After more than 20 years as an apparel maker and leader in athleisure with its highly popular leggings and yoga pants, Lululemon wanted to expand its product line-up by adding a running shoe for women called Blissfeel. The offering marked the company’s first foray into footwear.
But Lululemon Athletica wanted to do more than just roll out an innovative high-performance running shoe for women. They wanted to revolutionize the traditional mindset pervading the athletic footwear industry for women: design performance shoes for men first and then simply tweak them for women, a common phenomenon known as “shrink it and pink it.”
Sun Choe, Lululemon’s chief product officer, said the company’s primary focus in developing the Blissfeel brand was pursuing a “science of feel principle.” This means developing a shoe that uses female-specific engineering to fit and perform better for the unique shape, width and demands of women’s feet. This process required years of research and testing.
3D Scans Integral Component
A key partner in this development process was Volumental. Volumental had compiled aggregate statistical data of more than one million 3D scans of women’s feet from around the world using its breakthrough 3D foot-scanning technology. The technology combines computer vision, artificial intelligence and machine learning..
Lululemon was ideally positioned to branch out into running shoes with its expertise in fabrics, an important element in performance footwear development. The right materials can produce the ideal amount of tension and stretch required for a perfect fit.
Refinements for Women’s Feet
Volumental’s FitTech™ platform helped Lululemon develop a brand-new shoe last that is specific to a woman’s foot. Shoe lasts are the primary determinant of the inner shape of a shoe, typically made from wood, plastic or metal to form the shape of a shoe during the manufacturing process.
"Wear tests are crucial to verify and fine-tune the shoe’s last shape. In the development process, Lululemon developers tested prototypes with women in three rounds of wear testing. With the support of Volumental's insights and 3D scanners, they were able to identify fit testers that represent the variety of their customers' feet", explained Ales Jurca, VP of footwear research at Volumental.
The company also came up with a heel cup for the Blissfeel model to reduce soft-tissue impact across the body. They found that adding extra cushion in the heel was necessary.
Other leading footwear brands are leveraging FitTech to create a flawless fit for women. But as Jurca explains, “with the focus on fit, function, and look of the new women’s running shoes, Lululemon has definitely disrupted the market.”
“Bodies of the same height come in many different shapes and sizes. Similarly, our research shows that feet of the same length come in different widths. If footwear brands really want to fully tackle fit, they should be considering multiple widths in each size,” he adds.
Timing: International Women’s Day
Lululemon timed the announcement of the Blissfeel launch for March 8, 2022, which is International Women’s Day. The shoes are available in select stores across North America, China, the United Kingdom and online. Lululemon plans to launch men’s shoes in 2023.
Lululemon’s Choe says the company will continue to innovate with the materials it uses for Blissfeel’s uppers, along with ongoing testing of various colors and trims.
On November 30th, Lululemon received the "Launch of the Year" award at the 36th annual FN Achievement Awards. The FN Achievement Awards, also known as the "Shoe Oscars," recognize and celebrate individuals and companies in the footwear industry for their achievements and contributions. Read more about the awards here.