OPEN SOURCE SHOES
Making a Case to Go Modular
When I mention that I make shoes,
I often get the same response: “Oh
my God, can you make me some? I’m a total
shoe addict!” If you’re anything like me,
you’ve had fantastic visions of creating
your own boots, platforms, wingtips ...
But very few of us actually turn these ideas
into reality. Making shoes isn’t easy. The fact
that the process is surrounded with an aura
of mystery doesn’t help either. As a result,
custom shoes are only available to those with
the means to pay a shoemaker hundreds of
dollars per pair. The rest of us must search
through a sea of mediocre, mass-produced
footwear. This needs to change.
We can start by taking some lessons from
open source models of software development.
How? We’re going to cannibalize existing
shoes, make them modular, and minimize the
risk of experimentation.
We start by cannibalizing the most complicated part of the shoe — the sole. The sole
provides support and cushioning to the foot’s
complex structure of bones, joints, muscles,
and tendons. Since most shoe companies
spend quite a bit of time and money working
out issues of construction, materials, and
support, we can benefit from their hard work
by using existing soles as the platform from
which we can build.
Currently, almost all shoes are constructed
by gluing the upper (the part that covers your
foot) to the soles. Once connected, it’s nearly
impossible to remove these parts from one
another without doing damage.
But if we construct shoes to be modular,
then the uppers could be removed from the
sole without destroying either part. Straps
could be swapped as easily as Lego bricks.
In the open source world, developing code
in this way allows software developers to
distribute a workload in manageable sections.
Since the shoe is a complicated object, it will
be much easier for us to build if we break the
object into discrete elements.
Because the whole is broken into interchangeable parts, failure in one realm doesn’t bring
the whole endeavor down. I experienced
this firsthand when I made shoes in the
I had measured the foot, drafted patterns,
cut final materials, sewn them together, and
finally glued the upper to the sole. But somewhere in there I made a mistake. When my
girlfriend tried on the shoes, they were three
sizes too big. Mistakes in a modular system
are far less costly. You simply rebuild the part
rather than the whole shoe.
By letting companies do the hard stuff
for us, we can start making custom shoes
much faster and cheaper than if we had to
build the whole object. And because we only
need to make part of the shoe, we can make
custom shoes for less than $20. The pair
I built here cost less than $15, and I wasn’t
even cutting corners.
However, I don’t make shoes because it’s
inexpensive. I do it because I love bringing
my ideas to life. Building modular shoes
makes this process much more enjoyable
because it allows me to make changes and
improve a design even as I’m making the
shoe. These flexible construction methods
should empower you to make daring, shocking, or surprising shoes. So start building.
Your shoes are waiting.