eXpanders: Affordable shoes for growing feet

Problem:

Children in the Vivekanand slum (and in other impoverished communities) play barefoot in the streets, which leads to soil-transmitted diseases and injuries. Families are unable to afford expensive new shoes, let alone buy new ones each year when their children outgrow a pair. 

I’ve noticed shoe donation drives often fail to have a lasting impact because children outgrow footwear in months and return to playing barefoot.

The Goal:

Create a long-term affordable footwear solution.

Insights and Prototyping:

Plastic Shoe.jpg

My first instinct was to engineer a solution that brought the cost of footwear down. I began experimenting with a sandal made out of used tires and plastic bags- in this case with plastic bags that I braided together. Still, a challenge I encountered with this design is that it is not durable enough and users can only wear it inside the home. Enter V2:

Looking Towards a Solution:

The solution that I chose to pursue aimed at increasing the shoe’s value and affordability by extending its usable life. It was a different approach to solving the same problem.

“eXpanders” are an economical pair of sandals that expand to a child’s growing feet.

expanders-concept-photos.jpg

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I made the first prototypes with a pair of scissors and some leather.

expandable shoe

The value of the sandal is its ability to stretch over two shoe sizes adding an element of affordability over the long term. Retaining its aesthetic desirability remains a challenge. 

Challenges:

Which brings me to some of the more significant challenges I encountered. 

Retaining durability was the biggest challenge. Because the sandal grows, it effectively needs a lifespan that is double – or even triple – that of traditional shoes. Take into account harsh conditions, and the goal gets harder to accomplish. I’ve tried using canvas, but the cost increases with a marginal improvement in lifespan. I’m also getting in touch with leather suppliers to understand how I can make a longer lasting product. Questions to consider: although durable materials would be more expensive, could a larger upfront cost worth it? How could that be advertised to customers?

Halfway through this project, another similar product also launched (see The Shoe that Grows). Either further product differentiation is required, or hopefully, we can collaborate on the solution. I’ve reached out and will update when I get a response. 

Just for fun: Photoshoot & Testing

In the meanwhile, I had some fun with a branding exercise. Although a shoe that grows isn’t as sexy as a new Tesla, my goal was to generate hype around a product with the potential for social impact.

expanders logo
Logo Design

Along with my art exhibition in the American Embassy School, New Delhi (2018), I also wanted to display this piece to reflect a challenge I had on this journey: falling into the trap of pursuing the perfect product. Constantly thinking about each minute detail, this pursuit of perfection was the barrier for my entry to the market. Instead, true product innovation and improvements came from actually bringing the product to consumers, testing, receiving feedback, (and eventually shipping). 

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Projection mapping upon plaster and cardboard model of “The Thinker”