By Kegan Schouwenburg, as told to Autumn Whitefield-Madrano
Kegan Schouwenburg desperately wanted the world to be more like the futuristic sci-fi she read growing up. She also wanted to wear stylish heels—ones that actually fit her flat feet. Using these twin goals as motivation, Kegan harnessed her industrial design degree from New York City’s Pratt Institute to launch SOLS, a company that uses 3-D printing to customize insoles and orthotics. Customers use the SOLS app to capture images of their feet; two weeks and $99 later, individualized insoles crafted from NASA-grade nylon arrive at their doorstep. Here’s how the 30-year-old entrepreneur is delivering the future to you.
My family lived in Belgium when I was a kid, where design is part of the culture. Every aspect of society is thought about in terms of aesthetics. Even the tax forms are beautiful! When we moved to the U.S. we got the Design Within Reach catalog. It was the first time I realized art was also commerce, which made it accessible. I wanted to integrate art and accessibility, and industrial design was a way to do that.
After college I went to a company where we made 3-D-printed shoes for designers. They were focused on fashion—“What’s the most outlandish thing we could make?” This was a perfect application for 3-D technology, yet nobody was actually going to wear the footwear. I had flat feet as a child that made me miss out on sports and outings with my family, and my orthotics were clunky and expensive. I thought, “What if we created something that was a perfect collision of design, function, and technology?” SOLS was an opportunity to redesign an industry.
I wanted to make on-demand products. I want you to be able to take your phone and use it to transfer an image of your body, and then have an affordable product custom-made for you. Before, you had cobblers making expensive, bespoke products. With technology, suddenly it’s not just the one percent who have access to custom-made shoes.
I’ve always loved sci-fi, and it’s pretty much what a startup is: imagining—though everybody says it’s impossible—what the future could be. I was talking to another CEO who said, “If I wasn’t running this company, I’m not employable.” It’s true! The entrepreneurial bug is natural for me.