Why you should care
Because shoes say a lot about a person.
If there’s one thing we know about shoes, it’s that one pair is never enough, which may explain why one recent survey revealed that on average, women own 21 pairs — nine of which they’ve never worn. But what if instead of heading to the mall every time you feel the itch for change you could simply download a new design to your existing kicks? Well, soon you’ll be able to.
ShiftWear sneakers, which raised almost $800,000 on Indiegogo, use e-ink technology to display just about any black-and-white pattern you can imagine (a color version is part of future plans). Instead of fabric, the sides are made with panels that can be customized with a few taps on your smartphone. The e-ink used is the same stuff that powers the Kindle e-reader, but in this instance it’s been “ruggedized.” How rugged? Founder David Coelho tells OZY that ShiftWear Classics (which come in three different cuts) are waterproof and machine washable with soles made from Kevlar. And they have an equally impressive power source: walking. Every step you take recharges the tiny built-in batteries.
The inspiration for ShiftWear came after 33-year-old Coelho watched a CNN report that suggested urban youth are being harmed by the endless parade of $300 kicks, fueling a desire that few can afford. “People want to stand out and be unique,” Coelho says. The New Yorker’s goal is to create an “iTunes for design,” connecting designers and consumers through a collaborative platform. Designs range from Van Gogh paintings to Japanese anime to moving landscapes; shoe-frame colors include black, blue, green, yellow and red.
Lawrence Hopkins, a long-time sneakerhead and founder of the enthusiast group Canada Got Sole, is bullish. “It could definitely cut down on shoe buying,” he says, though he excludes himself and his sneakerhead brethren, saying he’s not going to curb his habit “just because one shoe can change its looks.” Billie Whitehouse of Australia’s Wearable Experiments, agrees. But Whitehouse, who experimented with similar technology three years ago, says that with today’s wearables hype the time is right for a product like ShiftWear — as long as the designs are well curated. “Too many options and the consumer will get confused and disappointed,” she says.
While Coelho surpassed his original fund-raising goal, the technical challenges involved in bringing such a unique shoe to the market are considerable, and success hinges on price. “No one’s going to pay $400 if it’s not a Nike … the cool factor only takes you so far,” says Hopkins. ShitfWear is available for preorder and prices vary from $150 for low-cuts, $250 for mids and $350 for high-tops. The company plans to unveil its first prototype within the next couple of months. Putting pep in your step has never been so easy.