Thanks to a high-tech new tool, putting your best foot forward may get easier. Footwear and apparel company Nike has created a foot-scanning app that measures the length, width, and other dimensions of customers’ feet, and then recommends a shoe size. The company is hoping for good fits—and fewer problems.
Ever try on a shoe in your usual size only to find that it pinches . . . or flops? A brief history of shoe sizing may explain why:
Hundreds of years ago, cobblers built every shoe to fit a specific foot. The method was accurate but slow. Shoemakers needed a way to make many shoes quickly. That meant standardizing sizes. Eventually, someone settled on (believe it or not!) the length of a grain of barleycorn—about 1/3”—as a standard unit of measure.
The system wasn’t perfect. For one thing, barleycorns come in different sizes. Yet the barleycorn measurement persists today. In the United Kingdom, each full shoe size equals one barleycorn unit.
Despite—or perhaps because of—the barleycorn measurement, sports industry analyst Matt Powell says finding the right size is a problem for shoe shoppers—especially when converting for U.S. sizing. “There really is no industry standard for what is a size 10,” he admits.
Still, most people think they know their own shoe size. So according to Nike, the challenging part is convincing folks they even need to measure their feet. That dislike of measuring means Nike gets a half million complaints per year from customers about fit and sizing.
There’s another reason the shoe often doesn’t fit: Each shoe style fits differently, even if they’re the same size. Nike admits as much, saying leather sneakers may be tighter and require a bigger size, while knit kicks may be more forgiving. And shoelaces can throw everything off.
With the new app, customers wanting a perfect fit snap a picture of their tootsies, and the app tells them exactly what size shoe to buy in a given style. The idea, no surprise, is to sell more shoes.
But Nike isn’t just going for happy feet. The company expects to get a flood of data about the feet of regular people. Nike says it will use the information to improve its shoe designs.
Michael Martin, who oversees Nike’s websites and apps, says, “Nikes will become better and better fitting shoes for you and everyone else.”
Now that would be a feet feat.
Did you know that the inch is also based on the barleycorn unit of measure? In 1324, England’s King Edward II decreed that the British standard for one inch was three barleycorns laid end-to-end. He also mandated that 12 inches would equal a foot and three feet a yard.