Happy Feet: The New Technology of Footwear

It’s an old problem: everyone’s feet are different. Even on the same person, the right and left feet tend to be asymmetrical.

Since time immemorial folks who use their feet a lot (runners, hikers, etc) have had to make do with footware that sort of fits. A revolutionary new technology promises to change this situation by making available custom-fitted and individualized footwear through innovative 3D scanning and dynamic gait analysis.

FitStation is the result of an innovative partnership between Ferndale, WA.-based Superfeet and Hewlett-Packard. This in-store technology (computer, 3D scanner, and gait analysis mat) enables a previously unimaginable level of customization when it comes to footwear.

The technology was beta-tested at 11 hand-picked retail locations this summer and autumn. One of those locations was Bellingham’s Fairhaven Runners & Walkers, a Mecca for runners and walkers of every stripe since 1999.

Steve Roguski, owner of Fairhaven Runners is enthusiastic about the new technology. “The FitStation brings a more data-driven approach to fitting in a retail setting like ours,” he says. “We have always measured and assessed, but this technology brings objectivity and massive data-crunching that is well beyond human capacity and anything that has been done at retail before.”

FitStation aims to revolutionize the way people buy shoes and insoles.

Kevin Baily demonstrates Fit Station technology at Fairhaven Runners & Walkers in Bellingham, WA.

The process is simple—and impressive. The technology is complex but user-friendly. Step into the scanner and a remarkably-detailed 3-D map of each foot is rendered while precisely measuring foot length, width, and volumetric data.  Once this is done, take a few a few strides on a gait analyzer to gather information about your walking dynamics.

FitStation then compares these measurements with a database of available shoes and finds ideal matches. To pull this off, Superfeet meticulously measured every shoe in the Fairhaven Runners’ inventory and compiled an exhaustive database of exact specifications, enabling a perfect match based on the scan data. It takes the fitting process to a whole new level.

Additionally—and here’s where it gets interesting—the data can be used for the creation of customized Superfeet insoles. Called ME3D, the caps (the base of the insole that supports the rear foot and provides structure and stability to the foam layer) for these insoles are produced on a 3D printer— truly one-of-a-kind insoles designed to fit a specific individual’s feet.

“The operative word in discussions around what Superfeet is accomplishing with this technology is ‘disruptive’,” Roguski says. “They are disrupting how shoes are currently fit and produced.”

For Superfeet, the investment in this new technology has been huge, requiring a network of partnerships with technology providers.

“They had a vision,” Roguski explains, “and then built relationships with HP, Jabil Systems, RS Scan out of Europe, Desma, and others,”

40-year old  Superfeet is a global success story with local roots, a company known for giving back. Their ‘Be the Awesome’ employee volunteer program grants employees two fully-paid days off each year (“Awesome Time”) to volunteer for community organizations of their choice, in addition to undertaking company-wide volunteer activities. The company also sends a group of employee-owners on a week-long trip each year in cooperation with Medical Teams International to do humanitarian work around the globe.

Superfeet also donates 1% of their sales to support organizations in four focus areas: education, basic needs, the environment and building youth self-confidence through activities. Local organizations that have benefitted from this philanthropy include Northwest Youth Services, Rebound and the Whatcom Land Trust.

Fairhaven Runners is also known for their community-oriented projects including a plethora of sustainability initiatives, offering alternative transportation incentives to employees and passing along good used shoes to athletic teams, thrift stores, non-profits and shelters for teens and the homeless.

When cutting-edge technology is combined with such a generous community spirit, the result is clearly a perfect fit.

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