By Clint Vojdinoski, Editor at Bullpen Media
The most startling problem women’s footballers have had for too long is they have had to use men’s and children’s boots which were never designed to support their feet.
This lack of suitable footwear causes multiple problems, injury, reduced participation and most crucial of all enjoyment in sport drops.
Melbourne startup Ida Sports wants to change that by developing the most comfortable football boots for women.
In terms of Australian grassroots participation, football (soccer) has become the number one participation sport for women and girls. Good boots geared for high performance is vital for this to continue, and with the company having raised nearly $30,000 in a crowdfunding campaign, they are close to full production.
It’s been a transformative 12 months for Ida Sports as the business looks to capitalise on a problem that hasn’t been fully tackled.
In this conversation we spoke to the company’s co-founder Ben Sandhu.
As the company is around a year old, take me through the trialling and testing of football boots for women. What is the process?
Ben Sandhu: “The first set of the prototypes were made in my co-founder’s (Laura Youngson) kitchen. We took a bit of silicone, made moulds and then we got a shoemaker in Melbourne to put together our first prototype and we lovingly called that the ‘Frankenshoe.’
“The story of Ida and where it came from, in 2017 Laura set the Guinness World Record for the highest altitude football match. The follow up match was in Jordan in February 2018 and we were able to test the prototypes with female footballers around the world and they conferred to us that we were on to something. Over the last few months we’ve done further rounds of testing, we’ve been working with RMIT University and their advanced manufacturing precinct and created a set of prototypes using the latest industrial design and 3-D printing techniques. We tested those with around 35 athletes and the results are promising. At the same time we’ve been working with our suppliers in China to develop a further round of prototypes which I’ve been testing with athletes.
“We’re gearing up for our first production run this year and we’re going to launch that around March.”
What types of feedback have you received from people who have tried the boots?
BS: “It’s around two things, players say things like, ‘I thought football boots were meant to be uncomfortable.’ We hear that a lot.
“The positive feedback is around the feeling of the boot on the foot and the material. In particular a lot of our users have an average sized women’s foot, which is a size seven, and they’re really positive about the material we’re using which is premium kangaroo leather. Some of these users have only used plasticky, kids boots and they can tell the difference.”
What marks out the anatomical shape of women’s feet compared to men’s that requires a specific boot?
BS: “There’s a few key differences between men’s and women’s feet. Women tend to have a narrower heel, a wider forefoot, a different length to width ratio and tend to have higher arches. When you combine those things, a man’s boot is simply not going to cut it.”
If something is as obvious as this, then why hasn’t it happened? Why haven’t the major footwear and apparel companies developed female football boots?
BS: “It’s really interesting. Fundamentally for the bigger companies it’s not a priority for them. There’s billions of dollars in men’s football and for them women’s football is a relatively small market. For us as a startup we think 34 million FIFA registered female players is a pretty good place to start and you only have to look at the growth of the W-League and the success of the Matildas to know see that the game is growing both in Australia and around the world.”
Could the increasing professionalism and increasing grassroots and amateur participation be your competitive advantage?
BS: “It’s kind of an unfortunate reality for us as a company that although women’s football is becoming increasingly professional the Matildas are still paid a fraction of what the Socceroos earn. The opportunity for us a company is that even though a lot of players aren’t highly paid, we’ve dedicated ourselves to making the right product and we’ve got access to top players that we wouldn’t have with the men’s game.
“What we love about women’s sport in general is that it’s a close community. As we’ve gotten to know these players they’ve really gotten behind us and supported us a company.”
The 2019 World Cup is coming up, are you going to try and get your boots on some of the players at the tournament?
BS: “One of the things we’re really excited about is we have begun discussions with various players about supplying boots.
“The other thing we’re doing is Laura, who is the co-founder of the Equal Playing Field initiative, is going to go for a third world record to highlight gender inequality in sport in Lyon during the World Cup. We’re going to play the world’s largest football game ever with 3,500 women from around the world playing for five days straight, an 11-a-side game with roll on, roll off substitutions that gives us an opportunity to showcase the boots and generate a lot of really cool publicity.”
What was it like pitching at the recent Pitch@Palace, what was that experience like?
BS: “It was the first time either of us have pitched in front of royalty that’s for sure!
“It was a great experience and the thing I enjoyed the most was meeting people and learning about their businesses and ideas.”
Let’s look ahead at the whole year for Ida, what is on the cards? What do you want to achieve in the year ahead?
BS: “The big thing is the event at the World Cup.
“From there, the other big things on our radar is women’s cricket, as well as basketball, wrestling and any of the male dominated sports where we have an opportunity to make our mark.
“While we are focussing on the World Cup, our longer target is the 2020 Olympics, such as Rugby 7’s, 3-on-3 basketball, the thing that drives us is being about the players for the players and making our mark globally.”
Clint Vojdinoski – Bullpen
Bullpen is a publisher of sports business, digital, technology, data and intelligence. Our mission is to spotlight who and what is shaping the Australian sporting industry.
We bring you the innovations, ideas and people that drive the sporting ecosystem closer to both fans and professionals alike because we want to show that not all sports stars step onto a sporting field.