Corrective footwear side project -- seeking advice!

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.

Have you considered perhaps any classic runner with a slab EVA midsole like a new balance 574 or Cortez? They could be easily cut open and additional foam added I’d think.

Designing and making (at scale) a whole new system, brand, retail/DTC offering and supporting infrastructure I don’t think would be that profitable and/or would be such a small and fractured market it wouldn’t be easy and super expensive to get going.

If you just want a personal pair, and money is no object I’m sure you could find someone to make it. There are all kinds of guys online who do sole swaps and customs in the sneaker world so you could realistically get whatever you want. A Nike outsole +.5in with a Yeezy upper? Someone I’m sure could make it happen for $$$$$.


Alas, I don’t have those Yeezy bucks to be making my own custom old man shoes yet.

Are those slab-type soles typically flat across the top or do they contour the insides so your foot actually is recessed down into them a bit? I was told that those types of shoes typically didn’t have enough thickness in the soles and that they were afraid they would end up cutting through the upper. Maybe that’s totally bogus and I just had a bad experience though…

I can’t wear those particular models because of other foot issues I have going on, but I did try a similar thickness pair and they annoyingly ended up gluing a piece of foam directly on the bottom, which is the worst of both worlds because it wore down asymmetrically after about a week. I tried sticking a pair of calipers in that pair and it does appear that some of the foam’s apparent thickness is cut away inside, but maybe that’s an oddity for this particular pair of shoes. These guys weren’t exactly craftsmen at any rate.

For whatever reason, I keep getting steered toward shoes like the beauty you see below, which honestly don’t seem much better for cutting up. Every “foot wellness” type store I’ve been to has a wall full of those bad boys though.

I know that propping up an entire new brand/line would be a serious uphill fight, but in terms of how shoes are constructed, would it be that drastic to have two SKUs for the bottom sole stack-up? Keep the upper exactly as is, but one variation with less contoured EVA and no tough tread on the bottom. You can have the blue version, the red version, or the tread-less version for $25 more…

I feel like there would be more demand if it were easier to accommodate us weirdos’ needs, but maybe I’m overly simplifying given that you also have to stock lots of sizes. Figured I’d toy with the idea a little more at least, but maybe it’s a lost cause.

so. cool.

Die cut EVA (also called cut and buff) midsoles are made from flat sheet stock. They literally cut and then buff it to make the wedge so essentially could be remade the exact same with a different thickness.

My Yeezy mention was just an example. There are people out there who can take any upper and put it on any outsole and I’m sure you could get them to add foam in the middle on one half as needed. I have no idea how much they charge. Try google “sole swap”.

If you have $1M to start a new shoe brand, that’s a different story.


Hey cool, thanks- I had never seen sole swapping, shows my ignorance on shoes. Less of a design project, which is okay by me, but personally that could be a solution if it doesn’t break the bank. I’ll do a little research on that.

Sounds like a brand-level solution would be a bit much though. Maybe the better idea would be a company that makes more fashionable aftermarket shoe lifts. High quality, supportive bottoms at custom thicknesses that they can swap onto whatever fashionable uppers you bring them. If I really wanted to go pie in the sky, they could offer sport-specific bottoms with cleats or heavy-duty waterproof tread or whatever. I’d dig the idea of sending shoes to a service like that, but I guess it might cut out customers on a budget. Intriguing though.

Do you think the insurance system has something to do with it? I vaguely remember a conversation talking about how all these “custom” products have to be approved by an entity if you want to pay for them with insurance money. Custom orthotic equipment probably has an insurance code attached to it therefore limiting the # of companies wanting to go into that kind of business. Also the demographics are probably older persons so your standard black or white sneaker with velcro closures are the safest approach. Sounds like an interesting project though. A past client worked in a parallel industry that found a solution with an on-the-spot customizable/adjustable product that bypasses the trained expert in creating custom molds. Product is much cheaper but insurance reimbursement is the same.

Some interesting places that modify your own shoes.

I was thinking more like this when I said custom-


Wow, that is really impressive.

Off OP topic but…

The cautious side of me says “how do they not have a seize and desist from Nike”. I know nothing about how Nike controls their brand but having someone like that customize their sneakers at that high of a quality level is really something else. Unless they have some sort of agreement.

FH13, not sure on insurance. When I tried it, the only local gig I could find was a company that primarily makes prosthetics, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they were plugging in medical codes. I can’t recall if they asked for insurance information, but I don’t think it was all that pricey. It just felt like a crude process (especially after they botched it with my shoes) given that it’s a somewhat common problem. Probably a significant chunk of discrepancies can be made up for with inserts, but I haven’t done the research because this is also a personal vendetta. The inserts I have are pretty decent but those are super expensive and not covered by insurance. Is your former client’s project public domain? I’m curious what you’re describing, but I also don’t need to step on any toes.

R - Thanks for the links, I’ve been watching YouTube videos from similar shoe “modifiers.” I dug four pairs of old shoes out of the attic that I’m planning on pulling the uppers off to start experimenting… I am rather intrigued by the idea of a specialty midsole/outersole producer that makes a product that can be manually customized and attached to other shoes. Of course, many shoes have midsoles that wrap around the uppers to some degree which may prove difficult to replace with a “one-style-fits-all” approach. Maybe it only works for slab-style soles… Maybe it doesn’t work at all… Are the uppers sewn/formed to any standard or are different lasts (think that’s the term) used for every new shoe design?

Maybe this helps?

You can order outsoles and they connect you with cobblers.


After I get a chance to fuss around with some of these shoes I should go chat with a cobbler. Obviously they would have a lot of the skills I am trying to learn about if nothing else. Lots of good info to think about…

Here’s an interesting concept. not so nice looking though. ACBC | The Best Sustainable Sneakers - MEN – ACBC SRL Benefit Corporation.
Sounds like you need to design a modular shoe with a way to modify left & right independently. Maybe 3 parts. 1)Sole, 2) Adjustable area & 3) Upper.

If I had a dollar every time I saw I modular shoe concept…

I’d have a lot of dollars :slight_smile:


Interesting… Seems pretty clunky, but they’re going for it for better or worse. Is their premise that the replaceable uppers lets you own more styles with only one sole? I feel like I wear out soles way faster than the uppers so the model feels a little backward. Guess it can work both ways, but I’m not sold yet.

I’m also aiming to avoid creating entirely new shoe designs just from an infrastructure standpoint. It’d certainly be easier to make customizations if you control the full supply chain, but I don’t have ambitions of creating an entire shoe company with design, manufacturing, distribution, etc… I still have a lot of doubts about my project goals too, but I’m enjoying the benefit of being in no particular hurry. I’ll tinker away at a snail’s pace on this one.

Yeah, I’m not sold on the product (looks, perceived comfort, need, etc) but it was an interesting concept.
It’s easy to say it won’t work, the fun part is to find a way to solve the problem, even if it’s not designing the actual product.
If you are not creating a new product, either modular or customizable, then you need to look at it from a service business perspective. Find a brand/type of shoe that you like & that is suitable for customizing and find a cobbler that will do it. I just find it an interesting problem to solve even if it’s a niche market. Some past clients started small solving very specific problems. Good luck

Sure, I’m not turning away ideas—I appreciate you sharing. Maybe there’s a larger scale solution that makes sense, but for my current purposes I’m hoping to stumble into a higher-end “hack” solution that’s a little cleaner/more versatile than existing practices. TBD if that’s misguided and a more holistic approach is better suited though! Interesting to see all the wacky stuff people are doing with footwear so I know I’m not alone.

Hey Chris!

Hopefully you’ve made some headway on this. I think Richard’s suggestion of playing around with cut and buff midsoles is really good (NB 574, Nike Cortez, etc.). I also agree that cobblers and folks from the snearkerhead community would probably be able to craft you a much nicer looking product than most orthopedists. Especially if you’re already in touch with an orthopedist and you know what you need.

One option that I haven’t seen mentioned is finding two shoes with similar styling but very different stack heights and doing a sole swap on those. For example (full disclosure, I work for New Balance but this is in no way endorsed by the company). The Arishi v3 and 1080v9 (not the current v10) are built on the same 8mm drop last, look similar from afar but the 1080v9 is 10mm higher. There might be other pairings that would give you an even bigger difference. I know this wouldn’t fully compensate for you but it might serve a purpose in some situations where you’d have something only noticeable to someone paying close attention but get some of the benefits of the different height.

I suspect you’ll find a similar trend among different manufacturers where within a product family you’ll find shoes styled in a similar way but that might have very different stack heights. Especially if you start looking across model years. A lot of the top tier running shoes have a high stack and the entry level products will use the styling from a few seasons back but with a lower stack that’s more accessible to a more casual crowd.

I just came across a guy on linkedin who does excellent sole adjustments:

Admittedly I got bogged down with work and some house renovation projects and I haven’t had the chance to mess with this at all lately. I have some time off around the holidays coming up and will hopefully get to bang around in the lab. I have one idea I want to flesh out at least…

Nice to see some of these guys making orthopedics take pride in their work and inject some artistry. At least he tries to match color changes and is even carving in some detailing to try to mask the flip flop smushed into the midsole. Thanks for sharing!