[From August Issue 2011]
At kindergartens and schools in Japan, sports days are held once a year. Parents bring along cameras and root for their children. Among the many sporting activities held on the day, the most popular is the “footrace” (a short sprint round a circular course). Focussing on this event, Achilles Corporation has developed “Syunsoku,” shoes that enable runners to turn corners without sliding.
TSUBATA Yutaka, Deputy Director General of Product Planning and Development, has been recording the movements of children’s feet on camera at sports days since 2000. He has discovered that as they run around the course counterclockwise, many of them lose their balance when turning corners. “When we started our developmental research we thought, ‘Can’t we make shoes that stabilize runners going around corners?’”
The planning stage began by taking a fresh look at the lives of elementary school pupils. Though schools differ in the enthusiasm they bring to sports, sports day remains an activity common to all schools.
To counter centrifugal force at corners, you tend to tilt your body to the left. Tsubata thought that if protuberances were placed correctly on the sole, they could develop a shoe that gave reliable support, even when the runner goes around a corner.
Made to prevent feet from sliding round corners, the totally new technology of Syunsoku was inspired by the design of products like studless tires that are used on snow covered roads. “Even at the production stage, we received inquiries from the factory, worrying that the asymmetrical design might be a mistake,” Tsubata says with a laugh.
Up until then, for shoes and other fashion items, designs that incorporated Disney characters and such like, were in vogue. None of these shoes had a practical appeal. “We launched the shoes with the catch phrase, ‘Be the leader in the corner!’ Attracted by this advertising strategy, parents introduced the product in blogs or by word of mouth, making the campaign a big hit,” Tsubata explains.
Tsubata, who has been recording athletic meets for 11 years says he still comes up with various ideas. He discovered, for instance, that since 2009, many children’s shoes accidentally slip off. The cause was the smaller width, lower instep and less-developed arches of children’s feet. Last year, taking this into account, they released “Syunsoku Slim,” which became the No. 1 hit product for girls footwear.
Now they release somewhere in the region of 200 Syunsoku designs every year and they have become such a hit item that one in every two Japanese children are wearing a pair of them.
Text: TAKAHASHI Yoshinori