Two years ago, our CEO and co-founder, Josh, lived in Dongguan, China, the footwear manufacturing capital of the world and where more than 50% of the world's shoes are produced. One night, Josh met a shoe designer from New York. He was very intrigued upon learning about the shoemaking process, mainly because of his banana-shaped feet, which he is now famous for in the office. The shoe designer revealed how the process of fitting shoes hadn't really changed in centuries. Josh found this extremely frustrating, and this frustration birthed his desire to make affordable custom-fit a reality.
Shoe production by country
From previous experience, Josh knew he would need to find a business partner to take on this journey with. He searched high and low to find someone who shared the same passion for changing an industry. A series of fortunate events introduced Thomas, who ticked all the boxes and was crazy enough to take on this impossible mission. At this point, Fyous went from "I", to "we".
The Invention of Polymorphic Moulding
Three things make custom footwear expensive and time-consuming: the production of lasts, moulds, and labour. Labour is hard to avoid with shoes, especially if you want high-quality shoes made with various materials. However, eliminating lasts and moulds was key to reducing costs and lead times in footwear manufacturing.
To suggest removing these two essential elements for footwear manufacturing would get you thrown out of most shoe dog meetings. Still, we knew nothing about making shoes, which gave us a fresh canvas to paint ideas on.
Traditional mould tooling was made of steel and aluminium and is unalterable. A size 9 midsole mould was always a size 9 midsole until it was scrapped and melted down. It would be economically impossible to produce a different mould for every foot using traditional methods of CNC machining. Not to mention, this process would create a vast amount of waste. For this reason, we visualised a concept to make a moulding device that could change shape infinitely while yielding minimal waste.
We then trialled our first prototype machine a few months after this initial idea without any inclination if it would actually work. We used it to vacuum form an EVA insole, and, to our surprise, it worked! The invention bloody worked, guys!
Four years after that first trial and after much prototyping and testing, we went from a formable insole, to a blob, to a very functional shoe midsole.
It's funny to look back and think about how exciting this blob was at the time. We thought we were geniuses, yet we had simply just made a blob of PU versus a midsole. But I guess you've got to start somewhere.
How do you make footwear?
Well, if you like to sleep at night, you go and find a shoe factory. But we don't like sleep, and we weren't about to give away our Polymorphic moulding technology to a shoe factory. We could have possibly partnered with one, but things would have been too slow and resistant, and we wanted to change the game and make life really hard for ourselves. (Ha.)
As mentioned, a brand looking to launch a shoe will typically find a shoe factory. But what if you don't want to be conventional? What do you need as the bare bones for shoe manufacturing?
Experts will say you need these 7 primary machines, tools and materials:
- A shoe last
- Hand tools (hammer, knife etc.)
- Upper textiles/fabrics
- Outsole materials
- Midsole materials
- Sewing machines
If you were making handmade shoes, this is pretty much all you would need, so we thought we would give it a go.
A sandal is a realistic goal, right?
A sandal is the most straightforward shoe to make, right? We agreed that a sandal would be the most logical MVP for our custom-fit/ custom-made technology. We could mould the custom midsole using our polymorphic moulding machine, and laser cut the strap. Piece of cake, we thought. However, we still had a long way ahead of us.
This was one of our first attempts at a sandal.
However, we truly started to see progress within a concise amount of time. The sandals were starting to look, well, like off the shelf sandals/sliders.
At this point, we decided to launch our MVP sandals and sliders on the website. Shortly after, Wills, our new shoe engineering prodigy, decided to make something much, much better. The website had been launched, and the photography paid for, but we had bigger things to focus on.
Developing the sandal had shown us that we could iterate very quickly because of our Polymorphic moulding process and software approach to making shoes. From a finished design, we could have a finished product ready within a matter of hours, something that anyone in the industry will tell you is impossible. So, we decided to take on a more significant but fruitful challenge -- the trainer/sneaker was upon us.
How do we make footwear custom fit?
Software, an innovative approach, and taking advantage of technological advances in the last decade, that's how. With the launch of the iPhone 10, millions of people suddenly had lidar scanning devices in their own pockets. Lidar systems were typically upwards of $1000 for something with low resolution. The iPhone's true depth sensor enabled the new Apple FaceID feature, which was a game-changer not only in device security but in other less obvious ways.
With universal access to a lidar scanner, people could now scan their feet anywhere, removing a massive barrier in the custom fit revolution. At this point, we want to say thank you to the team at Standard Cyborg for building their application that enabled this progress.
Point cloud of a foot scan
So, we can capture foot data in 3D. Brilliant! Now that we had our Polymorphic moulding tech, the last step was removing the need to make a shoe last every time. We did this by building software that analyses the 3D point cloud from the phone scan, taking 16 points of measurement of the foot, then inputting them into our digital last. The digital last enables us to reconfigure to another size in seconds. We can then use this to produce all the patterns to cut, sew and bond to the custom midsole.
Guys, did we just make a trainer?
When we started this journey, a trainer seemed like an impossible task. It wasn't until one of us took a sock and laid it on top of the sandal midsole that our minds imploded. Holy shit! Did we just make a shoe? It was incredibly exciting, albeit simple. With the realisation that the modern trainer isn't much more than a midsole, outsole, and upper bolted together, we had renewed faith that we could make a custom shoe/trainer much sooner than expected.
Obviously, a good performing shoe is a lot more than merely three parts stuck together, but that was our starting point. We then quickly iterated it to something that would match the best trainers on the market.
Within a couple of months, we were making functional shoes. We had amassed an array of machines to complement our polymorphic moulding tech, and things were getting interesting.
We started to test our shoe design with our automatic fit, and the made on-demand process with family and friends to stress-test the system. Things were working well, so we decided to launch another MVP to see what demand we would get.
Fyous proudly presents, the Genesis.
The problem was it looked a bit shit. The Genesis was incredibly comfortable but "not something you would be seen dead outside with", quoting one piece of feedback. We tried to push the Genesis on the older demographic to alleviate any foot health problems and received some interest, but nothing that told us we had hit the nail on the head. So, back to the drawing board.
Our Polymorphic moulding technology improved daily, with some significant breakthroughs coming from Jay and James, two of our other R&D engineers. The scope of geometry that we were able to produce now allowed us to design far more attractive and contemporary styles. Our software that enabled a reconfigurable digital shoe last was also improving daily, allowing us to be more creative on the upper designs.
With all this progress from the engineering team, we decided to take on the sports trainer/sneaker.
Take two, the Fyous sport.
The future of Fyous footwear
After some refinements and production enhancements, we are now ready to launch the Fyous sport. The Fyous sport was designed with foot health professional feedback in mind. We have been working with podiatrists and biomechanical professionals from around the UK to develop a shoe that can accommodate various needs. These can range from the elderly to athletes with specific requirements, foot health problems or fit problems. Not only is the Fyous sport a custom fit, but it is also configurable, allowing you to choose the heel to toe drop, heel cushion thickness, and flexibility.
Fyous is at the very beginning of what is possible for our technology stack. We will continue listening to the customer to find our niche. We will also continue to pursue our mission to eliminate standard sizing, make custom-fit affordable, and reduce waste.