Athletic shoe for women set for Kickstarter campaign

10 Jun, 2024
Tony Quested
What better fit for a Kickstarter fundraising campaign than a footwear design enterprise? The far from down-at-heel designer Martin Dean is seeking cash backing for the QLVR (pronounced Clever) athletic slip-ons which he spent five years perfecting.
Credit – QLVR

He is promoting what he calls the world’s first lace-free performance slippers engineered specifically for women’s feet. The design deploys a ‘fast-fit’ bird’s wing-inspired system to ‘hug’ the foot.

Dean got the idea for the shoes’ 360-degree locked-in fit – said to offer better support and more natural movement than laces – after studying the movement of a dog ball thrower.

The eco-friendly footwear – a versatile training shoe described as ideal for 5km runs and cross training – are made using dandelion rubber-based foam. The shoes promise to shave at least 30 seconds off a runner’s time getting ready, thanks to their slip-on style, which also removes the hassle of having to stop a workout when a lace comes undone.

After testing, the £140 QLVR slippers, which are said to take just one second per foot to put on, are now available to pre-order; the brand’s Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign goes live on July23.

Dean said: “We’ve been lacing our shoes since the Stone Age. The world’s oldest shoes are from 3500BC and they have a lace. It’s time to evolve!

“We are forever looking at ways to streamline our lives, with gadgets invented for our convenience, instant communications, entertainment, computerised cars, making a phone call through our watch! Why has lacing up performance shoes not been challenged? I wanted to challenge the status quo.

“The majority of all athletic footwear is made to fit a man’s foot shape, then downscaled to women’s sizes on that same tooling to save on production costs. The use of the lace allows this to work to a degree because the laces can take up the slack.

“But women’s feet are anatomically shaped differently to men’s; they are narrower at the heel, have a higher instep and a wider toe box, so the majority of women’s training shoes are just small men’s shoes.

“They do not fit correctly and this can cause too much sliding forward of the foot, rubbing, blisters, instability and ultimately injuries. I’ve always questioned this, and it’s just not being prioritised in other brands, so we’re using our new technology to make better-fitting trainers, starting with women first.”

Credit – QLVR

Dean, who has spent 30 years designing footwear for global brands, began working on the idea of hands-free performance shoes in 2017.

“I think I’ve been obsessed with hands free trainers since seeing the boots in the film Back To The Future as a kid,” Dean said. He was baffled by the fact that despite the amount of innovation in sports footwear in the past 50 years, designers were still relying on a piece of string to fasten them.

He worked on a number of prototypes. But it wasn’t until 2020 that he had a breakthrough. In August 2020, while on a beach in Kent, Dean watched as a friend launched a ball for his dog using a thrower and, inspired by its expanding and contracting motion, got the initial idea for the now patented QLVR wing.

He said: “I was looking at the way the pre-moulded cup at the end of the stick mirrors the ball form and it’s in a closed position, to expand and contract to hold the ball in place, but with enough elasticity to hold the ball firmly until launch. I thought we could turn that upside down as a closure system for a shoe. That was the inspiration and then came the eureka moment.

“I was doing design research online and was looking at animal bone structure and the way a bird’s wing can expand and contract. Applying the zig-zag formation to the cup idea meant we had something with the ability to move and support the foot in place of the regular army of components that are required to construct a traditional lace up performance shoe.

“I built a basic prototype sample in a much simpler design to see if the zig-zag collar would work. I wore and tested this model for a year and went through different variations and realised it would.

“Throughout that time around 2021 we showed it to various friends who experienced it and tried it on, and they kept having the same reaction: ‘that’s clever!’. So it started off as the Clever project, and became QLVR.”

The aim of the Kickstarter campaign is to raise enough funds to cover manufacturing tooling and the first production and eventually get the shoes in stores.

To sign up for a launch notification and an early bird discount visit