The (polymorphic) shoe must go on
Fyous makes footwear to fit you, and only you
Today’s startup wants us to change how we think about footwear, with their ‘polymorphic moulding’ technology.
They’re tackling the medical market first but they have a bigger vision than that. Scroll down to read all about Fyous.
Thursday’s Northern Tech Awards in Edinburgh were great. It was my first ever time in Scotland (yes, I know - shameful!) and I definitely need to spend more time there. GP Bullhound put on a great show, and you can find the winners here.
And special congratulations to a startup we’ve previously featured, Gigpig, for winning the event’s Northern Star Award for Potential International Success. Catch up with our profile of them if you missed it.
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If the shoe fits… maybe Fyous was involved
While the way we buy shoes has in many cases shifted online, much of the rest of the experience hasn’t changed in decades.
It’s still a gamble whether your shoe will be comfortable to wear, even if you pick the right size.
With a bold aim to transform the footwear industry, Fyous has come up with something it hopes will eventually mean fixed shoe sizes become a thing of the past.
But the Sheffield-based startup is beginning with the medical market as the first target for its ‘polymorphic moulding’ technology.
“We make custom-made footwear fast and affordably,” explains co-founder Thomas Bloomfield.
“Polymorphic moulding is essentially a mould that can completely change shape to manufacture whatever we want. We can change that shape very, very quickly–in the space of about a minute–which allows us to replicate mass manufacturing on a completely customisable product.”
How does polymorphic moulding work?
The precise details of how the tech works is a trade secret the startup is keeping to itself. But the way Bloomfield describes it, polymorphic moulding is similar to 3D printing, but more flexible.
As applied here, the technology Fyous (pronounced ‘fuse’ – more about why at the end of the article) has developed removes the need for fixed moulds for a range of standard sole sizes.
“You can have one mould and completely change the shape of it and the geometries of it and then manufacture from the mould again. 3D printing gives you geometrical freedom, but also gives you a big limitation, which is the time it often takes to make anything; it's not a very quick turnaround. You could be waiting seven hours for a component of your shoe,” says Bloomfield.
Instead, Fyous wants to combine the flexibility of 3D printing with at least some of the speed of mass manufacturing.
“In the time it might take you with 3D printing to make a midsole, we can probably make around 100,” Bloomfield says.
“People have tried to make custom made footwear similar to how we are. However, the reason most of those businesses failed was based on the fact that they were trying to do 3D printing.
“The economics didn't stack up to make it viable. Whereas for us, it does stack up and therefore we can start to reach the point where our addressable market is drastically increased.
Targeting healthcare as the first front on its attempt to transform the way footwear is made, Fyous has identified diabetes treatment as a prime first market, and the lowest-hanging fruit.
Around 10% of the whole NHS budget per year is spent on diabetes treatment, and according to figures from various years, around 1% of the total NHS budget per year(!) is spent specifically on footcare for diabetes patients.
A serious problem for diabetics is getting a foot ulcer which can eventually lead to the need for an amputation. Diabetic foot ulcers have been found to have a 50% mortality rate within five years, globally. Footcare can be an important part of preventing that.
But Bloomfield explains that getting prescription footwear that is exactly the right size can involve months of back-and-forth for modifications.
“[The footwear] costs about £700 per pair to the NHS and it’s very heavy, it's very clunky, it's very ugly, which means people don't wear them.
“What we do is flip that upside down and say we'll deliver it in two weeks for £300 to £400, and it'll be a fashionable piece of footwear. So it's stylish and comfortable and therefore the patient will wear it.”
Bloomfield co-founded Fyous with Joshua Shires in 2020.
The pair have backgrounds in engineering, and Shires previously founded mobile phone accessory company Mous. This led to him spending time living in China. It was there that he met a shoe designer, who explained to him the simplistic way shoes are designed to emphasise aesthetics over fit.
Living back in the UK due to the Covid pandemic, he met Bloomfield and decided to explore a new way of developing footwear. Fyous was born, with Shires focusing on product development, while Bloomfield leads the commercial side of the business.
Bloomfield says Fyous is now a team of eight. That consists of the two co-founders, three engineers, two production staff, and a creative lead.
Fyous initially planned to produce orthotic inserts for shoes, as there is big consumer demand for these specialist insoles.
“But we learned very quickly that an orthotic is only as good as the shoe it goes into,” says Bloomfield.
“The shoe needs to fit it properly, so you have enough space in the shoe for your foot to go alongside the orthotic. It was not designed to take an orthotic, which most shoes aren’t, then you lose the supportive nature with the shoe, or you'll be sat too high up in the shoe, or your feet will push against the top of the shoe.
“So we thought, rather than continuing to put a plaster on the problem, why don't we just take it one step further and make the whole shoe?”
The startup put out a consumer product as a test, and found the most interest came from the minimalist footwear market and the medical market. They decided the B2B medical market would be the most straightforward to penetrate first.
Bloomfield says a number of NHS trusts want to run trials with Fyous, including one that is ready to begin once Fyous has gained approval to sell medical devices. Meanwhile, he says six private podiatrists have already signed up to sell the startup’s footwear.
And he says one NHS trust has already given a pair of Fyous shoes to a patient for comfort, rather than medical treatment, reasons.
“The next 12 months is about going through the medical entry roadmap, and in parallel to that, testing the product on the market via private podiatrists,” says Bloomfield.
Once the medical market is up and running, Fyous wants to expand into health and wellbeing with a play in minimalist footwear, before moving on to serving the sports and performance market.
“We're meeting a lot of people who want to pull the technology towards sport, especially at that premium end where you'll do anything to get the slight edge to win the competition,” says Bloomfield.
Investment, vision, challenges, and competition
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