What will replace the shoelaces in the future

Start-up Hickies: Put your shoelaces down

Munich Are you already slipping, or are you still lace up? For Mariquel Waingarten and Gaston Frydlewski, the matter is clear: The two founders of the New York start-up Hickies banned shoelaces years ago. Instead, there are elastic plastic straps in their shoes that adapt to the feet.

Hickies are now a huge success worldwide, the two inventors want to bring a million packs to men and women this year. "Sure, the hickies are a big step for someone who has been using shoelaces all their life," says Waingarten. And adds: "Our biggest competitor is habit." But athletes in particular would quickly recognize the advantages, the 33-year-old knows.

Shoelaces that open by themselves, annoying stepping on, tearing off, and then the annoying tying, all of this can be avoided with the hickies. This has also convinced many a sports star. Like Danny Willett, this year's winner of the Masters Tournament in Augusta, one of the most prestigious golf tournaments in the world. The 28-year-old Briton wears hickies in all competitions without the company ever sending him a pack, let alone signing a sponsorship deal.

That a top athlete like Willett would one day take the big stage with hickies was not necessarily foreseeable. The couple fought for their idea for more than a decade. Waingarten and Frydlewski come from Argentina. But in their South American homeland, the former hotel owner and the former investment banker saw no chance of realizing their dream of a future without shoelaces.

So they moved to lively New York, only to find that capital is not falling from the skyscrapers there either. The breakthrough came in 2012 with an extremely successful campaign on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. At $ 159,000, it poured six times as much money into the cash register as expected. Financial investors, including Hydra Ventures, the venture capital division of the Franconian sports group Adidas, got on board later. Venture capital firms have now invested more than six million dollars.

Using hickies is easy. First off with the laces. Then the eleven centimeter long elastic straps are pulled through the eyelets and closed with a small button. Not every pair of holes needs its own band, for some users it might be too tight. A pack of 16 hickies costs 15 euros.

So far, all attempts have failed

In Japan, the hickies are particularly common, explains Waingarten. No wonder, after all, the Japanese take off their shoes every time they enter an apartment. But older people or pregnant women would also appreciate not having to bend down every time they put on their shoes.

This year Waingarten and Frydlewski are bringing the second generation of Hickies into the shops. They now want to expand the target group. The ribbons should be more durable and thinner. In the future, football players could use it to thread the hickies into their boots. The tapes were previously unsuitable for them. Should a ball come on the full span, it was anything but pleasant. There should also be a shorter version for children.

The two Argentines are aiming for ten million dollars in sales this year, and 18 employees are on the payroll. From the Swiss Baar, they are now also driving business in Europe with a small crew. Germany is the third largest market after the USA and Japan. Every year Germans spend more than eleven billion euros on shoes, which shows the potential for hickies.

At the same time, however, the competition is increasing. The sports company Nike has just presented a new technology that can be used to lace up shoes. 'Hyperadapt 1.0' is the name of the model that football star Cristiano Ronaldo tried out in front of the general public for the first time in March. The gifted kicker had just dipped his foot into the new Nike sneaker when it snuggled around his ankle with a soft whirring sound - not too tight, not too loose, just right. Puma and the Adidas subsidiary Reebok also have sneakers in their collection that do without laces. Nevertheless, so far all attempts by the brands to get the masses enthusiastic about such new ideas have failed.

In addition, some other companies have also started to abolish tying shoes. Leazy, for example. The Frankfurters do not do without shoelaces. But they are not tied, but are elastic and hook onto the last eyelet.

The two New Yorkers by choice do not want to be satisfied with simple, flexible rubber bands in the long term. Waingarten announces that modern technology, such as sensors, will be integrated. "That is the big trend."

The next step, however, is to first equip shoes with hickies at the factory. The South American brand Topper is the beginning. How good that the connection back home has never been broken.

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