How Your Next Running Shoes Will Be Custom-built

By Jenny Willden

Typically, runners seeking new shoes venture online or into a retailer, read a few reviews, purchase a pair, and hope they fit. But imagine, for a moment, a different shoe shopping experience.

Instead of ambling aisles of styles, sizes, and widths, you simply step onto a foot scanner. In five seconds, it measures your exact foot shape and biomechanics. Within a few weeks, a fully personalized pair arrives on your doorstep. But this technology isn't the stuff of science fiction. This is the future of running—with customized kicks launching soon from some of the biggest names in running shoes.

Custom running first began with an aesthetic focus, letting runners select colorways, soles, and unique logos with a mouse click. But this year some brands are testing the waters of fully personalized shoes built based on your foot shape and size. And it's all thanks to new foot scan technologies, one of which is FitStation by HP.

Simply head to a retailer with the technology, stand on the platform, and receive a three-dimensional scan of your foot. Combined with stride and footfall measurements, this process can be used to calculate how to build custom shoes—even specifying how much polyurethane to inject in the shoe's sole.

And while these futuristic shoes aren't available yet, your favorite running brands will soon use FitStations to build smarter shoes and insoles fit for your arch, motion, and footshape.

Right now, Amy Olive, consumer marketing manager at Superfeet, says runners can test the technology's use for insoles at one of the 25-plus FitStation pilot locations. Using data from the foot scan and gait analysis, you'll receive made-in-the-USA, 3D printed custom Superfeet insoles delivered in just seven days, Olive says.

And these unique-to-you insoles do more than support your arch. "There are five zones on the bottom of the insole where we can dial up or down the rigidity of the material so it's custom-tuned for your foot," says Olive. This helps prevent dreaded hot spots, blisters, and pain. Superfeet is also launching an ahhh-inducing post-run product too, FitStation-built custom recovery slides.

Until fully customized shoes come online, FitStations provide off-the-shelf recommendations based on your feet. The machine measures your foot and arch type to recommend shoes the local retailer stocks that best fit your feet. This means fewer footwear returns and more comfortable runs—a win for retailers and runners. Olive says the technology's goal is to, “bring mass customization to the market," giving everyday consumers custom shoes that improve and enliven their run.



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First In Line

While these scanning technologies are currently limited to shoe recommendations and custom insoles, one-of-a-kind custom running shoes are coming, and veteran brand Brooks is leading the charge.

Brooks' Genesys is the company's first foray into the personalized running shoe market. It's testing the concept through a beta research program in which selected runners visit a FitStation to create personalized Brooks shoes fit to their feet.

Brooks' senior manager of footwear product line management, Nikhil Jain, says the FitStation scanning process measures length of foot, arch location, and arch height. Once they compile this information, Brooks applies its running shoe algorithm to create each unique pair of Brooks Genesys.

For runners with irregularly sized or tough-to-fit feet, the shoes are a game changer, “If I can build a shoe specific to how my foot moves, then I'm getting something that allows me to run how I'm meant to run," says Jain.

Taking it a step further, Jain hopes customized running shoes transform the runner experience, reducing the chance of injury and helping runners fall in love with their footwear. For the first round of Genesys development, just the length and foot shape are customized, but the goal is to later personalize the shoes for arch height and width too.

While Brooks is the first to launch a FitStation-made running shoe, Olive says other footwear makers are hot on its heels. “Brooks is the only partner we're currently talking about," she says, "but we do have quite a few others that we're hoping to be able to talk about later this year."

Running Brands Go Bespoke

Beyond foot scan technologies, other brands are also launching takes on made-to-order footwear. Salomon is teasing S/Lab ME:SH, a personalized shoe created using biomechanics, usage analysis, and style preference to locally construct the unique pairs. (No official launch date is set.)

While not custom-built (yet), Reebok's announcement of a limited-edition 3D-printed running shoe called Liquid Floatride is the company's first step toward tailor-made shoes. Currently, the Liquid Floatride's unique spider web-like lacing system is constructed using 3D printed material, but the plan is to use this 3D printing to enable customization.

Brooks and Salomon are staying focused on personalizing for function over style, but runners looking to play designer can create their own unique look with Nike's By You program. Choose the colorways on the tongue, traction, and every piece in between.

ASICS is embracing the custom trend by launching its own microwave technology, which creates one-of-a-kind colored midsoles in seconds. Choose the combos you love, microwave them into limitless designs, and choose an upper to match for a one-off style. ASICS' microwave customization also comes with an eco-friendly bonus, reducing energy consumption by 90 percent compared to traditional production methods.

The Future of Personalization

Looking to the future, running footwear brands are investing heavily in personalization, believing if they build it, the runners will come. “If I can get something built for my body, my needs, I can afford it, and it benefits me, I want it," says Jain of the attitude many Brooks customers have about the future of personalization.

Some others, like Utah-based running coach and competitor Lora Erickson, are more skeptical. "I believe the increased cost could be prohibitive for most runners," she says. "Unless shoe companies find a way to keep the costs down, I would suggest stick with your favorites until they get the process perfected."

And while Genesys testing is still months away from completion, its results could drastically change the running shoe game. If prototypes test well, by the end of 2019, you could pop into a running retailer, scan your feet, and get your own pair of custom-made kicks in just a few weeks.