Vancouver’s Wiivv is putting its best foot forward as customization takes off

From shoes to shirts and everything in between, personalization is transforming the consumer goods sector, with people increasingly seeking bespoke solutions that reflect not just their personal style, but their personal shape.

According to Scott Emmons, chief technology officer for the innovation consultancy Current Global and founder of the Neiman Marcus Innovation Lab, the global marketplace for custom footwear, apparel, health and wellness devices, and other wearables will reach $100 billion by 2024.

Emmons was moderating a panel discussion on the “custom-first world,” and its implications for both established and emerging brands, at the Collision conference in Toronto on Tuesday.

In some ways, the era of personalization is a throwback to the pre-industrialization era, said Shamil Hargovan, CEO and co-founder of Wiivv, a Vancouver company that produces 3D-printed sandals and insoles using photos of consumers’ feet.

“When you think about it, our bodies are unique. There has been 100 years in history where products were mass-produced, and everything before that was custom,” said Hargovan, whose company was a runner-up at the prestigious Hardware Battlefield competition at CES in 2016.

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Shamil Hargovan

“Seamstresses and cobblers used to make the product, and we’re going back to a world where it’s made for you and for your body. It’s going to allow you to perform at your best, be well, be comfortable and in some cases express yourself. Personalization is the new loyalty.”

Hargovan and his business partner, Louis-Victor Jadavji, founded Wiivv in 2014 and launched their first product, a $79 3D-printed custom insole, via a Kickstarter campaign in 2016. The company later purchased eSoles, which specializes in modular customized footbeds, in anticipation of the launch of a customizable sandal.

The good news for brands is that consumers are increasingly willing to pay a premium for personalization. A study by Deloitte found that one in five consumers expressing an interest in personalized products are willing to pay a 20% premium, while 22% indicated they are happy to share personal data in exchange for more personalized product or service.

Consumers are also willing to be led by brands when it comes to personalization. That’s one of the reasons why Wiivv partnered with Dr. Scholl’s earlier this year to produce a US$99 3D printable insole constructed using more than 400 different data points.

“[Wiivv] has the secret sauce, and when you combine it with an iconic brand, that’s a winning formula,” said James Thornton, vice-president and general manager of personal care at Dr. Scholl’s.

The 113-year-old foot-care brand is responding to increased consumer demand for choice and products perfectly suited to their needs, said Thornton. “If you’re going to survive in today’s consumer products world, you’d better be able to do that… If you’re not continuously evolving to live up to what consumers want, you will perish. What we’re doing is staying fresh and on-trend.”

Thornton said the footwear and orthopaedic footwear brand is at the very start of what is known within the company as “Dr. Scholls 2.0,” an internal process predicated on a complete re-imagining of a 100-year-old product through technology.

“We’ve got an amazing R&D team that has a lot of bio-mechanic capabilities and a lot of technological capability. I expect you’re going to see very exciting things from this brand in the next few years.”

Not every industry will go the custom route, said Hargovan, but categories including footwear, insoles, orthotics, supportive apparel, protective gear and medical devices are ripe for disruption by customization.

Initiatives such as the one undertaken by Dr. Scholl’s also help disprove the accepted notion that established companies don’t have the capability to adapt to change, said Hargovan.

“Big companies are filled with entrepreneurs, and it’s people like Jim who have championed what we’re doing within their organizations,” he said. “If you don’t find those champions internally, nothing is going to happen.”


Chris Powell