Product Designer

Explorative startup project using innovative solutions to shift the market of running shoes to be a more sustainable industry.

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Project overview

Maozu is a startup that is creating an all-in-one concept shoe in sustainable material. The beautiful thing about Maozu shoes is that it expands the lifetime of shoes by simply changing parts that are worn out. The vision of Mazou is to move not only athletes, but also the change we want to see in the world. The name Maozu is inspired by a giant timber bamboo in China named Mao Zhu, the world's fastest growing bamboo. Our mission is to provide a sustainable way of running through innovative solutions. Every step you take, is a step in the right direction.

Our structure for this project was to pick a workplace, pick a real world challenge, create and pitch. With the main goal being to produce an innovative solution that can add value to a specific business. We chose to find a gap in the market not yet filled by any big corporation or tech firm, specifically within the industry of running shoes. And then pitch this idea as if it was for the world and potential investors.

The challenge we chose to tackle and aim our solution to was a lack of sustainability within the sneaker industry. Specifically materials used, recycling and use of resources due to overconsumption. One of our challenges was to make the ideal experience and customer journey for our end users, what market gap are we filling? Is it disruptive enough? There was also a lot of competition to take into account, considering many shoe brands are already moving towards a more sustainable path.

Problem statement

Over consumption is an alarming and global problem and it’s draining our resources quickly. Especially in the clothing and sneaker market. Running shoes are a part of this problem too, due to the fact that they cannot last forever. How might we shift the market of running shoes to a more sustainable industry?


Our design sprint began with brainstorming on sustainable solutions in the shoe industry. Leading to the creation of Maozu, our startup focusing on modular running shoes. We established Maozu's market position and identity using the lean canvas framework.

Defining a purpose statement and a brand ladder encompassing physical features, functional and emotional benefits and social impacts. With our brand positioning clarified, we developed Maozu's visual identity and then proceeded to the product research stage.

To find out what market gap we were filling and how disruptive our idea really was, we conducted a competitive analysis. Insights from this was that companies like Allbirds and ACBC already had been creating sustainable sneakers for a while. We could also see that Nike and other big companies like Adidas also worked in this field, developing shoes made out of recycled material. We desired to take our concept a step further than just sustainable shoes, we wanted to make our concept unique in order to capture large market shares.

Our slogan is “made to be remade” - but what do we exactly mean by that? By using the sustainable material TPU recycled plastic to create all parts of the shoe, we are able to create a shoe where every single piece is recyclable. TPU is a material that is really sustainable, where the plastic that is recycled is able to become plastic over and over again.

Based on our research we found that 7 out of 10 (in Sweden) want a system for recycling their clothing. Our strategy is that through partnerships with sports vendors, the user will bring the worn out shoe part to a vendor, who will then return it back to Maozu. Then, the customer will get a discount code that they can use to buy a new part on the webstore. In that way, we are able to create a circular recycling system and make sure the customer will stay with us.

We had a lot of ideas for what features we wanted our shoes to have, and how the modularity should behave and come to life. This is where interviews came in clutch, we talked with people of mixed ages that were all running as a form of workout and asked what they thought of our product and its attributes. Insights from these showed that our idea to have a chip installed in the outer sole, was not necessary nor provided little to no real benefit for the user. The thought was to connect this to your smartphone via an app, to indicate the sole health and see general running statistics - this idea was ultimately scrapped and replaced.

Based on all the research insights, we took our newfound knowledge to the drawing table. The sketching phase included Lo-Fi prototypes on how we imagined the shoe to look like, and how the attributes and modularity would work. We came up with numerous sketches that eventually led to the winner that captured all of the physical features: Modular outer sole, lock laces, magnetic support, clip-ons (front and back) and sole health indicator.


Once we had our vision and sketches aligned, we moved to make digital prototypes of the shoe. By retouching an already existing shoe and adding parts to fit our list of attributes, the final prototype was done - A multi-purpose modular running shoe with various examples of different soles and colors.

To show more of our envisioned product experience we also created interactive prototypes of a web-store and an accompanying mobile app, these were mostly done to show how the experience flow might eventually look like. They were also showcased in a promo video we produced to include in our final pitch.

End result, final wrap up

In the end, the project was wrapped up with a pitch presentation. We presented our concept to industry leaders and over 40 people with various experience in the field.

“You brought innovation in every piece of the product, everything was well thought out and connected together seamlessly while utilizing sustainability in each stage. Very well made mockups, animations, I appreciate the effort, the presentation was amazing.”

- Mateus Rezende, Lead UX Designer at LiNKX

If we had more time
  • 3D printing / physical prototype
  • Usability test
  • Further develop the product based on feedback

In this project I learned a lot about concept design and envisioning an experience flow from scratch was very insightful. I want this project to act as a source of inspiration, it was one big and fun journey, and who knows - We might bring this up some time in the future and make it reality.

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