We live in a high culture of customization—our diets, hair color, movie recommendations, travel experiences. There is very little that we cannot mold into a version of what we desire.
On the surface, there is pleasure in being able to fine tune the life you lead, using technology and personalized services to pay attention to nuances and little details that bring you bursts of joy. On a deeper level, having the power of choice can help you tackle the unique challenges and needs that your life presents through medical issues, allergies, religious and other critical lifestyle choices.
Fashion is an obvious extension of that frothier customization; today we turn our focus on the sneakerhead culture that has transformed footwear into a $17.5 billion dollar business. For sneaker fans, what they wear on their feet reflects their mood, their background, their aspirations, their taste and their outlook on life.
Whether it’s scoring a classic pair of sneakers that speaks to your childhood or scoring one-of-a-kind custom-built kicks that take perfectly wonderful shoes to a level that (literally) no one else on the planet ever will rise to:
Or a 2-dimensional take on footwear that make you feel like you’re living in a comic book:
But today isn’t just about eye candy (feet candy?), it’s also about a very specific example of customization that doesn’t just add flair to someone’s wardrobe but gives the power of choice back to those who find themselves living in a world that might feel completely out of their control: the Doernbecher Freestyle Collection by Nike.
Each year for the past 15 years, Nike selects six patients from Portland’s Doernbecher Hospital to envision and design (from sole to shoelace) their own sneaker to reflect their story and life experience. The process itself is incredible, as these young patients go through an intensive personal discovery process and work (for months!) with Nike designers to build a customized shoe to be sold around the world.
Proceeds from the Doernbecher Freestyle Collection have generated over $24 million for the hospital, but the experience and feeling of empowerment these kids feel in sharing their personal experiences through an incredibly customized output is even more breathtaking. Patients weave in personal symbolism into their designs: their parents’ genetic codes, heart transplant dates, favorite animals and sports teams.
The creative process becomes its own form of care and wellness.
Customization isn’t just about shoes, iPhone settings