DropLabs EP 01
PHOTO COURTESY OF SONIA RICKETT
For the first time ever, there’s a pair of shoes on the market that can actually help you experience sound throughout the entire body. What might sound like science fiction is actually a brand new- and hyperreal- product from DropLabs, the Echo Park-based company helmed by CEO, Susan Paley.
While the innovative technology offers an exciting new way to experience music, for example, other everyday activities like gaming and meditation also stand to be enhanced by the immersive new shoe. Opening up the possibilities for sensory products, the EP 01 (named after it’s musical roots and the company’s Echo Park headquarters ) is the first model to hit the market featuring the proprietary DropLabs Technology. The deceptively simple design converts audio in the sole of the sneaker into vibrations via bluetooth. Stimulating nerve receptors in the feet in sync with the sounds connected, these 21st century kicks offer a multi-sensory experience.
model dances in EP 01
PHOTO COURTESY OF SONIA RICKETT
As the driving force behind some super successful consumer products like Beats By Dre, Paley’s twenty-year career in product development led her to her latest venture. The combination of audio technology and footwear came to the CEO organically when she was introduced to the technology’s inventor, Brock Seiler. Paley realized the potential impact and cultural implications a product like this could have and got to work on enlisting a dynamic group of collaborators to execute the idea. Together with a community of artists, musicians, dancers, gamers, scientists and medical professionals, the future of this product is limitless in scope.
I talked with the DropLabs CEO for more on how this exciting new product came to be, what she learned from working on Beats By Dre and the infinite possibilities of this audio technology.
PHOTO COURTESY OF BADER HOWAR
Roytel Montero: Tell me about what inspired you to develop this product?Susan Paley: It was like 2012 and I was called into a meeting without any context and just showed up. This guy put a giant pair of shoes on the table and I thought, “what are we doing here?” and then I tried the experience and thought this is amazing. This was at the time that Beats was transitioning to takeover all the development manufacturing headquarters. In 2015, the inventor (Brock Seiler) started to show me it and I saw that this technology was really adding an immersion layer and allowing people to feel the energy of sound and music with video, video games, and virtual reality. I told him to go meet with a venture capitalist that would go give him with money and have him call me after he had a demo ready. I ended up raising money for it and trying to figure out how to build this.
Montero: How did you go about enlisting the help of your collaborators?
Paley: I’m so used to consumer electronics so they work in a very different way than soft goods, so it was a big learning experience trying to bring together these different categories to make something that was really seamless. I had to bring in audio experts from Beats and people who knew how to tune for audio and also bring in shoe designers and shoe experts to merge soft goods with hard goods. I learned a ton of lessons but that’s also the code for we made a lot of mistakes.
Montero: What were some of the lessons you learned?
Paley: Early on, I went to China and I know a lot of people in manufacturing and at the Chinese factories so I’m I asked for a recommendation for a shoe factory and they didn’t know any shoe factories. Early on we thought we could just make a shoe factory do electronics but once we understood what that was about and it was too heavy of a lift we had to bring in the operational experts and figure out how to build a whole new supply chain and there was no one that had the answer. The problem was no one had done this so we had to bring in experts from all these different areas and put that information to say we’re all working in white space. Let’s put in all these elements and then do it together. It was a collective.
EP 01 on the street
PHOTO COURTESY OF SONIA RICKETT
Montero: What are some of the greater implications that you’ve discovered through this product?
Paley: This is a platform. It’s really a development platform and we happen to house it in a shoe. We’re looking at your feet and all the receptors but we also look at if you think about listening versus hearing. Hearing is a sense. Hearing is involuntary and you're hearing with your sensory system so it’s something that’s organic. Listening, which everyone is focused on with headphones- that is actually a deliberate act... We started looking at all the different implications around health and wellness and the deaf community became a really big thing because this guy named Antonie Hunter who runs the International Deaf Dance Festival. He’s a poet, he’s a dancer, he’s an activist and so we saw him give a talk called Big Ideas and he talked about how he hears music. The deaf hear music too they just hear it through vibrations. What he would do is he would go by a giant speaker and he would memorize the vibrational pattern of the speaker and then he would use that, put that into his body and then use that to train others and work as a dance teacher to hearing and non-hearing dancers. We went to him and we said we need your help to make these shoes... He became a partner of ours and he helped us actually tune the shoes and we also had deaf dancers who went out and started doing all of our early beta testing.
Montero: What are some other uses for a product like this?
Paley: Meditation is huge but I also use this- a guy came in who’s a really good friend of mine and used to be a drummer who does Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing big for PTSD treatment. If you experience trauma, you store it in the body so in order to get the trauma out of your system you can’t just do talk therapy-it would take a very long time. It does bilateral stem and it starts with eye movement going back and forth and you start to reprocess the information by actually turning off the loop that happens when you have that response.
Montero: It seems like the real beauty is in the collaborative effort of this.
Paley: They’re the creators, we had to create the platform and get it to this first gen so there were enough hooks in it and people could see the future. The real use cases haven’t even revealed themselves yet. This is a controller, you can do all kinds of things with it.
Montero: You were behind a big phenomenon as the CEO of Beats by Dre. What are some big takeaways from that experience?
Paley: Beats was just the most incredible experience. You think that you’re boarding a train and all of a sudden, you’re on a rocket ship and you’re going to Mars. Beats was an extraordinary story and it was the genius of Jimmy Iovine, the zeitgeist of the time and I think for this there wasn’t as much technology and design it was more marketing, lifestyle and culture so the difference here is we’re trying to create a new category and a new product. What Beats did was it defined an existing category. I want to control this more because there’s so much technology and there’s so much unknown... We’re going to go small with this and grow it in a much more controlled way because there’s so much more technology.
Montero: What was behind the design process of the first model called EP 01?
Paley: Trying to keep this out of the design conversation early on was really important to me because I wanted people to be able to experience the tech and I didn’t want them to get stuck in a design conversation. I work with a ton of designers and one of the Adidas designers I work with said, “listen, make it black.” If you make it black, you’re not going to have a design conversation. The minute you put a color on it, you’re making a design statement and if you don’t want to make that design statement. This being a collaborative effort, I know that this upper can change a thousand different ways. We have a designer we work with a designer named D’Wayne Edwards who runs Pensole , he was the first African American Art Director of Nike, he broke the ceiling and he ran brand Jordan for 12 years so he’s helping us right now and he will do all of our future designs. We focus on the miniaturization and optimization of the electronic package and all the software developments and then we let people like D’Wayne do the design.