Footy boots start-up tackling “shrink and pink” model

By David Schout,

Elite level female athletes are still wearing boots designed for men or even kids, and one CBD-based start-up has said enough is enough.

The stories are jarring and uncomfortable to hear; female footballers feeling studs going through the sole plate, experiencing chronic blisters and in the case of some elite women, playing for their country in kid’s shoes.

Podiatrists hear of women making adjustments to get by pain-free, including shaving down studs or stuffing cotton wool down the heel.

Despite the rise of professional women’s sport in Australia, there are still no football boots on the market designed specifically for the female foot.

Instead, sportswear companies – even billion-dollar multinationals – continue to take shortcuts by using a “shrink and pink” method for their female range.

That is, they merely shorten men’s boots, tinker with the aesthetic and put that to market.

Ida Sports is a start-up based at the RMIT University entrepreneur hub that is tackling this issue by releasing its own female-specific football boot.

Co-founder Ben Sandhu said the female foot has “known anatomical differences”, yet girls and women have little option but to buy ill-fitting boots.

“You have this situation where players at the professional level are literally running around in kid’s shoes, with some pretty disastrous effects,” he told CBD News.

“For a lot of men, we just don’t experience an issue like this. But once you start looking into it, it’s impossible to ignore.”

In 2017, Ben returned from working in the UK and through a friend met Laura Youngson, his co-founder at Ida.

At the time, Laura had recently returned from breaking the Guinness World Record for playing in the highest altitude football match (atop Mt Kilimanjaro) to highlight gender inequality in sport.

The game featured 30 women from six continents, and it was then she realised almost all faced the same problem with their boots.

Chatting about the trip, Laura told Ben her next step was doing something to tackle the boot issue. Ben’s background in entrepreneurship made an ideal partnership.

“I’m a passionate advocate for gender equality in general,” he said.

“I could see how this was indicative of a whole lot of other things. So, we just sat down (in January 2018) and I was like, ‘I’m in – how can I help?’”

Since then, they’ve spent two years designing, experimenting and now taking their boot to market, with the backing of podiatrists.

It’s been a tough, yet gratifying ride.

Ben described Laura as the “guinea pig” in trying the prototypes of the boot, the first of which affectionately called the “Frankenshoe” and was developed in Laura’s kitchen.

The Frankenshoe now features in Ida’s “shoeseum;” a wall within their startup hub that charts the development and improvement of each version of the boot.

Their finalised version, the “Ultimate” football boot, is currently taking orders.

Ben expects 2020 to be a big year, and paid tribute to the help from both RMIT and the City of Melbourne which recently granted them a $28,500 funding injection.

“It feels like we’ve put all these pieces in place, and it’s now just a matter of getting it out there.”

He said that Ida couldn’t compete with the marketing budgets of bigger sportswear companies, which meant word of mouth at the grassroots level was critical.

“To be honest, as great as getting players (to wear the boot) at that top level is, the growth happens at the community level. What we know about players is that they talk to each other, they trust each other and spend lots of time together. If we create something that works, that is how we’re going to compete.”

The boot has been endorsed by podiatrists, too, who see its release as overdue.

“They see all sorts of issues come through their clinics … all these different things that to be honest, are really preventable and have been known for some time. And the feedback has been given but for whatever reason, it’s not being heard. There is a level of frustration there from a clinical perspective.”

Ben said that while the positive PR coming out of women’s sport hasn’t translated to tangible investment in equipment, he was proud Ida could “walk the walk.”

“We’re just really focussed on what we want to do, and by having this pure focus on female athletes and their needs, there’s a big enough market for us as a start-up. I don’t view it as niche at all, and I think the female footballing community really respects that focus too.”

He said the “Ultimate” boot will be available in time for the upcoming football and soccer seasons and would rely on players to provide feedback on everything from colours to technical specifications and materials. 

“We want to be working with women from day one.”

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