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Made in Brunel: 'One-size-fits-all' shoe designed to ease refugee journey

Map of User-Journey

A shoe which can expand both width and lengthways from adult sizes 6-11 is being developed by a Brunel University London student – with the aim of creating an attractive new product for footwear fans, and a ‘one-size-fits all’ resource to help migrants walking thousands of miles across Europe.

BA Industrial and Product Design student Faisal Tayan’s Shoe4All prototype features a novel mechanism which can be expanded or contracted to alter the size of the shoe depending on the user’s foot length and width, and an insulated ‘wrap’ designed using neoprene, the material most commonly used for wetsuits.

A British student of Syrian origin, Faisal explained that the ongoing crisis in Syria helped inspire him to focus on this final-year course project, as did his family background. With his mother working in the charity sector, and father in business, Faisal was keen to explore a business enterprise with a humanitarian focus.

On several occasions he has volunteered at refugee camps, in Jordan in 2014, and Greece in 2015 and 2016, seeing first-hand the issues faced by large numbers of refugees living in or passing through these sites.

Hygiene and adjusting to the cold were two key issues for refugees driving the design of his Brunel project. Faisal’s research found that across dry land, wet and cold land, on foot and by sea, temperatures can vary from 40 degrees to minus 11 in any given migrant journey from the Middle East and across Northern Europe, for example.

 “Refugees go through a long and treacherous journey to the country they seek asylum in, exposed to many differ­ent climates, terrains and conditions that they’re not used,” Faisal explains. “There is, of course, a risk of disease and deteriorating health, but dignity and comfort is also a factor - I noticed that most, if not all, gear worn by a refugee are ‘hand me down’ items, and not in the best condition at the start of a lengthy journey, let alone at the end.”

“Migrants often don’t wear the correct size shoe, they just wear whatever shoes have been given to them. And when you might be walking 2,500km or more – from Manchester to London and back eight times – that’s just not right.”


(Image - the shoe design in development)

Faisal’s study of existing ‘expandable’ shoes found a number of products designed for children, but most were a sandal style which did not offer full all-weather protective cover for the foot. Several varieties also exist in the retail market for adults, but they generally feature a ‘pump’ function which fills pockets in the shoe with air for a snugger fit, rather than expanding to accommodate a variety of sizes of feet.

After tours of footwear manufacturing facilities, including those operated by Dr Martens, and interviews with experts in shoe manufacturing and retail, and refugee camp management, Faisal’s design and business model started to take shape. He says he would ultimately like to sell the shoes through a system most famously used by footwear brand Tom’s, with each independent purchase resulting in a donation of another pair to a refugee in need.

Faisal is currently in the process of patenting his novel 3D-printed mechanism and while his current prototype is far from a complete, sellable product at present, he hopes to continue refining the design and business plan.

Ultimately, through Shoe4All he also hopes to draw awareness to the key issue explored through his research – the perilous journey thousands of people undertake each year to reach safety and the importance of helping those in need through understanding and innovation.

Reported by:

Sarah Cox, Media Relations