March 30, 2016

The future of fashion – 3D print your shoes at home

Jodie Fox is revolutionising the footwear industry, but she has a bigger vision for the fashion sector. Custom manufacturing is the way to keep up with evolving customer demands – and one day consumers will be able to 3D print their shoes at home.

Jodie Fox is revolutionising the footwear industry with her custom made shoe website Shoes of Prey and believes that on-demand manufacturing like hers is the future of fashion.

“What I’m really excited about today is the future of fashion and where we can take this together,” she told the audience at a business forum supported by NAB as part of the recent Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival.

Shoes of Prey allows customers to go onto its website and design their own shoes, which are then custom manufactured then delivered direct to them a few weeks later.

“At the heart of what we learned about customisation so far is that there is something about on-demand manufacturing that is exciting for all of us as an industry,” she says.

Fox explained how shoe manufacturing over the years has responded to customer needs. Initially a cobbler would make a pair of shoes, but this could take many weeks; then consumers wanted to buy shoes immediately which led to mass manufacturing during the industrial revolution.

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“Today the consumer need is: ‘I wish I could get what I want but I can only buy what’s on the shelf’,” she says. This is the need Shoes of Prey is meeting.

Customisation doesn’t take the designer out of the picture, says Fox – quite the opposite. “The designer is highly relevant in this particular scenario because I can tell you after six years of Shoes of Prey that people hate a blank canvas, they don’t know what to do with it,” she says.

“What they want is to stumble across something that’s exciting for them and just make that little tweak. Designers will always be so critical to helping us understand texture and colour and pattern and shape and all of these things that are pulled together in the type of shoe that we might like to wear.”

The company has collaborated with designers including Carla Zampatti and Romance Was Born.

Fox says there are several advantages for her and other businesses in on-demand manufacturing, which is where items are individually made only as they are ordered by the customer.

Because customers can build exactly what they want on the Shoes of Prey website, its return rates are much lower than other businesses.

Making shoes one at a time leads to “way better” financial and environmental sustainability as well. “We never have to discount because we don’t have product that’s just sitting around; we never have to look at the capital that’s sitting in our store room because of all the minimum order quantities we have to face, and this is something I’m really excited about for the whole fashion industry.”

Interestingly for an online start-up, Shoes of Prey has also opened bricks and mortar stores, which Fox says was a result of really listening to what their customers wanted. They found that women were dropping into their Sydney office to try on and touch and feel the shoes.

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“This is where you don’t die as a brand, where you start to really listen to exactly what your customer is saying, and not just hear what they’re saying but then try to dive inside that and why they’re saying that,” says Fox.

The company wanted to do something different, so they worked with set designers from the Australian Ballet to help build the store and made everything out of the same materials their shoes were made from so it was a tactile experience.

They won World’s Best Store Design at the World Retail Awards in 2013, beating Karl Lagerfeld’s concept store in Paris and Puma’s flagship store in Osaka.

Fox paints a picture of her ultimate vision: a women wakes up and steps into their interactive wardrobe which selects a shoe design for her to wear that day; she ‘tweaks’ it a bit to make it more to her liking; then while she’s having a shower, a 3D printer prints out that day’s shoes.

It’s an example of the way Fox is always looking for new ways to improve her business and to meet customer needs.

“Shoes of Prey is not just about designing shoes and giving people the power to design shoes, it’s actually about giving people what they want when they want it and we can’t get stuck in thinking that we need to keep the business as it is and just grow it,” she says.

“We can’t get stuck in just thinking that the website is the answer and the way we’ve got it just now is right, we have to keep pushing because that consumer need will keep evolving.

“And let’s face it – we could all be wearing nicer shoes.”

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