Grounded – A Sole For Nature


A sole for nature was created with the intention of inspiring the design of new and exciting toddlers footwear. Focusing on connecting children and parents with nature through tactile stimulus and emotive design, using visually communicative elements within the product.

Children learn how to navigate their natural environment as they grow and learn. The shoes they wear should support this development, not hinder it. This project aimed to design a shoe to encourage and inspire children (and their parents) to engage in outdoor play and adventure.

Through extensive research and testing, it was identified that children’s footwear was often stiff and heavy, and did not provide a tactile connection to the ground underfoot. Through this research, I developed a more flexible shoe that was responsive to the varying terrain a child may walk on.

The contoured sole improves the tactile experience of how the child feels and responds to the surface they are exploring. The shape of the sole is pinched in at the midfoot, which allows for much greater flexibility across the shoe. The heel and forefoot have a sharper edge (not rounded) to give the child greater lateral stability (side-to-side rolling movement), which helps prevent them from rolling over on their ankles. These innovations are critical to support a child while their body is still learning about how to respond to the ground underneath them.

The leather wrapped around the bottom of the shoe upper protects the edges of the child’s foot from sharp objects, without the need for stiff rubber (as seen in most footwear). The leather helps with waterproofing. Soft leather is only attached along the bottom edge of the shoe to provide a more comfortable and flexible shoe structure. This allows the knit fabric to move with the foot without a thicker and stiffer fabric restricting it. The elastic laces also helped to encourage the movement of the knit fabric.

The insole comprises a felted grass print backed onto a rigid woven fabric to prevent the insole from stretching. This grass ‘look and feel’ communicates the shoe's barefoot heritage- it is as close as you can get while still protecting your child from sharp objects.

The footbed underneath the insole was made from open-cell foam, contoured to match the rubber sole, ensuring the footbed moulds perfectly to the sole's contours. This elevates the feeling that the shoe is an ‘extension’ of a child's foot.

The three tread print options is visually responsive to notions of outdoor play and nature in Aotearoa New Zealand. They tell the stories of getting muddy on a farm, hanging with cows, playing on a tractor, tramping in the bush, surrounded by trees, pitching a tent and sitting around a campfire, and celebrate the mountainous ranges that run from the north to the south of Aotearoa New Zealand. Each tread tell a different story but shares the idea that each child is beginning their great adventure through life. These shoes are designed to encourage and empower this journey.

Read more about Hollie's Masters project here:

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Here's what Hollie had to say about the Masters experience:

"As I was approaching the end of my undergraduate degree, I sat on the fence about whether to undertake a master’s.After months of toing and froing, I couldn’t ignore the fact that I had a desire to further hone my understanding of footwear design and wellbeing. I liked the fact that the master’s gave me the creative freedom to explore a project without the constraints you may find in the commercial industry.Despite the master’s being an incredible challenge, I have no regrets in doing it. I consider my design process and the work I produce to be more thoughtful and critical; I can understand and analyse at a much deeper level than I would have thought possible before the master’s.

Since completing the master’s, I have been given the opportunity to work for Fisher and Paykel Healthcare. Having worked so closely with the GHD Lab, deep diving into the world of research and design for health and wellbeing through my master’s project as well as my peers, I am excited to take that new learning forward into a commercial healthcare application."

This project was conducted in collaboration with Bobux Children’s Footwear.

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