Vibram EC-001

High comfort, fashion, and adaptability.


VIBRAM ITALY collaborated with Georgia Tech Industrial Design in search of a new wrapping outsole concept derived from elements of their Furoshiki line. EC-001 is my result of this four-week workshop.

EC-001 is an athleisure shoe with a wrapping segmented outsole that allows for a highly adaptive fit.

Sole Costs for Manufacturing

For hundreds of years, costs for a shoe design to enter the market are primarily driven by tooling for the outsole.
Nike Factory tooling shown right.
The Cost Multiplier

In the context of a single shoe, you may be looking at making 8-10 different sized tooling molds for that shoe alone. This doesn't even include half sizes, shoe widths, and genders - which can vary based on the scale of the company.

This initial cost often times limits the offerings a company may have, which in turn may force the user to settle for a shoe half-size away from their true size.
and even when you find your "true size"...

(everyone's feet are different, even your right from left)

Varying toe lengths and overall widths can cause a lot of discomfort in within the toebox.

Arch height and widths vary enough to demand bigger sizes or special width for user.

Common abrasion point along achilles heel during break-in period or simply poorly fitting heel caps.

With these factors in mind, I was determined to find a viable solution to not only benefit the user, but also the manufacturer as well.

I began by sketching purely gestural forms that explored trending styles, materials, and brands to get more acquainted on designing a shoe in general.

Soon enough I arrived at the intersection between style and comfort as I started to examine more functional details.

Drawing inspiration from how tabi shoes were styled and the high mobility they offered, I began applying a wrapping outsole derived from how driver loafer outsoles are segmented. Combining the two resulted in a concept that was adaptive in fit, provided high traction, and didn't stray from Vibram's brand DNA.

Foot Hugs

To quickly test the benefits of such a sole system, I mocked up a 3 segment outsole with a sewn tabi toebox. It was nice to have the support structure of the shoe 'hug' along the foot, but more segments were needed to really get a sculted fit. Velcro fasteners proved to be a hassle and quite alienating to the experience.

Concept Refinement

To move forward, I froze my design concept in a scaled rendering that defined the colors, materials, and individual components that make up the upper.

I chose a lacing system that easily lets the user adjust the outsole segments without having to deal with excess parts. The paracord lace tightens in one pull and cinches with a cord spring.

After a humbling experience of learning how to sew, experimenting with material layering, and constantly poking myself with a needle, I was able to produce a wearable prototype pair of my concept!

A Secure Fit

The outsole design of EC-001 gives the user a highly adaptive fit in a very simple interaction of tightening the paracord lace system. In addition, the user can adjust the tightness of specific segments along the sole, providing max comfort for almost any shaped foot.

Thanks to its adaptive nature, tooling costs could be drastically reduced from the traditional 10+ sizes down to potentially 3 or 4 sizes that can be properly fitted to many varying foot shapes and sizes.

Currently Vibram's market lacks the younger, fashion-forward audience. EC-001 proposes the idea of Vibram collaborating with influential designers in creating unique uppers for their shoes - ultimately drawing in new audiences into their already established brand.

With their unparalleled high performance outsoles and desirable yet fashion forward uppers, Vibram has a huge opportunity to truly put a mark into the shoe industry.

Instructors: Prof. Yaling Liu, Dr. Roger Ball
In collaboration with VIBRAM Italy
Spring 2016, Georgia Institute of Technology