Kegan Schouwenburg wants to see everyone in a pair of SOLS.
As founder of the two-year-old Chelsea-based orthotics company, the Williamsburg resident is slowly getting there. To date, SOLS has shipped 10,000 of its 3D-printed insoles, customized to the individual's feet to provide arch support, cushioning, comfort and relief from back, ankle or foot pain.
The tech company makes two types of insoles: SOLS Rx, a corrective medical device available through more than 650 podiatrists for people with such foot problems as spurs, bunions, hammertoes and flat feet, and SOLS Flex, a consumer product that can be ordered through the company's app, which just launched this week. The insole is currently available in neoprene for $199.
We spoke with Schouwenburg, 30, who herself wore orthotics as a child because of severe pronation, about SOLS, the medical-tech space and how she lives a healthy lifestyle.
Why is it important to have proper footwear?
It's aligning, support and balance. At the end of the day, think of your body as connected. If you support your feet then it stems up from there. The residual effects of that are, you don't have back, shoulder or neck problems, maybe you won't be spending money on massages because you don't need them anymore. It's taking a really proactive approach to health care. It's thinking of it from a body perspective -- let's do something great for your structure.
Who are your customers?
I am shocked at the number of people I've talked to that have foot problems. Whether it's flat feet, swollen arches, heel pain, plantar fasciitis -- these are all things people know and understand and self-diagnose and are not doing anything about most of the time. It's not about not understanding the problem, it's about not having a solution for the problem. Up until SOLS, the only solution on the market was to go to a doctor and spend $600 for a product. That's right for some people, but not right for everybody. The flip side is buying a $10 generic product at the drugstore that's going to be soft and squishy. A major misconception out there is that putting something soft under your foot is comfort, but that's not the case. It's not doing anything. Putting something under your foot that relieves the metatarsal -- that actually does something.
What are other applications for SOLS?
We find ourselves resonating within very specific groups and communities. For runners, being able to wear the proper orthopedics and reduce the risk of injury is huge. Cycling is a huge opportunity, it's all about helping people be more efficient and propel themselves through the cycle. Skiing -- orthotics are worn in ski boots almost all the time because ski boots are really uncomfortable and need to be customized. When I look at these groups I see massive opportunity. Seventy percent of the population has foot pain and 10% do something about it. Our mission is how to capture that 60% delta.
How much has affordability played a part?
For me, that's the whole point of technology. You use technology to make products that were inaccessible and expensive, accessible and affordable. My goal is to bring SOLS to as many people as possible.
Talking about feet isn't incredibly exciting. How has it been starting that conversation?
I find myself all the time talking about feet, I'm very comfortable with this. It's funny because once you make it OK for people to talk about it, it's totally OK. Forbes called me the "foot whisperer," I say that jokingly but it's kind of true. It's making it OK for people to tell their stories, because everyone has a story. It's very human. Hopefully we can provide a solution that's much better than anything else on the market and make something that people don't feel embarrassed about.
What are some other advancements in orthotics?
I think that the industry is really stagnant. From what we've seen, it hasn't really evolved, hardly at all. I think for me, that was one of the reasons that I found an amazing opportunity. If you look at it from the medical and consumer side, it's been the same way for the past 50 years. So if you have an opportunity to change that, and do it with technology, that's a huge opportunity.
What are developments in 3-D printing in the medical space that have interested you?
I think medical will absolutely be the first industry that is truly disrupted by 3-D printing. It makes sense for the technology, it makes sense for the price point. Medical is so often where new technology first finds its roots. One company that has been an inspiration to me is Invisalign, the maker of clear braces. Not too many people know this, but the molds are 3-D-printed. It's the world's largest application for the technology in a mass-production setting. There's also lots of interesting stuff going on around hip implants and knee implants, DMLS printing. There are so many areas for customization in and around the human body that just hasn't been possible up until today.
What is your workout routine like?
I swim. We have a pool in our building. I aspire to swim three times a week. I don't always succeed at that, but I love the water, ever since I was a kid. And I love walking around the city and hiking. I've been trying to get out of the city on the weekends to do that more. I climbed Mount Beacon the other day.
How else do you stay healthy?
I don't eat a lot of meat, I eat a lot of fish. I cook dinner almost every night. That's a great way to eat healthier and know what you're putting into your body. I also take gummy vitamins -- I'm a big fan of SmartyPants.
When you do eat out, what are your healthy go-tos in the city?
When I do go out to eat, I love sushi. Sushi of Gari is a great one. They have a tasting menu, which for a splurge is really fun. So much of it honestly is just about portion control. If you are going to go out to eat, make sure you're eating the right amount and making smart choices. I don't drink liquor, I only drink wine. I don't drink soda, I only drink seltzer. I think there are easy, everyday things we can do to make ourselves feel better.