Update on our side project

SFT Climbing leggings undergoing wear testing.

We found a great manufacturer to partner with on this project, and they sublimation printed and sewed a test article for us with the graphic we designed. The fabric is super comfortable and the print looks amazing! Now it’s time to stretch its limits.

A piece of clothing so comfortable and awesome that you want to wear it all the time needs to be able to hold up to any activity you decide to do in it. Within the diverse realms of bouldering, road cycling, yoga, and dancing, we’ve been very happy so far with these leggings.

  • Climbing: the polyester/spandex blend rebounds to its original shape even after extended wear. It was also the most-discussed item we’ve ever tested in a gym – no shoe prototype has ever started so many conversations! Maybe unusual shoes just are harder to talk to a stranger about than saying, “I love your leggings!”
  • Cycling: the fabric weight was perfect for a coastal California ride.
  • Yoga/dance: the leggings stretch gently with your motion and stay opaque when sized properly.

We’re excited to continue testing these SFTights to learn how they perform over time.

SFT leggings fabric closeup.SFT leggings during a springtime yoga session.

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Making shoes for Anthony Castonzo

Anthony Castonzo completed custom shoes

It’s always a pleasure when a new #SFTClimber let’s us know how their shoes are working for them. With Anthony Castonzo of the Indianapolis Colts, I was particularly curious about how the SFT experience compares to his normal process for getting the perfect football cleats. To my surprise, he said that this is the first time he’s worn custom shoes! Anthony said that ordering SFT shoes was “easier than he was expecting” and, as he said on Twitter, they “fit perfectly.”

Owens Valley testing

A couple of weeks ago we sponsored the Belmont Planet Granite’s Friction Series, so I had the pleasure of hanging out at our table and watching the competitors crushing lead routes. I’m always sketching new shoe concept designs, and even while tabling I’ll draw one or two.

Concept sketch for a bouldering shoe.

Concept for a lace-up/slipper hybrid bouldering shoe.

Some of the people who stopped by the SFT table had great input on one of my designs, and there was so much excitement about this concept that I decided to go ahead with a prototype.

Completed hybrid bouldering shoe prototype.

The prototype pair of shoes was finished just in time for us to head to Owens Valley. Dan has been testing them all week, and he’s very happy with how they fit and the tension properties of the shoe. When we return to the shop, I’ll build a second version with some pattern updates for greater comfort and stretch management.

Testing prototype shoes in Bishop.

Supply chain

Woven labels for every new pair of shoes!

Ever since the first SFT beta shoes were shipped, we’ve been branding the logo into the leather and then hand-inking it for contrast. These branded logos look lovely right out of the box, but the ink doesn’t last past the first resole. Maybe fine for the first prototypes, but clearly, it was time to reconsider the logo process.

Thinking about the logo as a subassembly (what kind of components generate the logo) rather than as a process to be improved (how do we make our ink more durable – that we already experimented with) opened up the possibilities. After considering design options, we decided on woven fabric labels. Unlike most of our other manufacturing steps, woven labels are a component best sourced from one of the many companies that already specialize in this. Last step: find a supplier to partner with – the first component-level link in our supply chain.

We found that the Dutch Label Shop offered the space for creativity and the commitment to durability that SFT wanted for our new woven labels. The first order turned out great, and we’re proud to incorporate them into our shoes.

Field testing in Nevada

The SFT crew was out field testing in Nevada, and we documented the trip, hoping to use some of the footage in the short video I’ve been working on. While this particular problem didn’t fit into the main video that I’m crafting, we had too much fun on it to just consign the video to a hard drive.

Film is a great medium because even the scraps can be repurposed into little stories like this – it inspired me to find more ways to use “scrap” material from everywhere in our process.

Giving thanks for the USPTO

Their website may be labyrinthian and leaden, but their call center staff is knowledgeable and friendlier than a bunch of Corgi puppies. And, if you should ever decide to write and prosecute a patent without the aid of a trained professional, as SFT has been doing, don’t ever forget:

The patent examiners can help you re-write your claims.

But only on the basis of what’s in the original application document. So make your description as broad as Uncle Henry after he’s cleared the Thanksgiving leftovers before surrendering your baby invention to the trained and caring hands of the USPTO.

Tools for Process Optimization

I’ve been working on a short video for SFT. It’s pretty simple – shows off how we craft custom shoes and I discuss what we care about most.

Bottom line, I’ve been staring at detailed footage of the build process for a single pair of shoes for hours. Days.

Applying a midsole in preparation to thermoform it.

Applying a midsole in preparation to thermoform it.

And it’s paid off. Not just because it’s coming together into a sweet little video, but because editing the video made me realize some things about how SFT builds shoes right now.

For example, no one wants to sit through watching glue dry on rubber for 20 minutes before I reactivate it to apply the rand to the shoe upper, so obviously that all gets cut from the raw footage. And everything that has to be cut, I’ve been looking at through the lens of process optimization – if I can be working on another component during that downtime, I can become more efficient as a craftsperson.

Another, less obvious lesson from video editing was how much time I spend with the glue container open. I’ve known for a while that the contact cement we use has a lifespan. I refuse to use glue over a couple of months old on components that see a lot of abrasion because an older glue bond has less peel strength than one made with fresh glue.

Since I’m constantly moving and conscious of my glue’s working time while painting it onto components, I assumed that the glue in the can wasn’t open to the air (and therefore aging) for longer than could be helped. It was shocking to see how much of the total video footage included an open can of glue! Fortunately, there’s a product called a cement pot that can help reduce the amount of glue exposed to air and the duration of that exposure, so I’ve finally purchased one. Maybe I’ll film another shoe assembly once I have the cement pot to check how much this improves the process and material usage.

These... are not the cement pots I was looking for.

These… are not the cement pots I was looking for.

While large factories have best practices and processes for process optimization, for me as a craftsperson building shoes at the same time as building SFT Climbing, there’s not always a lot of time for reflection on how everything gets done. But when I approach every task with both the immediate goal as well as how it fits into the larger picture in mind, I can almost always find some way to improve the overall process or product. Because we are all cross-function team members at SFT, manufacturing got to see itself in the mirror held up by marketing’s raw video footage, and our glue bonds will be stronger because of that.