It would seem that the “STEP Ahead” Award that I got last week, along with 129 other amazing women, would have something to do with making shoes. Well, it does, but not in the way that you think. STEP stands for “Science, Technology, Engineering and Production” and last week, we were each awarded the 2016 STEP Ahead Award from the Manufacturing Institute in Washington DC. Over a two day celebration we were wined, dined, congratulated and thanked for all the science, technology, engineering, and production awesomeness that we do on a daily basis. Congress people told us how essential we are to the U.S. economy, creating wealth and community and serving as role models for young women and girls to pursue STEM and manufacturing careers. Many of us mentor young women in one way or another. In fact, it was a former mentee of mine, Grace Lefebure who nominated me for the award. Grace was the only woman in her mechanical engineering capstone class with me at OESH a number of years ago. She is now a hotshot engineer making airplane parts for Boeing in Seattle, who won the STEP Ahead Award last year. Thank you Grace!
While I was the only honoree from the shoe industry, there were women from just about every other industry sector, all manufacturing one thing or another right here in the United States. We had much fun talking about injection molding and how to get grease off your clothes (you can’t, which is why you have to wear mostly black). We also talked a lot about coding and 3D printing. Everyone loved my hot pink 3D printed Athena Sandals!
Before we parted, we each had to make a personal commitment as to how we would encourage more girls and women to pursue STEM and manufacturing careers. I promised that I will continue to host factory tours for students. The girls who come through the OESH factory are especially excited to see how we can make shoes using coding and 3D printing. There are very few shoe designers who are women and there are even fewer women who actually manufacture shoes. When girls see what we do here at OESH they can’t help but be inspired to role up their sleeves and learn some code!
What a nice piece in the Charlottesville Daily Progress Business Journal this morning. Thank you so much Allison Wrabel for telling our story!
You can read the full article online here:
The OESH Factory is located in an industrial area of Charlottesville, Virginia. Unlike many cities that have substantial issues in managing heavy volumes of industrial waste, for the most part, Charlottesville’s urban economic area is vibrant without being overtly grimy. We’ve always felt fortunate to be embedded in our community as OESH grows–it’s great to be in the midst of such activity. Just beyond the recent elections here, we caught this interview from a creative and thoughtful candidate, Anson Parker, for the Charlottesville City Council (Anson’s full interview on the Charlottesville Tomorrow website, chock full of intelligent ideas, can be found here).
WHAM!, Anson lays out the long-term economic benefit of developing a modern, highly-productive workforce and references one of the brilliant movies of the 1980s…Who says developing a credible economic plan can’t be fun?
Taking shoe design and politics to 11…now that’s our idea of good government!
I received a unique invitation from Professor Richard Crawford to present the ongoing story of OESH Shoes to a group of second and third year law students this week at the powerful University of Virginia School of Law, in the course Finance of Small Enterprises – Law 7606
It was really fun! All 44 seats were full, and the students were fully engaged throughout. Thanks again to UVa and especially Professor Crawford. You can zip through the presentation by clicking here or below:
As we noted before, Who can resist having these on her feet?
Even better, on the near-term horizon is a new line of shoes we’ve had in development for 3 years. (!) Knowing it takes quite the robust product to complement the La Vidas effectively, we cannot wait to soon show all of you on OESH’s Priority Email List (to get on this most-awesome List, tap a quick email to service@OESHshoes.com) exactly what is coming on board later this fall. As the Beatles said, “It Won’t Be Long…’til they belong…to you…”
Turn it up!
The newest color of our superb La Vida v2.0 portfolio, the Oxford, just launched, first to our OESHer community. As is our style, we believe reciprocating your loyalty by offering each of you on the Priority Email List the first look at the latest and greatest from our Development Team works for all. And this post is to say “THANK-YOU” for again showing up and ordering these beautiful Oxfords in a record-setting 2015 day for OESH.
Then again, Who can resist having these on her feet?
Wait ’til the word gets around the University that the Yanks are loving Oxford…in our own, inimitable way. Oh…wait a minute…they’ve heard already? Well then…
OESH recently made a significant improvement when you use the main Search Engines looking for a legitimate answer for Morton’s Neuroma Shoes. Paul Giacherio is the reason for our new, powerful internet presentations, and his thoughtful design for Morton’s splashes in with this image:
And the photo he took of Casey to go with the above is equally compelling:
Obviously, Paul is a world-class expert in design, and you’ll continue seeing massive improvements in the “look” of our website and surrounding material that convey the OESH message cleanly and effortlessly. For the complete new page for the world’s healthiest footwear for Morton’s, click here.
Way to go, Paul!
Autodesk–the world’s leader in 3D Design, Engineering, Architectural, and Entertainment software–today published this wonderful article by Matt Alderton about Casey and OESH. This feature appears in the “Success Stories” tab of their Line//Shape//Space online magazine, entitled How to Become a Product Designer
OESH has had several excellent articles written about our unique successes, but today’s might be the very best of all. Many thanks to Matt for his splendid writing and all of the other great folks at Autodesk who did such a super job. Below is the full article–and indeed, you’ll see some photos of imminent products that might be appearing soon…on your feet.
D. Casey Kerrigan, MD, isn’t a product designer. And yet, that’s exactly what she is.
What sounds like a contradiction isn’t at all. Rather, it’s the axiom of a new era in product design—an era in which anyone can leverage technology to turn expertise into ideas and ideas into inventions. Anyone can learn how to become a product designer.
“I’m a good example of how democratization of design technology can allow a physician-scientist, with no prior background in design, to improve how shoes are designed and made,” says Kerrigan, who six years ago left her job as a tenured professor at the University of Virginia to establish OESH, a company that designs and manufactures “responsive” women’s footwear.
The journey from scientist to shoemaker began more than 20 years ago, when Kerrigan became interested in biomechanics as a student at Harvard Medical School. A former runner, she attended a lecture on gait—the science of walking and running—and became fascinated by the impact of footwear on the human body, which she studied for nearly a decade before publishing a groundbreaking paper in 1998 establishing, for the first time, a link between high-heeled shoes and knee arthritis in women.
“Knee arthritis is a big deal,” Kerrigan says. “It causes more physical disability in the elderly than any other singular disease, but it doesn’t get the attention that other life-threatening things do, because it’s very subtle. People live with it, and they don’t exercise because of the pain and loss of motion [which increases their risk for cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, and depression]. It’s a vicious cycle.”
The culprit isn’t necessarily the height or size of shoes’ heels. The contouring and cushioning of their soles also interfere with the body’s natural range of motion.
“After I demonstrated the link between high-heeled shoes and knee arthritis, I did more research and found out that it’s not just high heels; it’s any women’s dress shoe, really, that abnormally increases the forces in the areas we get knee arthritis,” continues Kerrigan, whose subsequent studies revealed that even a typical running shoe increases joint loads by 50 percent. “People choose shoes based on what’s comfortable for their feet, but I know there’s a long-term effect on the knees. That’s what eventually led me to decide that we need to make better shoes: I wanted to save knees because nobody else will.”
Ultimately, only shoes, not studies, can save knees from arthritis. So, in 2009, Kerrigan established OESH to turn her research into reality. “You can only do so much research,” she says. “At some point I decided, ‘If I want to make a difference, I’ve got to just get out there and start making shoes.’”
She tried to license her idea—shoes with flat, springy soles that support the body’s natural biomechanics—but existing shoe manufacturers were more interested in form than function.
“They were receptive, but their agenda was very different from mine,” Kerrigan says. “They were very into aesthetics; I just wanted to make something healthy.”
Kerrigan’s shoes didn’t just have a different agenda. They also had a different makeup: Unlike most shoes, the soles of which are made from an elastic plastic known as ethylene-vinyl acetate, hers are made from a unique elastic composite material that she developed. Not only is the material unique, it is incorporated into a cantilevered structure in the sole that does not “cushion” but rather “responds” to body-weight forces when they are at their greatest.
“I’m just a physician and a researcher; I’m not a machinist,” Kerrigan says. “But I had to learn to become one because my shoes are so nontraditional; they’re very different from what’s currently being made, not only in terms of their design and how they affect the body but also in terms of how they’re manufactured.”
The shoe industry didn’t know how to work with the material Kerrigan developed, nor did it have equipment that could incorporate that material into Kerrigan’s sole designs. So, Kerrigan established her own DIY laboratory and factory in Charlottesville, Virginia, where she taught herself how to design, model, and manufacture with a variety of design tools, including Autodesk AutoCAD and, finally, Autodesk Fusion 360, which she currently uses to manage the entire production process, from initial design through final fabrication.
“The idea of learning CAD was very daunting, but it ended up being very straightforward and intuitive,” says Kerrigan, who uses the software to operate her own water-jet cutter and milling machine to produce her shoe soles on site.
Kerrigan spent about a year perfecting her initial design through trial and error and began selling her homegrown shoes online in 2011. OESH has been growing and expanding ever since.
“I just had to experiment and figure it out,” she says of design and production. “I couldn’t have done that without technology. The technology is everything.”
The technology didn’t just turn Kerrigan into an inventor. It also turned her into an innovator: Last year, she began using CAD to design and fabricate a dozen specialized 3D printers capable of 3D printing her patented shoe designs, the first of which—a line of 3D-printed sandals—arrive this summer as OESH’s Athena Collection.
“We’re the first to sell a truly functional 3D-printed shoe,” says Kerrigan, who eventually plans to use 3D printing to fabricate the tops of her shoes, which she currently imports from Asia. The result, she boasts, will be a shoe that’s 100 percent made in America—and, one day perhaps, entirely custom made. “I think that’s where things are going: Instead of injection-molding the same part a billion times, technology will make it possible for manufacturers to embrace many different designs that fit many different needs,” she says.
Not only many different designs but also many different designers. Perhaps even you.
“If there’s something you feel passionate about—something you think could be designed differently and better—you can make it,” Kerrigan concludes. “You don’t need design experience. You just need the technology.”
Once in a while, a weather image nails the center of the bullseye. Going for a run this summer Virginia morning, with the temperature already pushing above 80, and pulling the newspaper out of the mailbox when I finished, on page A2 I saw this:
This beautiful photograph (thank-you Bill Shrapnel/Colmar Estate and AP) from Orange, New South Wales, in (where else?) Australia, lit me up today.
To the point that we said, let’s do something neat for our friends around the globe. So we are.
A really underrated strength of OESH has always been our international business. OESHers who live outside of the USA wait the longest and put up with the most hassle (Customs…holy cow, what a cabal…) to receive their footwear–and do so almost entirely without complaint. Thus, given the many international OESHers we serve, we thought it would be a nice gesture to offer FREE SHIPPING during the rest of July to those of you outside the USA.
When you order and the international shipping rates are applied, we’ll be refunding those charges prior to shipment through Friday July 31, just to let you know how much we appreciate you wearing your La Vidas and our other spectacular OESH Footwear.
And all because our favorite marsupial took a stroll in the snow. It looks like she’s waiting for the delivery truck with her new Rococcos (I’m guessing she was that order for a pair of size 7s and a pair of size 70s we got last week)…and I’ll be sure to refund that freight charge asap.
This past week we were recognized by Autodesk in one of their fabrication blogs. Autodesk’s Reality Computing blog entitled Where Building Construction Meets Shoe Fabrication highlighted the recent collaboration between OESH and Melissa Goldman’s The World is Flat class at the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture (previous post here). For those unfamiliar with Autodesk, they are a software company which produces powerful computer programs used by designers in a wide variety of fields. At OESH, we have been using their Autodesk Fusion 360 in our latest shoe design and fabrication process (previous post here). Needless to say, making an appearance on an Autodesk blog, especially with our recent collaboration, is pretty exciting.
Both the Autodesk Blog and our previous posts have highlighted the process of working with Melissa Goldman and her class. To recap: it was a semester long course where students worked in groups to design, develop, and print a wearable shoe. Within this, each student had their own research track, and for the second half of the semester, some groups researched materials, hacked tools, and created extruders for said material.
As with many collaborations, the moment when there is a chance for reflection and evaluation is incredibly valuable. Without everyone explicitly saying it, it was apparent that most students, regardless of what material they were printing, realized that optimizing the design for the specificities of how the printer works was paramount. There are limits to printing, and therefore certain restraints needed to be adhered to. These restraints varied greatly based on printer and material (ie printing icing vs. printing concrete). Another great lesson learned by the students is the importance of a well-designed extruder. Regardless of printing filament, plastic pellets, concrete mixture, paper pulp, or cake icing, the actual material needs to pass through and out of an extruder in order to print. The precision of how the extruder is built must match the material being printed. There is often a fine line between what will and will not work, and it was great to see the students dealing with this challenge at multiple scales and with multiple materials.
Another gratifying part of any design collaboration is seeing how each individual interprets the challenge. For instance, one student from outside the Architecture School commented, “at the Architecture School they create space, so I made a shoe with a space in it” (the “space” was in the heel and provided a place for a key or other small necessity). Another student produced a shoe which was a skeletal frame contoured to the foot where fabric could be woven in and out of to form enclosure. Students even produced designs to aid personal needs. There were many ideas, and though they were vastly different and with varying intentions, everyone faced the challenges of designing with the reality of fabricating in mind.
The value of this collaboration could be seen in the students’ process of taking a design idea, modifying the tools to make it work, and physically producing the design. It is success such as this which makes us excited to continue the collaboration with the Architecture School into the fall. With Melissa’s help, Dr. Kerrigan will be heading an undergraduate design studio which will dive deeply into the value and challenges of 3-d printing footwear. The end goal of this second collaboration is to merge the creativity and experimental nature of students with the real world fabrication experience and research of Dr. Kerrigan in order to advance 3-d printing for healthy design.