Slipping into a gap
A decade ago, Daniel was in his mid-twenties working as a physiotherapist in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond and on the brink of opening his own practice.
“I was constantly seeing people coming in with foot and ankle problems, I saw they were wearing flat soled thongs and realised there was this recurring pattern,” he says.
“I was telling my patients to wear more supportive footwear but I felt hypocritical because I couldn’t find any on the market that I would personally wear myself. I would 100 per cent go out wearing flat thongs because there were no orthotic thongs out there.”
“I had the idea in 2011 and at the time I was preparing to open own physio practice… I was thinking ‘do I drop that or do this new idea? My family was saying ‘focus on the physiotherapy’, that’s what you studied for.”
But to Daniel pursuing his business idea was “an obvious one” as he saw the gap in the market.
“Where people had struggled was they had not been able to make something that looked like a normal thong.”
He felt the orthotic thongs on the market were big, heavy and cumbersome so not overly appealing to a younger demographic.
Through a process of trial and error Daniel succeeded. Instead of the thong and straps being two different pieces of rubber, he made the thong of one moulded piece of foam.
“Using one-piece injection moulding had several advantages. It allowed me to use incredibly lightweight and comfortable foam verses traditional rubber that many thongs are made from,” he says.
“It allowed the arch to be moulded. And eventually when perfected, this greatly improved the product’s strength and durability and allowed us to design a strap that would be easier to design to the contours of the foot.”
“It also meant the strap could be stretched if it was too tight - unlike most thong straps that are made of non-stretchable materials.”
The tight straps are crucial.
“As your feet prepare to contact the ground, the toes are meant to bend upwards and that activates the arch.”
“When your toes are gripping down as you commonly do in thongs with loose straps, the arch collapses and this interferes with the normal function of the foot. If the arch is not engaged, neither is the foot and as such it is mobile-floppy and not prepared to make contact with the ground,” Daniel says.
“This is why damage to the foot can occur in typical thongs.”
“(Our thongs) are super comfy and the tighter strap causes the thong to stick to your feet reducing the need to grip with your toes. This in combination with the arch support encourages a normal walking pattern, not normally achievable in typical thongs.”
Starting in Nan and Pop’s shed
Back in 2011, Daniel didn’t know how to get to this point. With no experience in designing footwear he sat in “nan and pop’s shed in Melbourne” with clay trying to design the model.
“My mates would call me and I would tell them I was out with the clay again,” he says.
Soon he connected with a friend of a friend who worked in the automotive industry and they were soon working on 3D computer designs.
“We’d be up until 12:30-1am for months on end.”
“Everything was a cost at that stage. You’d have to save up $500 to get 3d printed version of the thong made.”
He said those early days involved investing a lot in patents and trademarks.