Seattle Post-Intelligencer

December 18, 1997

" Digitoe Builds On Customizing Feat "


Fitting Use of Digital Imagery - Shoes

Digitoe Builds on Customizing Feat

by Constance Sommer PI Reporter

What would you give for the perfect pair of shoes?

Shoes that won't pinch won't rub.

Shoes that fit your foot like skin itself, in the style you want paired with the color you've selected.

Sounds absurd, perhaps, but a Port Townsend company named Digitoe has a plan to mix computers with foot leather that it promises will turn the absurd into the ordinary.

In the future, "Nike will have it's place, but so will little guys like us," says Alan Zerobnick, Digitoe's unabashedly ambitious Chairman, owner and creative guru. "We are going to rise."

This is how it works: Digitoe uses computers to take digital pictures of a customer's feet; those images are translated into virtual models of the feet on the computer; then the computer spits data to one machine that creates plastic models of the feet, into another machine that cuts the leather pattern for the shoe; finally, a shoemaker sews the cut leather together and, fitting it on the model, attaches the top to the bottom to create a shoe.

Once the customers feet are on file in the computer, however, Digitoe can craft more refined footwear- from golf shoes, to work boots and wing tips- at prices ranging from $395 to $1,800.

OK, so it's not cheap. It's also not widely available yet. The company currently offers it's product in two locations- the Port Townsend headquarters and Shane's Foot Comfort Center in North Seattle.

What makes Digitoe a serious player is it's pedigree and a considerable investment in research.

Zerobnick got his shoemaking start manufacturing Clown Footwear. Apparently, Clown Shoes are the ultimate in tricky footwear.

"It's like a shoe within a shoe," Zerobnick said. "Those people stand on their feet 5-6 even 10 hours a day. They need to look good and be comfortable. They need to be able to run. These are active people."

Zerobnick could understand the Clowns' need for the right shoes because he also has a hard time finding shoes that fit. A dozen years ago, he discovered a new machine that he realized could hold the possibility of delivering the ultimate shoes. I was called a computer.

By 1990, Zerobnick had committed himself to a new kind of shoe production. He began pouring his savings into computer purchases, fiddling around with new technology until he could create a virtual 3 dimensional "shoe last" on the screen. A shoe last is the shoe business term for the solid model over which a shoe is constructed.

He figures that by this point he's spent several million dollars researching his product.

Shane Hayes, owner of Shane's Foot Comfort Center and a specialist in fitting hard-to-fit feet, only agreed to offer Digitoe shoes to his customers after having a pair made for himself.

"I wasn't willing to get behind this project until my foot had been run through the entire system and (I could) see whether the shoes fit or not," he said. "And they fit like a glove.... It surprised me. I suspected there would be something that wasn't correct about it, but it was great the first time out."

Waiting on patents, Digitoe could not offer it's shoes for sale until this fall. But a website ( has resulted in a waiting list of 600 customers, off which the company plucked 8 for its first batch of commercial orders, Zerobnick said.

Of the 8 customers, 2 are from Seattle, one is from Bellingham, 2 are from California, one if from Florida, one if from Colorado and one is from Virginia, he said.

'He says he plans to open 2 Digitoe stores next year, one on New York's Long Island and the other in Pinehurst, North Carolina. Both are near major golf courses. Apparently golf enthusiasts particularly appreciate Digitoe shoes.

But Zerobnick's plans are bigger than golf. He sees computer customization as a force that eventually will transform the shoe industry.

"We're emerging right now," he said, " because this is our time."

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