Athleticwear makers have followed the "small men" blueprint for women's shoes for far too long, outfitting men's feet before retrofitting the same design to accommodate the often thinner silhouettes of women's feet. This approach has traditionally saved brands money and time, but now that women outnumber men in the sport of running, many companies are giving this approach a double-take. Late last year, Adidas launched a female-forward running shoe, and with Blissfeel, Lululemon joins the leading pack.
Lululemon's blueprint for the ideal running sneaker comes after four years of R&D, one million foot scans, and "countless rounds of wear testing," and according to Lululemon’s vice president of footwear design, George Robusti, the Blissfeel really started with establishing a need. "Our design process always begins with two questions: What problem are we trying to solve, and how does our guest want to feel?" he says.
In the case of the running shoe, the problem was that it was designed for men's wider forefoot-to-heel ratio and shallow toebox. "Innovating for women is part of our DNA and we knew we had an opportunity to do better and really solve for what she was looking for," says Robusti. "So, we took two paradigm-shifting approaches with our footwear: We prioritized feel, and we prioritized designing footwear for women first."
Lululemon's designers found that women runners wanted shoes that balanced cushioning and support, and offered a Cinderella-esque, made-for-me feel. "We then built our shoes from the inside out, obsessively mapping every element—from the extra cushioning that supports where women’s heel strike occurs to uppers that are engineered to cradle and adjust to how women’s feet are shaped and move during activity," he says. Hence, the name "Blissfeel."
"Innovating for women is part of our DNA and we knew we had an opportunity to do better and really solve for what she was looking for." — George Robusti, Lululemon’s Vice President of Footwear Design
The Blissfeel launches today in 10 colorways, and will launch for men late next year, according to Lululemon's Instagram account. The brand will also release three other women's sneakers in 2022 to round out its footwear collection: the Chargefeel Low Workout Shoe, the Chargefeel Mid-Workout Shoe, and the Restfeel Slide.
For now, however, the Blissfeels are the star of the sneaker show. When my pair arrived in the mail, I instantly tore the box open and took in the silver colorway. It's a sexy, sleek sneaker that pays homage to the ghosts of running shoes past. In its design, you can see the footprints of Nike and Adidas and Brooks in the foam and the upper soles, but there's also something distinctly Lululemon about the curve and weight of the shoe. And as I slip it on, it finally hits me: It truly does feel like a running product designed to fit me first and foremost.
As I lace the shoes up and head out for my neighborhood loop, I feel nothing like Cinderella and everything like a runner. Even though my lungs are working hard, my strides are effortless and I almost feel like I'm bounding forward on bare (albeit, supportive) feet. There's no break-in time. No switching out my socks to see if that helps with the roominess of the toebox. No question that this shoe will take me miles and miles—and maybe, just maybe, herald a time when women's bodies aren't an afterthought.
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