Booting Up – 5 Firms Taking Shoes Online
Another company looking to fix online fittings is Sweden’s Virtusize. Catch co-founder and head of growth Peder Stubert at our next event: ‘The Future Of Fashion’ on the evening of 21st July.
Think of Bucketfeet as a sort of Etsy for footwear. Except instead of puzzling mixed-media projects and upcycled dreamcatchers, Bucketfeet provides a limited range of canvas shoe styles with hundreds of different designs contributed by independent artists (it has worked with over 14,000 globally). It’s essentially a standardised marketplace for shoe art and its trendy, snake person-oriented model has proved attractive to investors, who have sunk USD16.4m (including private equity) into the Chicago-based firm since it launched in 2010. Its shoes retail for around USD70 – roughly the equivalent of big-name-brand pairs of similar build. But if this online intersection between marketplace and artists network is quintessentially new media, it hasn’t stopped Bucketfeet pouring money into moving into traditional, brick-and-mortar, high-street retail. The firm currently has a number of shops (which it calls ‘studios’ and which also offer events and workshops) in Chicago, New York and Taipei, and is eyeing up Manila and London. It’s a familiar move in the online fashion retail sector, with companies like Etsy, Amazon, Tictail and Bonobos experimenting with a mixture of online and offline retail.
When it comes to trying on and fitting clothes, many people still prefer the high street. This is especially true for shoes. Bucketfeet, though growing, is yet to break a profit, but is well-positioned to take advantage of the growing appetite for buying clothes and accessories online.
The problem presenting by online fittings is one of the major hurdles facing the fashion industry if it is to successfully digitalise. One firm taking a running jump at this is Swedish tech startup Volumental, which picked up USD3m at the end of last year for its 3D foot scanning service. Using a depth camera such as Microsoft’s Kinect or Intel’s RealSense, Volumental’s software allows users to scan the size and, most importantly, the shape of their feet, which can then be used to inform shoe shopping, ideally eliminating the need to try on pairs and pairs of uncomfortables shoes. Whilst this can of course be used in shops to improve service, it crucially allows users, with the right tech, to take the whole purchasing process online.
Volumental’s current focus is on footwear, but their website’s headline, “Building A World That Fits You”, and hint that custom glasses are coming soon points to grander designs. Indeed, it just shows how important the digital footwear question is – specifically, how to digitalise it as a retail vertical – that potentially highly disruptive technology is treating it it as its first target.
Volumental has a partnership with Berlin-based shoemaker Scarosso, another player to note in the space. The firm picked up USD11m last year and the deal between the two companies demonstrates how this tech can be implemented with traditional manufacturing methods, as opposed to Feetz’s 3D-printed super-futurist model (see below).
Scarosso leveraging traditional online advantages such as slashed overheads in real estate and logistics, as well as vertically integrated production methods, to offer cheaper prices than competitors. Its Italian-made shoes still retail at around USD200 – significantly higher than Bucketfeet’s, for example, but that’s because it’s still aiming at what it describes as the ‘smart luxury’ market. Like other online stores with one foot in the high street, Scarosso operates a few boutique branches, highlighting the advantages of online retail for high-end markets where unit turnover is low but prices are high.
Feetz stands out as one of the quirkiest and most intriguing footwear startups to grab funding recently (USD1.3m earlier this year). The firm produces 3D printed shoes, made from antimicrobial jelly, similar that used in Crocs. Feetz also has a finger in foot scanning as well – users place their foot on a piece of regular lined paper and take a photo, a process called ‘photogrammetry’, which the company claims can be used to fit shoes to a unique degree of accuracy. The firm boasts 7bn+ shoes sizes – one pair for every person in the world (apart from twins, presumably).
The firm’s technology, with its paper and smartphone camera approach, is a markedly different approach to companies like Volumental that use software. It could prove to be a low-cost game changer for digital fitting (even if the printed shoes themselves currently retail at USD200 a pair). Whatever the case, Feetz is an example of a firm attempting to bring the whole shoe business into the digital age, with fitting, manufacture and retail all taking place within non-traditional platforms.
What’s left to innovate in the digital footwear sector? Fitting? Retail? Manufacture? Helsinki-based firm SoSho would like to introduce you to the Tinder for footwear. Yes, it’s technically retail (not something weirder), but it’s also an example of yet another company trying to leverage the Tinder model, combining the acquisitive joy of flipping through a catalogue with the ability to shop what you see. Users swipe the familiar left or right to a list of shoes, with selected pairs then added to a wish list, which is shared among friends. There’s also some social media functionality here – friends can, of course, buy you some nice shoes, but it also provides a platform for discussing and comparing each others choices. More interestingly, though, is plans to allow users to take photos of their own shoes, which can then be shared with others. Its this feature that could turn a seemingly gimmicky gap into a genuinely interesting take on P2P marketplaces. Its currently taken on USD85,000, and is only available in Finland.