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I Made it in San Diego: If the Shoe Fits, Build a Business Around it

Lucy Beard knew nothing about 3D printers when she decided to build a business around them. But her custom-built shoe company is starting to turn the heads of everyone from environmentalists to fashion insiders.

Finding shoes that fit perfectly can be hard.

After a particularly frustrating day of shoe shopping at a mall,  Lucy Beard had a big aha moment while drinking her Starbucks latte. Beard happened to pick up an article about 3D printing technology and she thought, if these machines can create one-of-a-kind objects, couldn’t they be used to make customized shoes?

“I could have any kind of coffee I want from two little machines, and yet I couldn’t get a pair of shoes that fit,” she said. “And that was where that light bulb moment came off.”

Beard decided right then and there to get into the shoe business.

In the latest episode of I Made it in San Diego, a podcast illuminating the stories behind the region’s businesses and entrepreneurs, I sat down with Beard to talk about Feetz, the company she launched last year that uses a smartphone app and a warehouse filled with 3D printers to create one-of-a-kind shoes for its customers.

Beard knew nothing about 3D printers when she decided to build a business around them, but she found local resources like Fab Lab, a nonprofit that teaches people how to build things using new technology, and quickly got herself up to speed.

Once she understood the technology, which essentially melts down strings of plastic and turns it into shoes or any other object you program it to, she taught herself the business side of things by signing up for programs and classes for entrepreneurs.

Beard struggled early on to get funding. She said it’s harder for women to get male investors to believe in them, but she eventually found her way. The company’s gotten investment money from big-time players in the shoe industry and is garnering national attention for its sustainability efforts – the shoes are made with recycled and recyclable material, and 3D printing is a lot more environmentally friendly than traditional shoe manufacturing.

And recently, the shoes, which Beard admits were a bit ugly in the early stages, started getting folks from the fashion industry’s attention.

Beard said she’s still figuring out the next big innovation for Feetz. She’s thinking about how to build a shoe-subscription service sort of like Netlfix.

“That’s the future where footwear’s going to go,” she said. “It’s going to be very different than how we think about it today.”

Subscribe to I Made it in San Diego on iTunes or StitcherStream or download it here.

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