Circular Slippers (Sloffen)

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This blog is about circular design and the application of business models and strategies to make slippers circular. This blog is written by Lou van Reemst.

To do so the framework from the book ‘Products that last – product design for circular business models’ by Marcel den Hollander, Conny Bakker, Ed van Hinte and Yvo Zijlstra (October 2014) is used. This book works with both ‘Business Model Archetypes’ and with ‘Product Design Strategies’ specially created to find ways, gaps and possibilities to change/redesign products into circular ones, into ‘products that last’.

Products That Last – Product design for circular business models

For any questions, comments, notes, or helpful information please do not hesitate to leave a comment in the bottom of this page!

Product Analysis

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plural noun: slippers
1.a comfortable slip-on shoe that is worn indoors.
synonyms: mule, moccasin, house shoe;
3rd person present: slippers

beat (someone) with a slipper.
“he didn’t slipper me hard”

What are slippers
Slippers are shoes people wear indoor. Slippers are comfortable shoes people like to wear when they are at home. People either use them to protect their feet from whatever dirt is on the floor or probably even more important: to keep their feet warm. Because most countries in the world know seasons, with summer and winter peaks, people have shoes(and slippers) in all different kinds: The ones that are waterproof and super warm, and also the open windy summer sandals, where most of the time the feet are totally exposed to the outside world.

Bunny_slipperds Slippers-Small Analysis_Slof_Lou_CD

Slipper types
Because slippers come in all kinds of shapes, colours and editions they have been categorised into three types for this blog:

  1. The summer (Asian) slipper – with open toes
  2. The soft sole slipper – wrapped around the feet
  3. The hard sole slippers – slip on slippers with open back



Reasoning in design
The slipper below states the reasoning in design, even though this model is based on the ‘soft sole slipper’, the functions, needs and values are viable for all three types.

For further process the slippers are divided on product level into three parts: The top, the lining (inside) and the sole.


The most common materials used to produce slippers are:
– Polyester
– Leather/suede
– Wool
– Rubber (foams: such like EVA, PU, TPR)
The choice of material in design depends on the price and the brand it is made by.

Slippers consist out of three parts: a top, lining and the sole. To create the perfect slipper these parts need to work closely together to give the user comfort, airy and warm feet.

User, context, market

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User survey
To get an insight in slipper users and their buying and usage behaviour a questionnaire has been conducted to get an overview of the consumers drives to wear slippers. There were a couple of interesting values derived from this survey that will help to create a greater understanding of the user and spot problems they have with slippers to create a design brief for this project.

The age results are based on the people I can personally reach by sending out a survey. Therefor the spending habit might be less than what it would have been if it were filled in at random. People I can reach are mostly in between 20-30 and still student. Please keep this in mind while reviewing the results.

65 people have filled in the form that was created using Google Forms. 43 of those people are female, 22 men.
26 of 43 female and 9 of 22 men wear slippers when they arrive home.

The questions that were asked:
Gender, age group (per 10years), multiple answers for ‘what do you wear on your feet when you arrive home’, why do you wear this, what type of slipper do you have (1 to 3 like stated above), which two functions are most important in a slipper, what is more important: same pair of slippers for longer period (high quality) or trendy pair of slippers for short period (bad quality), which seasons do you wear slippers, why specifically in these seasons, what is the life span of your slippers, how much money do you spend on slippers, where do you buy them, and if they could improve anything – what would it be.


From the open questions asked why people wear slippers in specific seasons and what they would improve if they could it shows that 8 people state that they get sweaty feet, which is also the reason they wear socks in their slippers, and that for improvements 11 people say that they want more breathability and therefor also the ability to wash them, it’s either a breathable slipper or one that can be washed. Also, 19 people actually complain about the quality of the sole of their slippers, for improvements they want long lasting slippers but the sole doesn’t allow to last long.
Only one person has written down he wants to be able to personalise the slipper so he can distinguish which pair is his.
Over 10 people buy their slippers at ‘van Haren’ followed by others who buy their slippers also at ‘cheap’ shoe stores through the Netherlands. Their spending pattern is biggest from 10 to 20 euros, with the complaints about the low quality of the sole this can be a big design finding for further progress when the product design itself needs to be improved to make it circular.

– Most important functions: comfortable to wear, keep feet warm
– The sole is the main reason for disposal, better sole would mean it lasts longer
– Increase the breathability or/and give the ability to wash the slippers
– People prefer to spend a maximum of 20 €

The reason people wear slippers is that they take of their regular shoes when they come home to air their feet, feel comfortable and don’t walk with the outside shoes through the house, protection of dirt. Therefor slippers are considered only used inside the house. Slippers can therefore also be used in contexts that are homey but not the users home itself, such like they want to wear slippers on holiday, when they are over at friends or family or in a hotel. When a hotels delivers a good service they provide their guests with comfortable slippers, this makes the guests feel like being at home and therefor this could enhance the experience of the visit.

Kids at home






Slippers are mainly worn:
– At home
– In a hotel
When a hotel wants to provide a good and comfortable stay for their guests they can really try to make them feel like being at home, therefore it would be great to invest in good slippers.

Prices & Market
The slipper market is a very broad one. To make it easy it can be divided into different market segments which would than relate to the price of the slippers.
There are many types of slippers all over the world, but when specifically looking at the market in the Netherlands it would be in the following range:

Low-end: Bristol, Scapino, van Haren < 15€
Middle: Hema, middle class shoe stores and street markets where they sell sheep wool slippers 10 – 25€
High-end: High-end shoe stores UGG, Minetonka, the North Face etc. 30 – 120€ +

From the survey was derived that 25% of participants spend less than 10 € on their slippers,
30% (the biggest group) spends in between 10 and 15€ on their slippers, 20% in between 15 and 20€, 13% in between 20 and 30€ and 13% over 30€.
That means 75% of people spend less than 20€ on slippers.

This is the target group that is used for this design case.
They are the ones that complain about the bad quality of their slippers and they are the ones that need to understand that most of the time durability comes with a price,
because using better materials would already improve the quality a lot.
They are the ones that can change their consuming behaviour in a more aware one.

All the slippers from the high-end market segment are designed with ‘hard’ good quality soles.

This circular design case will focus on the 75% group of people who spend less than 20€ on a pair of slipper but do complain about the bad quality. Hey! Something can be changed here…


Design Challenge & Design Goal

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After the product analysis and user context research a decision can be made concerning the circular design challenge!

Because this statement couldn’t be made only based on my own (horrible) disposal behaviour when it comes to slippers..
(I throw my slippers in the bin almost every half year, I buy them new at the Bristol for 5€ and whenever I feel like replacing them I do it. I know how bad this is and that is why I wanted to design circular slippers!)
Slippers are an undervalued product that is used by most Dutch people all year round, every single day!
The online survey really shows what slipper behaviour people have and by asking around in my direct surroundings this only got confirmed.

Circular Design Challenge:
Proof 75% of people to be wrong by buying slippers over and over again, year in, year out instead of spending more on a longer lasting and probably more comfortable slipper.
Create circular awareness for even the smallest undervalued products people use in their day to day life.

Design Goal:
Improve the slippers (on product level) in a way that they get to be long lasting, but with the wishes of the consumer in the back of the mind.
Warm, comfortable, breathable and safe (anti-slip), preferably in the acceptable price range of 0-20€.

Can FOLS work business-wise?

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Yes! It can.

To make this service successful a rough cost estimation has been made, this is based on a couple of aspects:
– Visitor numbers of fairs
– Lockers
– Stand design
– Marketing and Promotion
– Student as employee during the fairs
– Wash machine costs

Some of these costs are one time investment costs and some are on yearly base.

Found on the internet is that there are around 500 fairs (6.8 million visitors) each year in the Netherlands, of which around 300 fair are consumer fairs.
FOLS wants to target 65 of these fairs which all lasts for about three days in a row. This would mean 195 days a year FOLS is attending fairs.
1.625.000 visitors (25.000 per fair) will come to these 65 fairs of which 2% wants to lease a pair of slippers. That means 32.500 people who want to wear comfort.
500 visitors of each fair need to be able to lease a pair. Therefore FOLS need to require 500 lockers, and 500 pairs of slippers for each day.
1500 inlays, because each day every slipper gets a freshly washed inlay.

Required: 1500 inlays, 500 pairs of slippers and 1 person in charge each day on the fair.

Comes to…..



Final Design

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To make things clear, after the 3rd session with the designers I found peace with choosing the Access Businessmodel. First I though it wouldn’t be very circular to create something completely new even though the concept is sustainable. But thinking about it more and more made me realise this can really work out quite well. I am going to describe how.

The Access model is chosen for a variety of settings where people get an offer for enhanced comfort.
By leasing slippers in places such as fairs and public events, people pay a little amount of money for a full day of pleasure on their feet.
Even though this sounds like this final concept is getting away from the product design itself, this is just the branding and the beginning of a very well thought of customer journey.

People go to fairs every now and then, either for their job or for themselves to get all the new ins and outs about certain topics. House appliances, cars, design, broadcasting conventions, careers etc.
Most fairs last for about three days where both visitor and exposer are standing and walking for around 6 to 8 hours a day. This is very tiring for the body, especially the legs and feet.
Funny enough people who go to fairs mostly dress up nice, choosing not to wear their comfortable shoes but the aesthetically pleasing ones.

This is where FOLS comes in.

FOLS is the new service right at the entrance of exhibitions and fairs where people get attracted to by the text: ‘Get your comfort here’
For around 2€ a day(less than a cup of coffee) a visitor can exchange his or her shoes with a pair of comfortable and clean slippers.
The slippers that are leased can be taken from small lockers that function as storage (so the visitor can keep the hands free for flyers and gadgets) and more importantly as deposit.
The visitor can now walk the whole day on special designed slippers to improve their well-being, happiness and comfort for only 2€ and have the experience to enjoy a real good pair of slippers.
The touch point of the visitor with the FOLS employee will be where he or she gets noticed on circularity.
For hygiene reasons the slippers are designed to have an Tencel© inlay which is made from wood pulp. This inlay is only used by one person and can be replaced by the next user.
FOLS itself makes sure that all inlays can be washed.
After a full day of wearing these slippers the customer can make the decision to pay an extra or 15 to 20 € to take the slippers home.
By offering the consumer a Try & Buy service he/she gets aware of spending a little more money for a better quality of slippers that will last long.
By actually also adding the Hybrid model in this service the consumer gets to know that he or she can just replace the inlay whenever this is broken or at its end of life without throwing the body of the slipper away. The inlay can be send to the customer in need via mail.

Why would the visitor take of their shoes to swop them for FOLS? Because it is made publicly accepting. When FOLS is offered to each and every person coming into the fair, they get to feel the excitement of not having to feel embarrassed to choose comfort over aesthetics. It now becomes acceptable and funny in a positive way. It will be the talk of the fairs.

For sponsorships and extra money flows FOLS can ask the fair or big companies in the fair to sponsor the inlay. In return the inlay can be made into a specific color or print representing the sponsoring company.

Decision Final Design

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Decision making or keep being stuck in the middle?

After a week or so I made up my mind. Circular design is still very new to me, new to the world, completely new to the consumer.
I truly believe it is up to the designers and manufacturers of products to change the mindset of consumers, to make them aware of what we consume and of what we have together in and on our planet and how to protect that.
Although I did feel like sharing my dilemma with the world, I also figured out that by choosing to work with the Access Business model archetype I can actually do something to make people a little bit more aware of circular economy. This service can both enhance consumer awareness, it gives peoples comfort, and hopefully they even take the slippers home after wearing them the whole day to keep them forever. Which would mean, through the Access model helping people to make use of a product with the Classic Long Life.

Making one of my favourite products to be a circular product which at the same time can teach consumers of their consuming behaviour can work out just perfect?

The Access Model it is, but with what strategies.