“Who launches a sports brand just before a pandemic shuts down all of sports?” says Ida Sports’ co-founder Laura Youngson with a big laugh. “That’s nuts.”
Given it is estimated that one in three small businesses in Australia fails in its first year, the success of the company set up there by Youngson and Ben Sandhu, who met playing amateur mixed futsal, is remarkable.
In a marketplace dominated by the biggest brands, Youngson and Sandhu have found a gap by designing and crafting a football boot for women.
Scroll through the websites of the most popular brands and you will see boots aimed at women, but there is a big difference between those and the Ida boots. Ida boots are designed specifically for women’s feet, not smaller versions of those designed for men and marketed at women.
Among the top five players on the Guardian’s list of the 100 best female footballers in the world, two wear Nike boots (Pernille Harder and Lucy Bronze), two Adidas boots (Vivianne Miedema and Wendie Renard) and one Puma boots (Dzsenifer Marozsán).
“The modifications that we’ve made are narrower heels, a wider toe box, a slightly different position for where it bends, different insoles and we’ve changed the studs around as well,” explains Youngson. “We’ve heard of women shaving down the one under the ball joint because it puts too much pressure on some of the bones.”
Ida is Youngson’s brainchild. A co-founder of Equal Playing Field, which has used breaking world records to highlight gender inequalities in sport, Youngson spawned the idea on Kilimanjaro, where they broke the record for the highest-altitude football match.
“I’ve always hated wearing kids’ shoes because the materials aren’t as good and colours are rubbish and I started asking the others if they wore men’s or kids’ shoes. Finding out that top players are still wearing men’s shoes I was just like: ‘This is ridiculous.’”
Youngson went back to Australia and started researching. Then she started making a shoe: “I made one in my kitchen, set the resin and started prototyping and we called that one the ‘Frankenshoe’.” She took that to Jordan for Equal Playing Field’s world-record lowest-altitude football match, tested it with the players and continued to evolve it with the help of podiatrists and biomechanists.
They worked through numerous iterations and tested the shoes with AFL players and football players in Australia before settling on the edition that is close to selling out in its first year. “We’ve done something crazy: we just asked women what they wanted and we built it.”
On Trustpilot the boots have 28 reviews, all with five stars. “Someone said it was ‘like a hug in a boot’,” says Youngson with a grin.
Olivia Price, who plays for Western Sydney Wanderers in the W-League, has been using the boots for almost eight months. “Straight away I didn’t get any blisters or anything,” she says. “They fit my foot really, really well. It was almost like walking on clouds a bit. They have a really cushioned support.”
Dr Matt Whalan, a physiotherapist for Australia’s men’s and women’s national football teams and a principal partner at Figtree Physiotherapy, has been impressed by the Ida boot, which aims to eliminate a simple injury risk factor.
“Most research indicates there’s a higher risk of an ACL injury in female footballers, whether it’s AFL, soccer; in a most codes there is a higher risk,” he says. “But we also know that there’s a lot of factors that contribute to that. It’s not just one thing.
“The simplest thing to do is to look at the contact with the ground and the step/pivot/twist. You’ve got to get the basics right. There’s maybe a 10-kilo weight difference between male and female footballers and we’re going to put them in a same boot, that has the same traction, the same stiffness and that needs the same muscle capacity to control the traction that that boot will give.
“If you’ve got a stud that is 15mm long and you’re leaning really hard and having to change direction but you’re 10 kilos lighter, do you need studs that long to get the same sort of traction? When you’re getting a lot of traction that you don’t need then that’s when you start to put things at risk.”
Some big brands have begun looking at female-specific footwear. Asics has a women’s cricket shoe and Under Armour a basketball shoe. Meanwhile, Nike and Adidas designed bespoke kits for women’s teams competing at the 2019 Women’s World Cup – a first and another sign that the biggest sports brands are stepping into the increasingly profitable world of ergonomically designed women’s sportswear.
Youngson thinks a football boot from a major brand “will happen, but I would argue that it’s not happening fast enough. I was reflecting on why we still need to exist, and there’s no incentive for change at the moment. One of the things we’re showing is that there’s this market for it and we’re going to drive it and push the change because it needs to happen.
“Our goal was always to get women’s boots everywhere. To change the industry. So if one of the bigger players with scale and distribution comes along and goes: ‘You know what, let’s work together, let’s make it happen,’ then great, because we’ve got all this knowledge, experience and a supply chain, all the things that are the nuts and bolts that you need to make it happen. We know that these bigger companies have bigger reach at the moment but at the same time if it’s an insincere tokenistic thing then that’s not what we’re about.”