Seongsu, an industrial district in Seoul, South Korea, has long been known for its footwear industry.
Known as the Brooklyn of Seoul, Seongsu is home to over 300 small factories and 100 component shops.
But the shoe industry has declined due to competition from cheaper imports and an aging workforce.
Two startups, ShoesLab and KadaKudu, aim to revitalize the sector by bringing digitalization to the handmade shoe market.
ShoesLab, a pre-A series stage startup focused on men's footwear, has collected 20,000 data points on foot shape from its customers.
Founded in 2014, the company sends staff to measure customers' feet and creates handmade shoes, called mansole, tailored to their specific measurements.
CEO Kibeom Park, a former shoe company merchandiser, observed that the traditional cost structure weakened the industry.
By leveraging digitization and data aggregation, ShoesLab has expanded into B2B operations, producing shoes as an ODM through its platform.
KadaKudu, an early-stage startup under a government incubation program, is working on digitizing data aggregation inputs.
The company, which will launch in 2020, uses image analysis and an AI engine to measure foot size accurately.
The founders' realization drives this innovation that 87% of women suffer from uncomfortable shoes, and 76% of people are not well served by "standard" sizes.
Targeting customers in their 30s and 40s, KadaKudu is offering four shoe models through Indiegogo crowdfunding.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced some startups in the Seongsu shoe industry to close, while gentrification has led to increased rental fees.
However, ShoesLab and KadaKudu are trying to transform the sector and the Seongsu district through digitalization.
By addressing sizing issues and preserving the art of handmade shoes, these startups are poised to breathe new life into the neighborhood and meet the needs of a modern consumer base.