The development of column-based mid-sole (‘Microwobbleboard’™) technology, leading to the creation of FitFlop Ltd, a global footwear brand.
Submitting InstitutionLondon South Bank University
Unit of AssessmentSport and Exercise Sciences, Leisure and Tourism
Summary Impact TypeTechnological
Research Subject Area(s)
Medical and Health Sciences: Clinical Sciences, Human Movement and Sports Science, Neurosciences
Summary of the impact
Research carried out by the SESRC has resulted in a new category of
health and wellness footwear which has been commercialised by FitFlop
Since 2008, the Company has:
- Achieved sales of over 17million pairs of FitFlop™ footwear,
generating revenues of $350million;
- Increased its worldwide workforce from 17 (in 2008) to 160 (2012);
- Expanded its operations into 52 countries with sales operations in the
UK, France, Italy, Spain and the USA;
- Grown from a single to a multi-product footwear manufacturing and
- Received the Seal of Acceptance from the American Podiatric Medical
Association (APMA), and won business awards in 2011 and 2012.
Research carried out by the Sports and Exercise Science Research Centre
(SESRC) since 2001 in the area of biomechanics and motor control of human
movement has resulted in a body of knowledge and expertise being
accumulated. The research continues to be led by Dr Katya Mileva (Senior
Research Fellow, 2001 - to date) in collaboration with Dr David Cook (Senior
Lecturer, 2003 - left LSBU 2012) and Dr Darren James (Research Assistant,
2004 - 2012 and Research Fellow, 2012 - to date).
Specifically, research has explored interventions designed to promote
gait efficiency via modulation of the impact force during walking.
Research since 2004 has demonstrated altered temporal movement patterns
when wearing footwear compared to barefoot walking . Further
experimental studies have demonstrated that electrical stimulation of
intrinsic foot muscles  and mechanical interventions involving
whole-body  or direct lower-limb  vibration enhance the
proprioceptive input from the foot and ankle complex.
In 2006, SESRC researchers developed a column-based mid-sole design,
comprising differing mid-sole densities, intended to mechanically
stimulate the wearer and effectively modulate the impact forces during
walking. The concept aimed to enhance the activity of the stabilising leg
muscles by creating a more active loading profile, pushing the wearer into
the middle section of the softer, `questioning' foot-bed zone earlier than
traditional footwear. The new technology was termed "Microwobbleboard™".
A 2006 study by the SESRC , funded by Brandhandling Ltd, evaluated the
effects of this new footwear on ground reaction force and muscle activity
during walking, compared to standard athletic footwear. The research found
significantly increased electromyographic amplitude of the lateral
stabilizer m. peroneus longus (12%); prolonged activation time of the
pelvis stabilizer m. gluteus maximus (42%), reduced stance time duration
and increased rate of force production during propulsion. These findings
indicate that the neuromuscular responses are more likely a result of the
specific characteristics of the footwear rather than being induced through
destabilisation only. The study results were independently verified by
research conducted by Drs Graham-Smith and Jones at Salford University.
The research findings confirmed the potential of exploring a soles'
construction to impact an individual's gait pattern via stimulation of the
peripheral sensory system during every step.
Since 2008, the SESRC has, with significant funding from FitFlop Ltd,
undertaken further research and development of the technology using
3-dimensional motion capture and neurophysiological methodologies. These
follow-up studies, based upon the FitFlop™ sandal [6, 7], have: (i)
identified a 22% increase in shock absorption with interaction, (ii)
confirmed the enhanced activation of specific lower limb muscles and
reduced plantar pressures under the mid-foot and forefoot regions, (iii)
justified clinical implications in light of the significant reduction in
sagittal plane ankle joint range of motion and joint moment-related
References to the research
1. James DC and Cook DP (2011). Coefficient of cross-correlation analysis
of kinematics during walking barefoot and in Vibram Five Fingers®.
Footwear Science; 3:sup1, S79-S81.
2. James DC, Chesters T, Sumners DP, Cook DP, Green DA, Mileva KN.
(2012). Wide-Pulse Electrical Stimulation to an Intrinsic Foot Muscle
Induces Acute Functional Changes in Forefoot- Rearfoot Coupling Behaviour
during Walking. Int J Sports Med; 34(5): 438-43.
3. Cook DP, Mileva KN, James DC, Zaidell LN, Goss VG, Bowtell JL. (2011).
Triaxial modulation of the acceleration induced in the lower extremity
during whole-body vibration training: a pilot study. J. Strength Cond Res;
4. Mileva KN, Naleem AA, Biswas SK, Marwood S, Bowtell JL. (2006). Acute
effects of a vibration- like stimulus during knee extension exercise. Med
Sci Sports Exerc. 38(7):1317-28.
5*. Cook DP, James DC, Mileva KN. Efficacy testing of `Microwobbleboard™'
technology. Research report for FitFlop Ltd (2007).
6*. James DC, Cook DP. Validation of `Microwobbleboard™' technology on
existing and new product development. Research report for FitFlop Ltd
7*. James DC, Cook DP. Re-investigating the efficacy of `Microwobbleboard™'
technology incorporated within the original FitFlop™ sandal. Research
report for FitFlop Ltd (2012).
*LSBU Research report(s) for FitFlop Ltd — available upon request from
Details of the impact
This impact case study demonstrates how research carried out by the SESRC
has culminated in the development of a new recognised category of health
and wellness footwear, based upon `Microwobbleboard™' techology, which has
directly led to the creation and growth of a successful international
business, FitFlop Ltd.
Following a search of UK universities for relevant expertise in foot and
ankle biomechanics in 2006, the Founder of Brandhandling Ltd approached
the SESRC. Specifically, Brandhandling were interested in the column-based
mid-sole concept developed by the SESRC, and commissioned further research
and development of the concept into a footwear product. SESRC
biomechanists subsequently developed a prototype sandal based upon the
Under the terms of the contract with the SESRC, Brandhandling owned the
Intellectual Property and in 2007, they filed a patent application for
`Microwobbleboard™ technology with SESRC researchers as named inventors.
The PCT Patent was granted in 2012 . Brandhandling subsequently
incorporated the novel technology into its FitFlop™ brand of
technology-driven and affordable health and wellness footwear. Based upon
the initial market success of the FitFlop™ footwear (Walkstar™ launched in
2007), Brandhandling Ltd. took the business decision to commercialise the
technology more widely through a special purpose vehicle, viz. FitFlop Ltd
FitFlop™ footwear proved to be instrumental in establishing a new
category of health and wellness footwear, subsequently enlarged by entry
of major footwear manufacturers, such as, Reebok and Sketchers. The SESRC
has continued to work closely with FitFlop Ltd to further develop
Microwobbleboard™ technology and explore its application in further
designs of footwear.
Independent Consultants, commissioned by LSBU in 2013 to assess the
impact since 2008 of the SESRC's research and contribution to the
development of FitFlop™ and FitFlop Ltd, established that the Company has
- grown from a single (Walkstar™ , a female sandal) to a multi-product
(sandals, clogs, boots, and sneakers for both men and women),
multi-national footwear manufacturing and retail brand;
- generated revenues of $350million from the sale of over 17million
pairs of FitFlop™ footwear;
- increased its workforce from 17 (2008) to 160 in 2012;
- expanded its operations into 52 countries with e-commerce websites in
the UK, France, Italy, Spain and the USA;
- established an Intellectual Property portfolio based around 3
different footwear technologies and designs;
- received the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) Seal of
Acceptance (2011) (3);
- won business awards, including the 2012 Avaya Customer Innovation
Award (4), and the 2011 Draper Footwear `footwear brand of the year'
The Head of Legal and Business Affairs at FitFlop Ltd has acknowledged
the fundamental contribution made by SESRC research to FitFlop Ltd's rapid
growth and success (6). She has stated that: "without the research
carried out by LSBU, FitFlop would not have been created" (2).
Each pair of FitFlop™'s sold around the world contains a label
acknowledging LSBU's involvement in the development of the footwear, as
does the FitFlop web site (7)
The combination of technology, comfort and style has turned the FitFlop™
into an appealing footwear brand. Wearers consistently comment (7) on the
personal benefits and comfort derived from the Microwobbleboard™
technology. As part of its world-wide marketing strategy, the Company
coined the slogan `get a workout while you walk' which was promoted
through television features such as the Oprah Winfrey show (2008).
In addition, the potential for clinical indication has been recognised.
For example, a leading consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Royal Surrey
Hospital, Guildford has stated (8): "Patients with painful feet usually
select a flimsy soft shoe, not realising that they need the opposite.
The combination of support and cushioning, with a degree of built in
"rocker", that the FitFlop™ shoes provide is perfect for nearly
all my patients. No other commercially available shoe is better.
Prescription shoes are almost a thing of the past."
Since 2011, FitFlop Ltd. has commissioned further contract research with
the SESRC valued at over £200k to explore and develop further novel
footwear products in order to extend the Company's product range and
capitalise on the underpinning science.
Sources to corroborate the impact
- PCT Number 0708244.9.
- Report of Independent Consultants (The Innovation Partnership, 2013).
Contact: Managing Director, The Innovation Partnership — covers the
contribution made by the SESRC to the development of FitFlop™ and the
associated success of the FitFlop Ltd.
- Contact: Head of Legal and Business Affairs, FitFlop Ltd
- Statement: Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon, Royal Surrey Hospital,