Feetz wants to 3D print shoes and revolutionize the shoe store. But is it too early in the space?

By James Robinson , written on June 10, 2014

From The News Desk

You never know when your genesis moment is coming. The idea for Feetz hit Lucy Beard at an unlikely moment.

Beard had left her job at Zynga in Silicon Valley and spent six months with her husband and dog driving through Alaska in an RV without electronics. It was the start of 2013.

Beard was looking for her next thing. She went in to buy a pair of shoes. As someone with special orthotic requirements, she came up empty handed.

Retiring next door to get a cup of coffee, she found herself looking at the espresso machine in Starbucks. Inspiration struck. “Why could three machines make 87,000 types of coffee and I couldn’t get a pair of shoes?”

As any tech-minded individual would, Beard had been reading a lot about 3D printing. What if there was a world where you could walk into a shoe store, and they could print a shoe unique to your foot? “I sort of said to myself, I wonder if,” she says.

“I didn’t expect it to be a business,” Beard reflects. But then people took to the idea. NY Fashion Week came knocking; the Founder Institute in San Diego thought it was the best idea they’d ever heard.

The opportunity – in its rawest terms – was huge. The American shoe industry is worth somewhere in the ballpark of $40 billion. As Beard tells me, the foot is incredibly important: It has an enormous number of bones and is one of the most stressed parts of the body. And yet we’re content to buy poorly customized, mass-produced shoes to protect our most valued physical assets.

The vision for Beard and Feetz became simple. “In the future, every shoe will be 'size me,'” she says.

Beard runs through her outline for the shoe store of the future, after her planned revolution with Feetz, that is. She’s sees an open, “Apple-esque” store with models for people to see as reference and a 3D-printed booth in the corner. She’s 3D printed 10 pairs of shoes so far – she was wearing a pair while presenting on stage at Southland – and says they’re printed in three parts. Standard shoes have sixty-five parts and are built from a flexible, nylon-like material. Feetz’ shoes take 24 hours to print. Beard is confident that from the first point of order it will be able to deliver its customized shoes to customers within a week.

A week may seem like a lot to the Twitter-generation that wants things now, Beard says. But when you have to wait months for a pair of customized shoes to be built for you, a week isn’t bad.

Coming on stage to Southland, Beard faced the hurdle of being very early in 3D printing as she tries to build a company on the back of a technology that is in its infancy. She’s also building a company that she sees as being revolutionary. But you don’t start with a revolution.

“You have to make a first step. It’s tough. From a philosophical standpoint we can’t solve for the end game,” Beard says.

Beard's Southland pitch focused on this future of footwear. For now, as she explained, people will download a Feetz app, take photos of their feet, and answer questions about their lifestyle and preferences, before Feetz takes over and gets your hyper-customized shoe out to you. The app will be the first stage, followed by a launch into retail and a licensing scheme.

People are looking for customization in all of their shopping, Beard says. Shoes are a logical extension of this. They've had 1,000 customers sign up to be beta testers and she's expecting $200,000 sales in its first year, she adds. The shoes will retail for $200.

Judges seemed skeptical. It was noted that companies like Levi's have long mooted customization schemes that never took off. Revolution Ventures' Tige Savage doubted the scale Feetz could reach, given the current capacity of 3D printing.

Beard defended the idea by talking about how Moore's law is on her company's side. As 3D printing improves, so does her product and so does her market.

The bigger question is, though, can Feetz stay afloat until that wave comes along?

[photo by Geoffrey Ellis for Pando]