How A Construction Worker's Expanding Shoe Concept Could Revolutionise Kids' Sneakers
Some may tell you that sneaker designing is a career that requires a design degree, years of hands-on training and keen knowledge of advanced design concepts. In most cases, they'd be right. However, in the case of Daniel Winter, all it took to become a designer was a spark.
Winter – who hails from New Zealand, works construction as his day job and has no design training – got an idea for an expandable children's shoe after walking by his father's sheep shearing moccasins one day. Sheep shearing moccasins boast a snug-to-the-foot design with a flat bottom – picture a combination of a Minnetonka Moccasin and a deconstructed Clarks Wallabee, and you're on the right track – and their construction gave Winter an enlightened idea: a flat slab of material that could be cut and formed into a shoe of any size. This idea eventually evolved into an adaptable sneaker design that, like a bud flowering into a rose, could expand with the wearer's foot, growing up to five sizes!
After pitching the idea to the New Zealand government, Winter has been working with the country's innovation department to bring his idea to reality. He hopes that his expandable, adaptable design will help ease the economic load on families with children that live below the poverty line, ensuring they don't have to constantly worry about finding new shoes as their children grow – and preventing the children from having to go barefoot. He also hopes his idea can revolutionise kids' footwear as a whole! See our conversation with Winter below.
What’s your sneaker history? Do you consider yourself a sneakerhead, a collector, a casual observer?
I was obsessed with skateboarding as a kid and always liked the idea of having a pro model shoe, so that’s where my initial interest in shoes came from. But as I’ve been working on this design, I’ve thrown myself into the world of shoe design and become a bit of a sneakerhead who always keeps an eye on new drops! Designs like the ,Flyknit Racer, the UltraBOOST and the Balenciaga Speed Trainer were huge inspirations for this shoe. My personal favourite sneaker would have to be the Nike SB Janoski though.
After the idea for this shoe first came to your mind, what was the process of fully unpacking the concept and putting the design together like?
I got the idea after walking past a pair of my father’s sheep shearing moccasins, which are a special type of shoe that shearers wear to stop slipping on the shearing board. The initial idea was to create a flat shape that could be cut and formed into a shoe of any size. Sheets of EVA foam/rubber compound could then be sent to low-income communities and the parents could simply cut out a shoe to size for their kids instead of constantly buying new pairs as they grew.
From there, the idea evolved into a sock wrapped in a special foam and rubber tape that would mould to a kid's foot and could then be cut and laced up to create a shoe. After messing around enough, I landed on a midsole/outsole combo that would overlap and open up to make way for the child’s foot to grow. From walking past the shearing moccasins and getting the idea in my head to that point took about two years. I knew that a lot of families around the world were financially affected by the pandemic, so I wanted to make it happen sooner rather than later!
You’ve mentioned that this shoe’s expandable fit tech is similar to how a flower opens up. Can you explain to us exactly how that works?
The shoe is primarily constructed of heat-moulded EVA foam and rubber. Durable expanding material is used for the upper, and attached to that is a waterproofed midsole that splays open in conjunction with the outsole – imagine a top-down view of a rose growing from a bud and the way the petals overlap as they grow. The midsole and outsole join at the base but move freely around the edges, and elastic bands anchor the toe box to the upper. A lace lock and Velcro strap hold the wearer's foot in place while the shoe expands by five sizes as their foot grows.
You said you have no background or training in design, but you came up with this awesome concept that you're poised to execute on. Would you consider yourself a designer now?
I guess so! This process for me to get from the initial idea to this design (and soon a product) has been like a puzzle. I know there’s a future where this shoe is a massive success and on millions of feet around the world! Learning how to use Blender3d [a 3d graphics software program], navigating the patenting system and actually putting in the time and prioritising this project are small pieces of that puzzle and it’s just a matter of figuring things out.
When you sent the email out to the New Zealand government, did you think that there was any chance you’d get a response? What was the feeling like when you did?
I was so confident with the design that I knew if it was actually seen by someone I’d get a reply, but I thought it would just end up in the junk folder and never be seen. Needless to say, I was stoked when they got back to me! The fact that the response came straight from the Prime Minister’s office definitely gave me validation – and more motivation to keep going!
What about this design means the most to you, and what's your moonshot goal for it?
This design has the potential to cut the amount that families spend to keep shoes on their kids' feet by 80 per cent. Like a lot of countries, New Zealand is battling growing income inequality. This design could give kids that have to go barefoot a better sense of self-worth, and protect their feet too. The money saved on shoes could help provide a better quality of life for those families.
The goal is to get this shoe on as many feet as possible, be that by linking with a larger company or building a company myself. I feel like this is a solution to a huge global problem. There's an absolutely massive amount of young families looking for a more affordable way to put shoes on their kids' feet. Damn near every parent I've talked to, no matter their wealth bracket, has complained about their kids outgrowing their shoes before they're properly worn.
Now that you've seen you can do it, do you hope to design more sneakers in the future?,
I'd definitely like to design another shoe at some point! I've got so many ideas in my head after scrolling through the endless concepts on Instagram looking for inspiration, so now it's just a matter of finding the time!