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Transformers for your feet. 21st-century design creates an all-condition shoe

Portland (the one in Oregon) is the shoe capital of the United States. Nike is headquartered here, Adidas calls Portland home, and Under Armor just moved to town. In this hotbed of shoe design, a three-person startup is attempting to reboot our perception of adventure footwear.

In this episode of Innovators, we go behind the scenes of Objective Virtues Inc., also known as OB/VS or Obvious Footwear. Founder Kelly Dachtler leads a team of designers and athletic footwear experts as they prototype and prepare to launch a one-of-a-kind shoe, the ADPT, or Adapt.

The OB/VS ADPT is the world’s first climate-adaptable sneaker system. Designed to be at home in the snow and cold, or on hot dusty summer hikes, the ADPT is unlike any other shoe.

The liner is a waterproof moccasin made from merino wool that’s designed to provide warmth and comfort. It’s essentially a compression sock that by itself is great for lounging by the campfire.

The outer sneaker is lightweight and features hydrophobic nanomaterials making it waterproof and highly breathable. The midsole is large and angular, with proprietary air cooling and drainage channels.

Combining the two creates a warm, supportive and rugged heavy sneaker made to go anywhere.

It’s been a two-and-a-half-year journey for OB/VS to create the ADPT. While the initial concept of an all-condition modular shoe with air cooling has remained constant, the choice of  the materials used has evolved. The team combined natural materials like merino wool with technologies typically found in rugged outerwear like membrane fabrics with nanocoatings.

Much of the design work can happen in 3D renderings and computer models, but to really know how the shoe feels and performs, Dachtler and his team turn to rapid prototyping. Getting hands on with the material to know how it feels and performs in the real world is essential.

The challenge now for Obvious Footwear is to make the benefits of the Adapt more obvious to everyone. In the end, success for the Adapt will be measured not merely by the number of shoes sold. More important is whether this innovation catches on and changes the perception of what footwear can be.

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