Inventor of the Week Archive
for a different Invention or Inventor
Insolia (Shoe Insert)
Women around the world have for centuries enthusiastically chosen
to wear high-heeled shoes in the name of fashion, despite the
pain and even serious injury they can inflict on the wearer,
including toe, heel, knee and even back pain.
Podiatrist Howard Dananberg had seen all too many cases
in his Manchester, New Hampshire practice of women stricken
with foot dysfunction and lower back pain caused by their
high-heel habits. Beginning with research conducted in the
1980s, he set out to remedy the problem. The end result was
the Insolia insert, a geometrically designed shoe insole technology
that very well may be just what the doctor ordered for millions
of fashion victims.
Born in New York City in 1949, Dananberg attended Stuyvesant
High School and Queens College before entering the Ohio College
of Podiatric Medicine in Cleveland in 1971. He earned a doctoral
degree there in podiatric medicine in 1975, and after completing
his residency entered private practice in Manchester, New
Hampshire. Dananberg became immersed in the study of in-shoe
pressure analysis and its use in the treatment of chronic
musculoskeletal pain. He began doing research to develop novel
techniques and technologies that have been successful in helping
men and women relieve a variety of walking-effected symptoms
throughout the body.
One of his most important discoveries was of the phenomenon
of sagittal plane foot dysfunction and its effect on gait
style and mechanical overuse. For his series of articles detailing
the ways in which foot dysfunction can impact posture and
gait, Dananberg received the 1994 Scholl's Award for Outstanding
Clinical Paper of the Year, published in the Journal of
the American Podiatric Medical Association. In 1999, he
published a two-year outcome assessment study describing the
effects of gait style on chronic lower back pain.
In pursuit of his research interests, Dananberg in the early
1980s became involved with computerized in-shoe pressure testing.
A new shoe construction that he patented and invented known
as the "Kinetic Wedge" improved the comfort of running shoes.
He licensed the technology to the Brooks Running Shoe Company,
which came up with its commercial name. Via this experience
Dananberg learned a great deal about the shoe industry, and,
responding to a patient's challenge, he began to look toward
an even more difficult problem: how to make high heels more
He began his research by asking women walking on city streets
about their walking and fashion habits, and quickly he determined
a great market opportunity existed for a technology that could
fit into fashionable, sexy-looking high-heeled shoes. His
concept would have to be adaptable so as not to change the
look of high heels. This would prove to be very important.
Dananberg learned that for women, walking in high heels
was much like walking downhill. Weight was shifted to the
ball of the foot, as if the wearer were standing on a ramp.
This can cause all sorts of problems, including bunions, hammer
toes, knee and back pain. Dananberg realized that if he could
find a way to shift the weight, giving some of it back to
the heel to create a more even distributed-pressure relationship,
high heels might begin to feel like flat shoes.
Using F-Scan technology to map pressure points exerted by
the foot at various heel heights, he was able to create a
flexible insole that would put the foot in optimal position.
The construction, called a "cup and bump" by the inventor,
cups the heel and increases contact area throughout the sole
so that high heels suddenly feel about half as high as what
the wearer is actually wearing.
After perfecting the concept in 1997, Dananberg patented
the technology and offers Insolia inserts, which consist of
an adhesive heel cup and forefoot support, via Insolia.com.
These can be worn with any shoe or sandal. He took the project
much further than this, however, and began looking toward
mass commercialization of Insolia in designer shoes.
In partnership with MIT alumni Beth Marcus and Nick Soloway,
Dananberg established the HBN Shoe Company and planned to
take a grassroots approach to selling Insolia shoes, but this
proved to be a flawed strategy. It was deemed better to leave
the fashion to others and try and license Insolia technology
to shoemakers. Dananberg added MIT alumni Brian Hughes and
Paul Rudovsky to his team as chairman/VP of Product Development
and CFO, respectively.
In 2003, the company signed Millie's shoe stores of Hong
Kong, where Insolia shoes quickly found success. Millie's
later launched the Vago brand using Insolia in the United
States, bringing the technology to customers there for the
first time. Deals with brands such as Amalfi, sold by Nordstrom,
as well as DKNY and Ipanema, followed, with distribution in
Hong Kong, China, Japan, Canada and the Czech Republic. Insolia
technology is also marketed throughout Europe, and shoes incorporating
the technology are sold by the UK's Marks and Spencer, as
well as Bloomingdale's and JC Penney.
Market share continues to grow as more and more shoemakers
and retailers become convinced of Insolia's value as well
as its marketability. For its innovation in providing quality
foot care, the Insolia technology has received the Seal of
Acceptance from the American Podiatric Medical Association.
As of this early 2006 writing, over two million pairs of shoes
with Insolia have been sold around the world.