The Story of GripForce

It all began in 1986, in the harbor town of Busan, Korea, where I was working as a footwear production apprentice in the liaison office of a Swedish trading company.

The office was manned with 5 people including myself.  Upon our weekly discovery tours for new products and innovations, we found an interesting “claw” that the user could flip in and out underneath the outsole. The objective being that this “claw” in its flipped out position would bite into ice and snow.  When flipped into its cavity again, the shoe would serve as a normal shoe.  We brought this idea to Scandinavia and one trading customer of ours bought some 1000 prs to try out the idea.   Soon the claims started to come in.  When the claw was flipped out, dirt, mud, ice or snow would fill the empty cavity where the claw rested, and when trying to flip the claw back inside into its cavity again, the dirt, mud or ice would prevent it from clicking back into its original place.  So its hinges broke and the claim was a fact.  The product was suspended from the market of the trading company.

 

Some years later, in 1989 I was skiing with my wife and friends in Ischgl , Austria.  We were walking back from the lift in the late afternoon, tired and happy on our way to the After-ski party awaiting us further down the road. We approached quite a steep hill in the village overbaked with grey thick ice with small dimples in it, the dimples being approximately the size of a human fist.  Here we were, trying to scale the hill, skis on our shoulders, awkward ski boots on our feet and with a vain hope that our ski poles would keep us on our feet.  Well they didn´t.  It took about 10-15 seconds before we all were rolling around on the hill, having slipped on the grey ice.   Switching from laughter to pain and back to laughter again, I started thinking, right there and then;  There´s got to be some way to solve this very common problem in winter.  Somewhere, somehow an anti slip device built into a shoe or ski boot, with a very easy “Switch-on/Switch-off function must be able to accomplish.  Not like the “claw”, something much more easily activated.   Think Bertil,  Think !

 

I drew some constructions on a napkin, and I kept at it for about ½ year, and then put it into a cupboard for later use.  Then it fell into oblivion.    It wasn’t until 14 years later that I picked up on the idea again and said to myself.  Lets´do it. Lets try to design this mother.   The year was 2003.  So I interviewed with some free-lancing engineers and finally chose one to help me.  We discussed my demands:  Easily accessible, and durable.

 

Generation one, was a fresh start.  We were going to let spikes “be loaded” like ammunition into small holes in the outsole.  Once the spikes had moved into place, a crab like device would embrace the top end of the spike and hold it in its place.  The mechanism was to be propelled by a spring that winded up its energy from a pump in the heel.  The contraption was an engineering marvel in its cad cam simulation…..  however when trying to build it in 3d we realized, it wasn’t going to work in a normal shoe.   – Back to the drawing board.

Generation two had the spikes stationary. Instead the outsole was made to inflate and deflate upon demand.  Once deflated , the spikes would protrude through the sole thanks to the body weight of the person.  It was a complete different approach to generation 1 , and we set out to letting it have a go.  The spikes however jammed in the small holes they were going to get through, so that did not work either.   -Back again to the drawing board again.

 

Generation three had the spikes separated from each other.  Small conical springs would make them move vertically in its small holes.  A specially designed device would change the sole from inflated to deflated by kicking the front of the shoe , or the back of the heel towards a hard object such as a wall, a lamppost or a tree.  This was a clear breakthrough.  We had now managed to find a way to control the movement of the spikes from the outsole.  The spikes were stationary, but the sole changed its shape thanks to the body weight of the user, and a key lock.  The device however had a somewhat clumsy activation so we had to improve on that.  -Back again to the drawing board again.

 

Generation four exchanged the device activation from kicking, by adding a genially placed little lever on the inside of the heel.  Now we had the easily accessible “Switch-on / switch-off button that I always had wished for.  We built a good prototype and we applied for a patent on the construction.  It took a good year and half to make all the necessary tooling in correct materials and try this outsole in real life.  I was so excited to finally get my shoe going……     It lasted until we found out that no matter how many O-rings or X-rings we fitted into the small holes were the spikes would protrude, we still could not prevent water, dirty water or grey water if you like, from coming into the mechanism of the sole, and when vaporizing, leaving a fine dust of clay that slowly eroded all parts inside the sole….  .   -Back to the drawing board again.

 

Generation five  was a complete remake of the bottom.  We now designed individual modules of spikes and membranes, that you could place and replace into the sole.  The membranes were connected with the spikes through a press fitted collar in stainless steel.  Thus we had taken care of the waterproof problem.   – At least that was what we thought. But after some walking testings reaching 200 – 300 km the modules started to deform. Again, water would come through.  Besides, the main material chosen for the outsole started to harden, and the complete purpose of the inflate / deflate outsole were being compromised…..  -Back to the drawing board again.

 

Generation six  had a bit of drama in it.  The original engineer behind generation one to five started to slow down in intensity on my project, and increased the number of other projects from other clients (After all he was a free-lance) and my project was left behind.  Upon discussing this with him, we decided to go separate ways, and I found a new engineer ready to take on the project. The first thing he and I did was to add a fifth spike in the absolute front of the sole, and making the outersole material in a much much softer compound.  We managed all that a little bit too good.  The whole outsole became like a squid with no lateral or medial stability at all.  Worse than that, the whole outsole moved about like if you were walking on a Belgian Waffle with whipped cream on it..  And we had still not solved the waterproof problem with the individual modules.  This is in May 2012.   All of a sudden my engineer passes away in a very tragic accident.  I stood their dumbfounded and filled with grief.  I had lost a very good friend.  I was back at square 1 A again.  What to do now?   I took with me the bits and pieces of outsoles that I could carry, and started off on the road trying to find a new engineering firm that could replace my poor friends task of completing the outsole.

 

I must have tried at least 7 or 8 different engineering firms but no one believed in the success of project hard enough to put it into their busy schedule.  I felt like Brian Epstein trying to promote the Beatles, but everybody I visited acted like Decca and said “Thank you, but no thank you”….   Having nearly lost all hope, the phone rang, and when I picked it up, there was a man on the other line with an unmistakably Skåne (South-Swedish) accent, explaining that there was a rumor that I was looking for an engineering firm. They were located in Örkeljunga, Sweden  and I said “what the heck !, What do I have to loose ?” and went down to see them.  The company is called Jelmtech and I was astonished to see the competence that awaited me in this firm.  They took on the project and was scrutinizing my wish list of ten points that my existing sole needed to go through.

 

Generation seven:    Some weeks later, in early 2013 they invited me down and said to me:
-“We have good news and we have bad news, which one would you like to hear first?”
-“Did you solve the 10 points on my wish list?” , I asked impatiently.
-“Ok, you want the good news first then……-Yes we believe we have solved all those problems” .
-“So what is the bad news then?” I asked, confident that there really weren’t any bad news after all…
-“We have to remake ALL tooling you have done so far.  We cannot use a single piece, or a single mould.
……….  ?    – “Wait a minute.   What you are saying is that in order to follow your solution I have to throw away 10 years of continuous development, throw away millions of SEK already spent in tooling, and moulds…..  and start all over again ?
-“Yes……..

 

After going through a session of serious hyperventilation, I had to come to terms with what they had just said.  They had given my past hard work a death-sentence, and at the same time they had created life in a new form of…  -hope in the lack for a better word.

 

I had to discipline myself not to think about those millions of SEK I had spent, nore those long long years of struggle.  I only had to focus on one single thing:  The conviction that I would succeed, and that was the only thing that mattered. Nothing else mattered.

 

So I raised new capital, I paid for all the new Cad Cam, and we did put that new construction into real tooling, and after another 3 years of moderation, fixing, scratching off, adding on, we are now here.  Introducing the world’s first and only winter sole with integrated spikes that can be easily switched on or off with a simple turn of a lever inside the heel.    It is completely at your own discretion. No one can see that that you are wearing a shoe with built in spikes.  And the beauty of it all. In “on mode” you can walk on any ground, whether it is ice or asphalt, …  you still have 100% contact between the ground and the outsole.

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Gripforce offers long lasting products for your comfort, safety and protection, not to mention GIVING YOU A  CHOICE. Constantly in motion we require flexible gear that adapts to our active lifestyle. Single-purpose gear simply doesn´t work anymore. That is why Gripforce is two boots in one: A regular boot, while at the same time being a spike / cleat boot.