Comfort matters. Male and female consumers alike both frequently site comfort as the single most important determining factor when shopping for shoes, even above quality or style. While comfort footwear has long been associated with an older demographic who have a medical need, the comfort segment is rapidly expanding beyond orthopedic necessity and bringing many of the same foot-supporting technologies to styles intended for a younger customer. Comfort brands such as Vionic, for instance, are bringing new athleisure-inspired shoes to the market, while proper athletic brands like Nike and New Balance are quickly becoming daily staples, rather than simply gym gear.
Debuting at FN Platform in February, California-based Bluprint is a young brand that is hoping to take advantage of this new, younger comfort market with shoes that are not only sleek and modern, but that also provide the comfort consumers crave. The brainchild of company Vice President Dave Ortley, who for more than 20 years worked for the likes of New Balance, Adidas and Oakley, Bluprint is the answer to a culture that, in his words, is rapidly “casualizing.”
“We recognize the significance of ‘the casualization of society’ and how that has shifted footwear styles in other channels and categories of product,” said Ortley. “We are simply observing the changes in fashion and keeping the comfort category current. We don’t want to be progressive or aggressive at all so we focus on classic designs with some thoughtful tweaks and modern materials and constructions.”
According to Ortley, this new comfort consumer is around age 35, and wants to take care of his or her feet while staying active and healthy so they can continue to do the things they’ve always done. Often they are just beginning to prefer a slightly more anatomical fit in the forefoot, and may need a little extra comfort, enhanced flexibility or additional cushioning. He places them on the left side of what he calls “the Footcare Continuum”, with therapeutic consumers (typically over the age of 60), on the opposite end of the spectrum, which includes those who need significant realignment, increased ridgidity and stabilization benefits to help treat potentially serious foot health issues.
“There’s fashion footwear that is long on style but short on comfort…”
“Bluprint is designed and engineered for the consumers on the left two-thirds of the comfort continuum who are active lifestyle consumers. They understand the benefits of proper footcare, but are unwilling to sacrifice style, nor should they ever have to,” said Ortley. “There’s fashion footwear that is long on style but short on comfort, and comfort footwear that is really the flip of that. We are right in the middle with the goal of offering the best of both worlds to a massive and steadily growing comfort consumer base that is out right now searching for this formula.”
A major focal point of the Bluprint line is how sleek and slim the shoes appear. Designed with the company’s proprietary “comfort recipe”, a combination of engineering and design that delivers improved mechanics, reduced fatigue, enhanced cushioning, and comfort; the shoes offer footcare benefits in a less obtrusive design.
According to Ortley, deciding what to leave out was just as important when designing the line as what features to put in. For instance, while some brands add foam in the tongue and ankle collar to improve comfort, Bluprint found this practice to be detrimental to breathability, requiring added stitch lines or cementing that stops the upper materials from conforming the foot closely. In many shoes, tongues often shift left or right, causing additional discomfort. To solve this, Bluprint made their tongues asymmetrical so they contour neatly around the ankle joint and stay put for enhanced fit and comfort.
“Thoughtful deconstruction is about removing things that don’t need to be there with the goal of helping the shoe to adapt to the shape of the wearers foot and conform for better fit and added comfort,” said Ortley. “Bluprint footwear is designed and engineered differently with the primary goal being to enhance fit and comfort the for the consumer.”
The key to the shoes’ deconstruction is in the last. While many lasts are deep in the forefoot, adding high ceilings in the toe-box region which makes shoes look thick and unflattering, Bluprint focused on a moderate ceiling height and a nuanced sidewall profile that makes the height look lower than it is. After that, the height is concealed by dropping the upper into the midsole, making it look even more sleek while still providing comfort benefits.
“Our insole, Cloud Imprint, is proprietary as well. It’s make-up includes a proprietary blend of polyurethane and slow recovery foam, and its molded shape is supportive and comfortable. The feel of the foam underfoot is pure heaven,” said Ortley. “It’s important for us to introduce meaningful innovation and current styling to the category so that we can earn our place on the wall and win brand loyalists that we can work with for years to come.”
Bluprint hits retail and e-commerce July 1, with the exact details to be announced in the coming months. For year one, the brand’s marketing campaign builds on the idea of “comfort culture” with the tagline ‘Find YOUR Comfort’, meant to recognize that comfort is a unique concept for each individual.
“Ultimately, we want add further excitement to the comfort channel so it continues to grow and compete well with other areas of the business while helping the consumer to look and feel great doing the things they love to do,” said Ortley. “If we can keep people’s feet healthier longer, then we believe we’ve done our job.”