Get to know the people behind FitFlop, every step of the way
This week we caught up with Dr Kim Lilley, our in-house biomechanist and Research and Development Manager. Read on to find out what inspired her to create better shoes than she could find, plus what she can expect from a day at the office.
Finding her feet
Kim comes from a medical family, with a chemist Dad, neuro-physiotherapist Mum, and consultant doctor brother. In school she gravitated towards the maths and science subjects and always wanted to pursue a career in medical science, but discovering the field of biomechanics was a happy accident.
After completing a degree in sports medicine, Kim chose to pursue a Masters degree and settled on a speciality in paediatrics, before discovering the biomechanics course on the very day she was due to sign up. She convinced her tutor there and then to allow her to switch (we at FitFlop are so grateful to this tutor!). Upon completing her MSc she was offered a fellowship award from her university to study for a PhD.
During her final year of PhD work at the University of Exeter, as if she wasn’t busy enough, Kim set up a gait analysis lab within a sports injury clinic: “My day, 9 to 5, was seeing patients every hour. Then I’d go home and write my PhD in the evenings. It was a bit of a crazy year. I realised I was recommending certain shoes to people, but actually it made me realise I wanted to make better shoes than those I was recommending.”
Arriving at FitFlop
This discovery helped Kim make the decision to move away from clinical work. She joined us at FitFlop shortly after, in July 2012, to run the Research and Development department. One of the first initiatives she was involved in looked at a new approach to testing footwear, designing new and improved ways to measure every aspect of a shoe in partnership with the Human Performance Lab at the University of Calgary.
To give you a bit of background about The Human Performance Lab, it’s considered to be among the best in the world and is run by Dr. Benno M. Nigg, who wrote the majority of the biomechanics books Kim read while completing her PhD. The partnership with the lab was successful from the beginning, says Kim, because of FitFlop’s attention to detail: “They realised we were a brand that liked to do explorative, thorough studies. Since then we’ve continued to work with them on all new products. I go there about once a year to check on the progress of our projects and discuss new ideas. They tell us we’re creating products that are beating so many other ranges in terms of comfort.” Every new technology FitFlop produces is tested against a like-for–like competitor through a biomechanical study. The Lab research feeds into the product development process to ensure all shoes that are launched meet our strict standards.
A day at the office
A typical day doesn’t exist for Dr. Kim. Communication with all areas of the business is vital. Mornings are spent getting in touch with colleagues in Asia to catch them before the end of their working day, catching up on the latest developments. There will always be multiple projects to juggle at any one time, alongside researching new ideas and engineering tech specs for them.
Kim is quick to acknowledge that a woman in her field is a rarity: “Most bio-engineering professionals are men, that’s just a thing. My Masters course was 85% men. Although it could be seen as a hindrance, I tried to see it as an opportunity to show that I was just as good as the men.” Kim regularly returns to the University of Exeter as a guest speaker and lecturer.
This experience is something she’d like to pass on to anyone starting out in their career, along with the advice to pursue the field you love: “Do something that you enjoy, because you have to spend so much time doing it. If you don’t want to do it, your motivation will waver. The reaction I get when great test results and customer feedback come through on a shoe is worth every bit of effort I put in. Because I know I’ve created something that really works.”
Well said, Kim.