learned enough. It makes sense in the cost structure you need to be in right now for the market needs. All of that is just so smart in how you’re approaching this.
I really like how in that live stream video, the demonstration of how to use the app to me was really helpful as a consumer, not as a podcast host, but just as someone who was interested to back the project just selfishly. To see how easy that really is to take the couple of pictures of your foot. There was a little bit of tech info there about when you’re using a standard eight and a half by eleven or A4 size sheet of paper, that you have to get the corners of the paper in the shot and that is how you guys are able to get a reference for size. That made a lot of sense to me. It really appeared like anybody with a smartphone can do this. That to me is super critical, to be able to make it easy for people.
That’s really, I believe, to be the power of this. We talk about the world’s first custom fit sandal digitally mapped from your smartphone. Most of the people today have a smartphone. It’s one of those things where you don’t need to go into retail. You could do it on your own time. You can do it in your living room. It’s the kind of thing where once you’ve given us your scan once, we’re able to offer you our insole, our sandal, whatever other sport-specific insoles that we might be working on in the future. It’s really a chance for us to build a relationship with a customer and say, “Look, we’ve got your covered. We just need you to do something once. Then after you’ve done that, we’re really going to be able to offer you a unique array of footwear overtime.
You’re hearing a lot of stories about retailers, especially today, really struggling. Customers are just busy. People need convenience. I think that’s a big part of this. One of the things that’s going to accelerate 3D printing as a use case is equally the ability to do the scanning on your phone, and having these experiences where we can get a 3D scan or a couple of photographs and then make a custom product. In ways, we’re trying to leap frog technologically where the industry is going.
One of the reasons I was really happy to talk about this now, because it is a real world application. It’s an application of 3D printing. You’re applying 3D printing in the smartest way right now that makes sense to make a great product. You have an eye on how you’re going to keep moving forward with it. As soon as you’re able to and technology comes along and speed comes along and the need, more importantly, the customer need. That’s really just the place where not enough technology companies live. They think of themselves as tech first and they push that tech into their market. You’ve done the opposite. You’ve taken what the market wants and added technology to benefit them.
That’s our goal. I hope we’re living up to it.
When you talk about the market size of the flip-flop market, that’s a huge market. Now, there’s a lot of players in it, and it’s worldwide and all that, so I get that. But how does that compare to your custom orthotic market? I imagine that’s a smaller market.
It is. Actually, the worldwide market for insoles and orthotic is about $4 billion. It’s about four times the size of that market. Then the footwear market in the world is $350 billion, or should I say in the United States $170 million.
We’re the majority of the market right here in the US?
Yes. The average American right now owns, I believe, nineteen pairs of shoes. It does happen to skew a little bit. Men and women have a slightly different median. But the fastest growing demographic ironically is men, millennial men, 18 to 30. They’re the fastest growing demographic of shoe owners in America.
Tom has four pairs of flip-flops. I have one pair because I have one that I absolutely love. I’ve overtime thrown away the other ones because it just doesn’t make sense. He has four different pairs. It’s because he doesn’t throw them away and they don’t work for you and you realize that really quickly. That’s what I find is the same case with shoes. You look at them and they were really cute and you put them on your feet. You wear it maybe once or twice and then you go, “This is ridiculous, especially in women’s shoes. This is so painful, I can’t keep wearing them.” But you don’t get rid of the in your closet. I’m looking at my shoes recently and going, “There’s probably 60% of them that I never wear.”
That’s the other cool thing about this opportunity. Sometimes we buy things because they’re the best we can get at the time. One of the things I’m hoping is when you buy a pair of Wiivvs, you’re going, “This is made for me, so there’s no reason I’d compromise on style or comfort or the functionality of the product.” One of the things we’ve done to showcase the possibilities is we have a special edition set of sandals. One is by Frank Beneduci for men. He’s a cobbler out of San Francisco who’s really in the high-end shoe market. For women, we’ve got a Swarovski sandal also on our Kickstarter. That’s one of the pledge categories where you can go in and buy a pair that’s been designed by a designer but using our technology. Part of where we’re going to is this ability for other creatives to piggy back on our technology and create this really cool experiences for specific niche markets or to favor specific design pallets out there that we may not be aware of.
More partnerships are going on as well and stylistic upgrades. When we visited you down in San Diego, your facility was fantastic, by the way. We just really enjoyed our trip down there. We had such a great experience seeing the flow through the factory and meeting your people there. They’re wonderful. Are you going to be building these in that same factory?
Yes, we’re going to be building the sandals out of our factory in San Diego. One of the things that’s actually getting some attention on the Kickstarter page with the audience, and I’m personally just very passionate about this, is the bigger stores. At some point, we’re going to not have enough capacity in San Diego to meet our demand. What we’ve offered up to the Kickstarter community is if for every 25,000 backers, granted that’s a pretty large number to hit, but it’s really trying to get folks to understand that we are very serious. That at some point we hit a threshold where it makes sense for us to actually open a factory in their country, or another factory in the United States to support our demand.
Our whole thesis is about local manufacturing. You can do what we do in San Diego, our Ocean’s Eleven Vault, and replicate it in other parts of the world. We’ve offered to build a factory in Canada, Germany, Australia, the UK or another one in the United States, assuming we hit a certain stretch goal. That’s a pretty aggressive target. But it’s how we would accelerate our long term goal of being local and distributed in terms of our manufacturing process versus having it all shipped from the United States. Just the actual shipping cost to other parts of the world make it very prohibited to have say, a $75 sandal or $95 sandal, and then on the same token, shipping that same product halfway across the world. It almost defeats the purpose of this powerful technology that we have.
That’s so true. Our audiences all over the world need to get others in their country to join in so they can have a Wiivv factory right in their backyard.
That’s the play.
Shamil, what can our audience do to find out more about your company, about how things are made? Are there videos on the Kickstarter page about how the stuff is 3D printed? Is there anything about the 3D printing aspect of it that they can see somewhere?
Yes. On the Kickstarter page itself, we have a video that will showcase the 3D printers we use. We use SLS printers. You’ll see how that works. We also have a couple of updates coming out. We have a campaign over the next couple of days and weeks here, which will go a little bit more into our process in how we do things. It’s like a story that we try to reveal overtime. We have a $10,000 tier on our Kickstarter page which is called a 3D Adventure in San Diego. As long as you’re initiating from North America, we’ll fly you in. You’ll get to spend a weekend, three days in San Diego, and you’ll be able to actually make your own product. Your insole and a sandal, you’ll get to end-to-end, map yourself, make your product and walk away with them, as well enjoy a nice weekend in San Diego.
It’s something we’re throwing out there. But for those who can’t do that, certainly, we’ll be putting out some videos and showing folks how it’s done. We just hope to be part of bringing this to people’s attention, not just for our own company. We see ourselves as part of a larger community and we take that seriously.
Here’s what we’ll throw in. We’ll do an interview with whoever wins or whoever chooses to do that. We’ll do an interview with them. It will give them a little bit of publicity for whatever it is that they’re doing as well.
That would be great. Thank you.
Plus, we’d love to hear why they chose to do it. I’m sure our audience would want to know too. We thank you so much for coming on the show and really wish you great luck in this. Although, I don’t think it’s going to be necessary. It’s looking like you’re well on your way to funding here.
Thank you for having me. It’s always a pleasure to talk to you both. I really appreciate the opportunity.
Wiivv 3D Printed Sandals – Final Thoughts
I’m really excited on so many levels. I really respect what they’re doing as a company. When you really look at their path as a company that started with their first product line and doing a Kickstarter to begin with that was successful. Then they have grown that company and refined their manufacturing process, not taking on what was a goliath of a market. It’s a good market, don’t get me wrong. He mentioned $4 billion orthotic market and they’re revolutionary on what they’re doing in it. That’s great. They’ve really refined their production process, streamlined everything about how they’re going to market. Now, they’ve come out with their second product line that builds on the great things that they’ve learned, what to do and what not to do, and apply that to a product that is in line with their corporate vision, which is Wiivv Wearables. It’s about custom fit products of any kind that will improve your life, improve the way you walk, improve your health in some capacity.
Too often, we find companies who decide to make their next product. They go after the flashy things. “Let’s add new technology.” But instead they’re making perfect use of the technology they’ve already refined, which is the foot scanning process. The same app that they used to do the orthotic is the same app that they use to do the flip-flops. That makes a whole lot of sense. Now, you don’t have to invest in upgrading the app or putting a whole another one out. Then, you have a new product line in a much, much bigger market that you would still have something revolutionary to differentiate yourself from the others that are there.
I really like also how they have these interchangeable straps on the flip-flops. I know that there are other companies who do that. You go on to certain stores, especially if they’re a really major footwear type of store. You’ll see they have a display on it hanging on a tree. You can buy the whole sole part of the flip-flop, and then you can buy a different design of the strap. That has been done, but it hasn’t been done quite this way. With all of the adjustability where you really broken them in and then you might need to tighten up the strap. Or certainly, they’re not doing it the way Wiivv is doing it where because of the photograph of your foot, they’re actually punching the hole for the toe thong in the exact right place for you. It makes total sense.
We know personally because Tom’s sister has feet that are two different sizes. How difficult is it for the people who have off-size feet? It’s so difficult in every aspect of it. One of the first things I did the other day when that live stream video came on and I was looking at it. One of the things that they mentioned is they’re going from a female size five, I think it is, up to a men’s size fourteen. That’s the size range that they offer. The men’s size fourteen rang a bell in my head because my brother Chris, actually, he’s six-four. He’s got size fourteen feet. It’s not always easy for him to find shoes that are just right for him. I sent him a link and said, “You might be interested in this.” I don’t actually know if he’s backed it. Then my sister who actually has one size of the foot that’s a size and a half bigger than the other, and that has been a problem for her whole life, buying shoes her whole adult life. Not having to buy two pair of shoes in order to get one pair that fits well is so huge for her and makes a ton of sense.
That’s the real consumer benefit, that it’s custom fit. The 3D printing is just a means to an end of how they’re making it more custom fit to you. You don’t even realize it from your personal perspective, how different your two feet are. I have one foot, because I injured my tendon in the back of my heel, my Achilles tendon. I ended up with a severe tendonitis in it. That foot is always slightly swelled and it always happens that if there’s a tight fit on a shoe or if a shoe is going to rub, it’s going to rub on that foot and not the other. That’s something that I have learned to live with. You get used to it and you just suffer with it in regular shoes, but you don’t have to here.
Long-time audiences know because I’ve mentioned it in the past that I did ruptured my Achilles tendon. Ever since then, while I fully recovered from it and I can do any sport that I want, I play racquetball and stuff again and all that. But that foot definitely has always felt different than my foot where I didn’t break it and certain kind of shoes, depending on how at the very back top of the heel where you’re putting your foot into it and the bottom of your heel is rubbing over that piece, when you stand in that shoe, certain kinds of shoes actually put too much pressure on my repaired Achilles tendon and I can’t wear them. I’ve actually had to take shoes to a cobbler and had them cut it down or cut a certain arch scoop in it so that it doesn’t have anything touching in the back of my heel. Usually, my pants hide it so no one will ever know. I’ve had to go to great lengths to make some shoes work for me.
I can see as this custom wearable technology continues to advance in the manufacturing. The flip-flop, there’s no issue because there isn’t even a heel-strap there. I have to deal with it. But I think they are offering one with a heel strap or it’s coming up, because they have these interchangeable straps. I think they’ve mentioned that in their live stream video that there is going to be a future heel-strap that is going to be available and you wouldn’t have to do a whole new shoe for it, just buy a new strap.
Anyway, I’m excited about helping not just this company but this industry and the consumer reality of it push forward. It’s a great application of the use of 3D printing in just the right places that make the most sense right now, in the places where it also makes economic sense in terms of getting the cost right. They still are going to have a significant amount of inventory in the soles themselves at this point. But in the future, when the technology improves, when their demand improves too, so you’ve got a higher volume of things, it’s going to make sense. You can 3D print just the ones that are off-sizes and not have to print all of them. Not have to to tool for molds for every soles. It supplements both.
Feetz has already proved that you can 3D print the sole of a shoe. They’re using different technology and have a different mission. But they’ve already proved you can do that. As their demand increases, it would make sense for them to invest and to expand their 3D printing, what they’re doing on the shoe, to that area so that they reduce their tooling cost and can accommodate potentially more sizes. Because I’m sure that’s why there’s the size limitation. They’re not doing above fourteen. There are certainly people that have feet that are bigger than that.
We want you guys to check this out and go to the website, 3DStartPoint.com. We want you to check them out because as Shamil mentioned, it’s going to show more of the progression of what’s 3D printed about it and more of that tech stuff that you guys might be interested in. You don’t want to miss that.
I do want to mention one other thing here to expand a little. We mentioned it ever so briefly in the interview. Long-time audiences will probably remember we have had a long-standing policy not to have interviews with companies that are doing active Kickstarters. The intent was because there have been so many 3D print machine Kickstarters that never actually came to pass. We felt it was risky for us to get involved in interviewing those kinds of projects and helping promote them on a company that’s really unproven and we didn’t have confidence was actually going to deliver a product at the end of the day. In this case, we’ve made an exception. Obviously, we’re talking about it and this is an active Kickstarter. But this is an established company, who we’ve seen their facility. We know they’re going to perform. We know they’re on their path to making this anyway.
They have a history of not only having performed to fulfill that first Kickstarter, but they have a company that is actively selling product and manufacturing and delivering to customers today based on that original process. We felt this was low-risk. It’s also not a 3D printer machine that they’re trying to sell. This is a general consumer product, so it’s a bit of a different animal. We made an exception here. We’re fully aware of it. Again, to reiterate, we do not benefit from having promoted this in any way, shape or form. It’s completely them. They didn’t pay us to do this or anything like that. We just want to make it clear to you guys that we have made an exception to our normal policy, but for really good reasons because we think it benefits you.
We think this has broad appeal. It’s something you’d want to know about as it’s happening or you’d like to know about it now, I would think, rather than hearing about it after the fact. More importantly, which is part of our goal here at WTFFF, is it benefits the movement of 3D printing in applied technology, into real products that are out on the market and to making it mainstream. That is our ultimate goal here at WTFFF 3D Printing podcast, is really to help the market tip and help you guys to move up in the learning curve and be able to take advantage of it, build businesses on it, use it in your homes, teach your kids, teach yourselves. We want all of those things to happen in the process. This does move that forward. We felt it was of benefit to our mission here.
I hope you’ve enjoyed that. If you have a comment or something you’d like to share about this episode or anything similar you’ve experienced, you can reach out to us anywhere on social media, @3DStartPoint. Facebook us and let us know if you’ve backed it. We’d love to hear about that. Thanks again for listening. This has been Tracy and Tom on the WTFFF 3D Printing podcast.
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