Customizable sneakers, slip-on sandals and Birkenstock-style shoes made from a custom-built 3D printer by Penn State student Nicholas Unis will hit the market soon.
Unis (junior-finance and accounting) founded his company, UnisBrands, after he worked in a shoe store during high school.
“The biggest complaint I received was customers liked how [the shoes] looked, but not how they felt or they liked how they felt but not how they looked,” Unis said.
He saw the demand for customization and would buy and resell shoes after adding custom logos. He put Nike Air Jordans wrapped with a RiFF RAFF rapper pattern on an Ebay auction, which reached one million dollars, but was forced to end the auction after he received a letter from Nike.
When Unis got the idea to use a 3D printer to make shoes with custom selected colors and patterns, he realized the printer would not consistently print to his expectations and would jam with the use of flexible material. He designed his own plan for a 3D printer that is capable of printing a pair of shoes in three pieces — the sole, upper and tongue. There is a patent pending on the 3D printer.
Unis uses a sizing algorithm to take the length and width of the left and right foot of the customer in order to create a perfect fit. He plans on having a 24 to 72 hour turnaround time from when the order is placed to when the shoes are shipped.
“It’s going to fit you perfectly because both feet aren’t the same size,” Unis said.
Unis will continue to expand his company after graduation and his business plan includes launching the Birkenstock-style shoes this summer as well as a revamping the website and social media campaign. He is looking to inhabit old buildings in State College, Altoona and Pittsburgh areas to house multiple 3D printers that will manage orders.His company will remain in the United States, he said.Unis is also interested in licensing with Penn State, NCAA and Disney to offer more patterns to customize the shoes.He said presenting to Shark Tank for a second time may be an option as well as finding an angel investor or selling part of his company may be necessary in order to further build his brand.Unis said he pitched his product to Shark Tank investors Barbara Corcoran and Robert Herjavec while he was attending Penn State Altoona.This is Unis’ first year at University Park and his first semester operating his startup company from Happy Valley Launchbox, which he was accepted into through the spring accelerator program.Lee Erickson, Chief Amplifier at Happy Valley Launchbox, creates and runs programs. Erikson said she was an entrepreneur and can help anybody with an idea, not just students, and point them to resources that could benefit their company.Her favorite part of the job is seeing an entrepreneur succeed, she said.“You have to love what you do, or you will quit,” Erickson said.Erickson said the difference between those that succeed and those that don’t are whether the entrepreneur seeks out resources rather than wait for them to come.She said Unis is taking advantage of the resources available and asks for help when he needs it.