Hey everyone—I know there are a number of shoe gurus that are regulars on these forums, so I was hoping I could find someone(s) who would be interested in toying with a side project that’s been rattling around in my head for years. Sorry for the long read up front!
The basic premise is that I was born with a number of foot and leg issues that make shoe buying a nightmare. Generally I’ve found that shoes designed for orthotics, lifts, or extra support are UUGGGGGGLLLLYYY. As a designer and an active person, I find this especially bothersome and I really don’t understand why taking care of your foot/leg/hip health means you are destined to wear solid white Reeboks with velcro straps instead of laces.
I’m happy to go into more detail about my particular problems, but to keep it somewhat focused at the moment, one of the “easiest” areas to tackle (in my perception) might be leg length discrepancies. Lots of people have varying degrees of asymmetry, but unless it’s really bad most folks just ignore it. Personally, I’ve heard I’m anywhere from ½” to 1.25” off-kilter depending on the doctor, but I tend to feel like I’m on the higher end of that estimate. Nonetheless, I too ignore the issue as best I can, despite the fact that I regularly have odd aches and pains, especially after a trip that involves a lot of hiking or something. As I get older, I can only dream of how much fun I’m setting myself up for further down the road.
So, not surprisingly, I find myself bothered that people, myself included, are so offended by the available aesthetic choices that they would rather cause themselves physical pain or lasting musculoskeletal issues than wear corrective footwear.
The current practices for creating a lifted shoe are also painfully archaic. Smaller lifts can be achieved with inserts, but it doesn’t take much before that pushes your heel out of the shoe. Not to mention that inserts mess with the shoe’s design for where support and cushion should be located (apologies for my terminology ignorance). Larger lifts require you to buy a shoe that has a thick, solid-colored sole, then pay to have someone band saw the bottom off, slap a chunk of foam that basically looks like a flip flop bottom in between the two parts, and then glue it all together. I tried this once and they destroyed a brand new pair of shoes because the sole wasn’t as thick as it looked from the outside…
In my experience, thick, solid-color soles are actually rather difficult to find—unless you like grandpa shoes. I’ve contacted multiple companies to see if they offered any solutions, including brands that claim to be more “health-oriented” like New Balance and Brooks. The usual response is either, “that’s a bummer” or “that’s a bummer, but we do make this one velcro shoe that might fit through the band saw.” Specialty shoes like hiking boots, approach shoes, or, god-forbid, cleats, are a whole other ball game, which is unfortunate since those Reeboks aren’t meant to perform that way.
I realize that I’m not going to have as much selection given the circumstances, but it would be nice if there were at least a handful of non-cringeworthy designs I could pick from. So…if anyone is still with me after the set up rant—would it be feasible or at all practical to create versions of shoes that can be purchased with the “tread” area of the sole not attached? Maybe some sort of alignment features could be incorporated or maybe it’s just a shoe with a thin, flat sole area meant to accept glue. Then the customer could get whatever thickness foam brick they need and glue the stack together. I know that’s still a band-aid solution that’s not beautiful, but I’m trying to be realistic. I don’t expect Nike to come out with an entire line of shoes specifically designed to hide/disguise a 2” platform or anything. But, if a company could take a handful of their existing designs and offer them with this option, even at a jacked up price, I might just take care of my health.
I’m totally open to exploring other bluesky options too—I admittedly have not done a deep dive into what this could look like. Perhaps I just have a shoe aversion because it’s been a pain point for so long. Even if someone could share a little industry insight or serve as a knowledgeable resource I can bounce ideas off, maybe that would drive me to kick this thing off (awful pun not entirely intended). I could care less about it from a design ownership standpoint, I’m just curious if it’s a solvable problem and I’m willing to play guinea pig for anyone who might find it interesting.