Three on a sole-searching mission

Meera Siva | Updated on January 23, 2018

( from left) Shabari Raje, Anand Ganesan and Mukul Kelkar of - BIJOY GHOSH


Portal offers virtual fitting service for your footwear needs

The shoe often pinches, literally, because of poor design. The poor fit of shoes sent three engineers – Shabari Raje, Anand Ganesan and Mukul Kelkar – on a sole-searching mission around the world.

They found no promising solution and launched, a service with a focus on the online retail footwear market, estimated at ₹7,200 crore in 2015.

Pinching problem

Their journey started in 2012 when Anand was working on a project for his MBA programme at IIM-Ahmedabad. “I was looking at mass customisation solutions for apparels and found that the problem was more acute in footwear,” says Anand, whose earlier career was as technologist in the semiconductor industry.

The team found that just the length was grossly inadequate for footwear designs, as customers were becoming choosy.

Mukul, also a technologist, says that customers are expressing their displeasure — the returns for shoes purchased online are quite high and many online shoe portals have had limited success.

But what about following the Zappos model of shoe sale – ship many models for a customer to try out? The founders agree that this works but such a solution is expensive logistically. Another service, Shoefitr, which was recently acquired by Amazon, uses scanning technology to find a shoe that fits. But its recommendation is based on your past history of fitting brands, points out Anand.

“Fitting a shoe is a multi-disciplinary problem and requires understanding footwear design, bio-mechanics, foot characteristics and purchase context,” explains Shabari, who holds a Masters degree in design from Milan, Italy.

Good fit

So how does arrive at a good fit for a customer? The team has developed mobile-based image processing and 3D scanning technologies to create a 3D model of your feet and the footwear. The fit is determined based on not just a simple match but using a proprietary algorithm to evaluate which parameters determine a user’s comfort level with a shoe. For example, a running shoe may need to feel roomy while a dress shoe may be better with a snug fit.

The company has a database of shoe models from popular brands and a simple scanner-based solution to expand the database. The fitting service will be available through a click of a button at e-commerce portals that have tied up with the company.

A user shopping for a shoe at the site will have to provide size details. One simple way is to capture a few pictures of her foot on the mobile and upload it. The service will then graphically show how the shoe model you are interested in would fit. It will also recommend a suitable shoe size for the model – helping reduce shoe returns when shopping online. Your data will be stored on the cloud and can be linked to your email. This way, your size data can be retrieved anytime. Gifting a shoe, a near impossible task due to fit issues, can be a breeze now. Just enter your friend’s email ID and the service will find a fit.

Big feat

Since its launch in November 2013, the team has gathered a lot of foot size data through stalls in Gopalan Mall, Bengaluru, where scanners were used to measure multiple parameters of the foot. “Shoes are designed for Indian customers without much data on dimensions,” says Shabari. For example, data gathered by the team show that the average feet size is wider in certain States like Andhra Pradesh. The company used the insight gathered from anthropometric data to reduce return rate for a shoe brand by redesigning models.

The Bengaluru-based start-up is angel-funded and runs a shoe-string operation with a lean structure. Its immediate plan is to engage with small and mid-size e-commerce firms to launch the service. It hopes to raise funds to expand the development team and start operations in the US. The founders say they get a lot of requests to look at medical aspects such as pronation (flat foot) and issues because of pressure points in the foot.

Published on April 20, 2015

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