Monthly Archives: December 2016

These High-Tech High Heels Change Color With the Click of an App

Close your eyes, tap your app three times and think to yourself, “There are no heels like these.” Because, honey, there aren’t. Not yet.

Remember last year, when “smart” ballet slippers pirouetted into our hearts (and headlines)? Well, now a high-tech pair of smart high-heels is strutting onto the wearable fashion scene and, Toto, we’re not in blandsville anymore.

They’re called Volvorii Timeless smart shoes and what’s so special about them is that they change color in the click of a smartphone app (iOS and Android versions to come). Hello, instant customization gratification. Not sure which heels to wear with that little black dress? Need to morph from business casual to night club slick, but no time to shift shoes? No stress. Leave it to the Internet of Stilettos.

Created by a seven-person Lithuanian startup called iShüu Tech, and originally the brainchild of display technology research scientistWallen Mphepö, these high-tech pumps are digital chameleons for your fancy feet. They’re made of leather and rubber and outfitted with hidden circuitboard, Bluetooth and battery components. And, here’s the kicker, they’re pimped out with electronic (e-ink) “paper” that you control with a companion app, altering the look of the flexible digital panel that spans from the top of the toes on up the sides of the pumps.

Depending on what your outfit calls for, or your mood, you can switch the Volvorii’s smart display panel from black to white to a chic Louis Vuitton-inspired black and white pattern. Its ambitious makers, who think they “just might be on the verge of creating a new micro industry for the world,” plan to add more cool pattern choices in the future.

Available in black or white, soft leather-lined Volvorii also come in two tall heel heights, 3.5 inches and 4.5 inches. The battery that powers the display recharges via an included USB wireless charger and takes about two hours to fully juice from zero.

The platform-style pumps launched on Indiegogo on March 12. So far the media darling of a campaign has raised $19,700 of a $50,000 goal, with 20 days to go. If you want a futuristic pair of your own, you’ll have to shell out $249. The $149 and $199 Indiegogo perk packages are already history. The first Volvorri are expected to ship this December, just in time for all those dressy holiday parties.

How Greats Footwear Puts Its Best Foot Forward

Greats is not your father’s footwear startup, but chances are Dad will dig its shoes, just like you do. The company’s approach to timeless classics like high-tops, slip-ons and chukkas is both stubbornly traditional and refreshingly modern, translating to products perfectly suited for stylish, sophisticated gents of all ages.

“The name of our company is very relevant to our design concept,” says Greats co-founder and CEO Ryan Babenzien. “We said, ‘Let’s pick the greatest silhouettes in men’s sneakers and footwear, and design our DNA into them.’”

That DNA splicing is what sets Greats apart. Its old-school sensibilities are rendered in distinctly contemporary materials and colors. For example, last year the company produced limited-edition versions of its popular Royale sneakers in silver and gold leather, the latter attracting the attention of NBA star Kevin Durant, who donned a pair in the hours leading up to a key playoff game.

“There’s something familiar about our styles, but unique,” says Babenzien, a former marketing exec at sneaker manufacturers Puma and K-Swiss who launched Brooklyn-based Greats in 2013 with Jon Buscemi, a veteran of DC Shoes and his own Gourmet Footwear. “Gold and silver leather is not subtle. But the style itself is very traditional.”

Greats’ approach to shoe retail is decidedly more unconventional. Its business model most closely resembles the Warby Parker formula for eyewear sales, eschewing wholesale partnerships in favor of marketing directly to consumers online. That enables Greats to sell high-quality footwear at a fraction of the cost associated with its established competitors; Babenzien says his company can offer an Italian leather shoe like the Royale at $159, while the same shoe would retail at a high-end department store for about $500.

Greats is also exploiting inefficiencies in the manufacturing chain. According to Babenzien, most shoe designers’ wholesale partnerships require them to begin developing new products at least 12 months ahead of retail release—meaning they’re making long-range bets on which styles, patterns and colors will be in vogue by the time the shoes hit stores.

“You’re taking a leap of faith that the color you selected back in December is still meaningful next December,” Babenzien says. “We don’t have to do that. We can stay right on top of trends and design a shoe and have it for sale within five months.”

Greats kicks off the design process by identifying the kind of shoe it wants to create and the unique twist it can supply; for instance, adding a running outsole to a traditional chukka silhouette, essentially merging two classic themes to forge something new. From there, the team embarks on extensive wear testing to guarantee that its shoes feel as good as they look.

“Functionality in footwear is some- thing that can either be seen or felt, or seen and felt,” says design director Salehe Bembury. “We feel strongly that when you put on our footwear you should definitely feel how lightweight it is, or how sturdy and durable it is.”

Greats releases shoes virtually every week. Some are entirely new styles, while others are new spins on signature designs, like another recent variant on the Royale, this one developed in collaboration with Manhattan-based streetwear brand Only NY. A joint effort with the Orley family of designers (Matthew, Alex and Samantha) yielded pastel-hued suede sneakers, ushering Greats’ entry into women’s footwear.

Greats had sales of $1.2 million during the second half of 2014, and Babenzien says the company is on pace to generate $5 million to $7 million in 2015. In July 2014, Greats closed a $4 million Series A funding round led by Resolute Ventures.

Babenzien believes continued success is a shoo-in. “If you look at any runway show over the last few years, they’ve all featured sneakers. The brown-shoe business that dominated over the last 10 years has waned, and we’re moving into more casual footwear,” he says. “Everything in the fashion business has a life cycle, but there are some staples that are pretty constant, sneakers being one. It’s very unlikely that sneakers are going to evaporate off the planet and out of everybody’s closet.”

Choosing the Right Running Shoes

Many runners may be wearing the wrong shoes for their particular stride or the right shoes that were chosen for the wrong reasons, according to a new scientific review about running shoes and injury risks.

The study helpfully concludes that there is a reliable, scientifically valid way for each of us to pick the right running shoes, but it’s so simple that most of us ignore it.

The connection between running shoes and running injuries is surprisingly controversial and, from a scientific standpoint, unsettled.

Most of us who run have heard that we should choose our shoes based, for the most part, on two broad technical criteria.

The first is whether and how much our foot pronates, or rolls inward as we land. Orthopedists, coaches and runners long have believed that over- or under-pronation contributes to the risk of running injuries and should be controlled using particular types of shoes.

More recently, impact force, or the pounding that we experience with each stride, has also been getting plenty of attention, especially in relation to barefoot running and the question of whether we should wear shoes at all. Some barefoot-running proponents claim that running without shoes or in minimal, slipper-like models somehow changes impacts and substantially reduces the risk for injuries.

But Benno Nigg, the lead author of the new review, and his colleagues were skeptical. An emeritus professor of kinesiology at the University of Calgary in Canada and one of the world’s foremost experts on biomechanics, Dr. Nigg wondered whether science really supports the idea that the right shoes can alter and fix someone’s running form and lessen injuries.

So for the new review, which was published last week in The British Journal of Sports Medicine, Dr. Nigg and his colleagues trolled through decades’ worth of studies about running injuries, shoes and their relationship.

It soon became clear to the researchers that most of our beliefs about running injuries and shoes are, in fact, myths.

Pronation, for instance, does not seem to be a problem requiring correction. In the one large-scale experiment studying pronation, almost 1,000 novice runners, some of whom pronated and some of whom did not, were given the same running shoes and followed for a year.

At the end of that time, many of the runners with normal feet and form — who did not overpronate — had become injured, but a much smaller percentage of those who overpronated had been sidelined.

Dr. Nigg and his colleagues write in their review that this finding suggests “that a pronated foot position is, if anything, an advantage with respect to running injuries.”

Similarly, they found little evidence that forcefully striking the ground causes injuries or that changing or removing your shoes alters those impacts much anyway.

Perhaps most unexpected, running shoes designed to somehow “fix” someone’s running form turned out often to be ineffective and even counter-productive. In a series of studies, when military recruits were assigned running shoes meant to control their particular level of pronation, those soldiers were as likely, or even more so, to sustain running-related injuries than soldiers given shoes at random.

But if shoes are chosen for the right reason, they can reduce injuries, Dr. Nigg and his colleagues concluded after parsing all of the relevant studies.

And the right reason does not involve pronation control or impact forces.

What matters, the researchers conclude in their review, is comfort.In one study from 2001 (overseen by Dr. Nigg), researchers asked soldiers to try six shoe inserts, which varied in terms of cushioning, arch height, heel shape, thickness and other variables. The soldiers were asked to pick the one insert that felt the most comfortable to them and wear that insert inside their shoes during their subsequent military training. A separate group of soldiers wore standard footwear as controls.

After four months, the soldiers wearing the shoes fitted with inserts that felt comfortable to them had a much lower incidence of injury than those wearing standard shoes.

This finding makes scientific and common sense, Dr. Nigg said. Our bodies are actually “very good judges” of how each of us should move and run, he said. When we ignore or fight our bodies’ natural movement pattern, he said, such as by trying to control pronation, the risk of injury rises.

Instead, he said, we should pay close attention to our body’s opinion about running shoe options.

“Try on four or five pairs,” Dr. Nigg said. Jog around the store or the block in each.

“People can usually tell right away which shoe feels the most comfortable,” Dr. Nigg said. “That is the one to choose.”

We Finally Know When We Can Get Our Hands on Nike’s Self-Lacing Sneakers

Nike announced on Wednesday that its Back to the Future-inspired self-lacing sneakers will hit select U.S. Nike stores on Nov. 28. The company says to expect a “high price tag” on the futuristic kicks.

Hey, McFly. It’s finally here. Nike has just unveiled the HyperAdapt 1.0, the sports apparel giant’s first self-lacing, motorized sneakers.

Nike senior innovator Tiffany Beers explained how the high-tech kicks lace themselves up. “When you step in, your heel will hit a sensor and the system will automatically tighten,” she said an announcement on Nike’s website. “Then there are two buttons on the side to tighten and loosen. You can adjust it until it’s perfect.”

Ah, customization, at your fingertips and on your feet. Sounds pretty sweet and the shoes look pretty cool, too. (Speaking of sounds, we wonder, can you hear the shoes mechanically adjust?)

The idea, Nike designer Tinker Hatfield said at a flashy product unveiling yesterday, is to give wearers more control over how loose or tight their shoes fit.

Last year, Hatfield gave Michael J. Fox — the original Marty McFly from Back to the Future — a somewhat similar pair of self-tying sneakers. The iconic actor fittingly tried on the not-for-sale limited edition Nike Air MAGs on Oct. 21, 2015. That’s the exact date McFly travels to in Back to the Future Part II, when he dons a pair of Nike high-tops that automagically power-lace to his feet.

Flash forward to 2016 and the Nike HyperAdapt 1.0 will be available for purchase right on time for the holiday shopping season. While there’s no word yet on how much these light-up, battery-powered trainers will cost, you better start saving. We can’t imagine they’ll be cheap.

Not everyone can buy them, though. In a clever marketing maneuver, Nike says you must be a registered user of Nike+, the company’s own branded fitness app. If you are and you’re interested in picking up a pair, you can sign up to receive email updates from Nike.