From in-store competition, to the escalating amount of online returns, the underfoot fit and feel of a shoe has never been more important than it is now.
This fall, OrthoLite, the leading supplier of open-cell foam technology, is rolling out a series of new products designed to upgrade footwear’s comfort, performance and support.
Lead by VP of Innovation and Strategic Partnerships Skip Lei, a 31-year veteran of Nike, the company is increasing awareness about its product with visible technology and more collaborative projects. With more than 200 brand partners spanning Clarks and Johnston & Murphy, to Adidas and Puma, OrthoLite aims to help guide brands toward improvement and better experiences.
“We’re moving away from transactional behavior and focusing on more collaborative facilitation for better solutions,” Lei said. “We won’t change the world, but we are looking at some of the uber trends in footwear.”
One of those trends is articulation. Lei says visible technology is an excellent selling feature that draws the consumer to the product. From Nike Free to Adidas Boost, he points out that almost every brand as an articulated story. “Visible technology always struck a chord with consumers and we wanted our little component to have a visual story to tell as well,” he said.
OrthoLite tells its first visual technology story this fall with the 3D Skive Heel, a special cutting technology using wave and “egg crate” geometry to amplify cushioning in the heel region. The embedded two-layer oval design uses an exclusive 3D skive foam technology that creates immediate step-in comfort.
While consumers might look for a specific color, price, brand or value, Lei says they’re going to look inside the shoe at some point. “Like looking under the hood of a car, now the consumer is going to be confronted with visible technology right under the heel. It makes you want to touch it, adds some curiosity,” he explained. “Our component for visual technology can help that brand sell that shoe and give the consumer something a little new and different.”
OrthoLite is also introducing a new geometry that recreates the underfoot feeling of China’s pebble paths. Geared toward the comfort footwear market, the pebble feeling provides reflexology stimulation. The company is working on the size and density of the pebbles to get it just right. “It’s one more thing that no one has really done before,” Lei said about the new underfoot feeling.
Additionally, OrthoLite is working to find a foam and top sock that works together in harmony. “These components are always looked at as individual items, so we’re working with a couple of large companies to find a top cloth that would be bespoke to our foam for performance benefits and sold as a package,” Lei said.
As a brand, Lei said OrthoLite wants to make itself “more available to make bespoke solutions.” While it requires more effort and time, he said the goal is to have clients feel like they are moving forward. Lei understands the pressure brands are under to increase margin and gain market share. Brands invest tons in design and marketing and try to shave off cents by using cheaper sock liners. However, in the competitive nature of footwear, Lei candidly said the last thing any brand should want to do is make their footwear less comfortable.
“Compromising the thing closest to the foot is lunacy,” Lei said. “If I had online solid sales, I would make sure those shoes feel like magic when they arrive and nothing would be more important to me. The underfoot comfort story has never been more important.”