Written by Jennie Cook
Fashion is more than the clothes we wear and the myriad of ways we choose to adorn ourselves, it’s also how we train our bodies to MOVE. From the first moment a young person walks in a heeled shoe to the shift in posture required to keep a daring dress in place, our bodies are continually adjusting to accommodate what we put on.
Alice Babashak was fortunate to recognize this theme in her life at an early age. From the moment she toed the line of her first 100M hurdle race in middle school, Babashak felt a deep connection not just to track and field but to a part of herself that could only be expressed through MOVEMENT. As she worked her way from the slowest kid on the track team to a Division I scholarship athlete, footwear emerged as a roadmap to connect her passion to understand a bodies’ proprioceptive expression to an athlete’s creative self-expression through design.
Initially a kinesiology major at Indiana, Babashak was drawn to fashion when her then coach suggested she combine her lifelong passions for art and athletics into creating sportswear and footwear for companies like Adidas. The opportunity to connect the two electrified her, and at VCUarts, she was able to put her new ideas to the test. Babashak’s undergraduate pursuits included an app-connected pressure sensor for running shoes that sense imbalances in a runner’s gait; footwear designs to assist people with Parkinson’s; and the development of a clothing line with motion-activated air bags to cushion falls.
Since her graduation in the spring of 2021, Babashak has been employed as a footwear design consultant for a Parkinson’s foot wear start-up in Richmond, Virginia. She has also been reflecting on her tenure as an athlete and the number of injuries she endured, including a broken back and concussion. This perspective allowed her to better understand the impact and opportunities footwear has on an athlete, inspiring an application to work with Nike alum D’Wayne Edward at his intensive masterclass in footwear design at Pensole Lewis College in Detroit, Michigan.
In her application, Babashak centered her proposal on sprinters, some of the strongest and most durable athletes in track and field, who spend countless hours training in footwear designed for distance runners with deep cushioning, a supportive midsole, minimal drops, and a wider toe box. However, on race day, they need the piercing grip and airy design of track spikes, which are narrow, minimally supportive, and feature significant drops of 20-24 millimeters. This drastic polarization is the birth place of injury for sprinters, resulting in sudden jolts of force throughout the body that lead to a plethora of injuries like hamstring tears, stress fractures, or in her case, a broken back.
To solve for this, Babashak proposed a new concept called Hybes, a hybrid training flat for sprinters to help them transition between their training shoes and race day spikes. Equal measures design and engineering, she has included meaningful details that address sprinters’ physical needs and their desire for visual appeal, including –
- An outsole with a lattice structure for maximum shock absorption and minimal foam to keep the shoe lightweight
- Colored speckles made with recycled foam and coordinating speckled laces colored to match exchange zones on a track
- Carbon fiber plate to supply the bounce and explosion in the toe spring that a sprinter demands during fast paced workouts
- A medium density, thin EVA midsole with an 18mm drop to help develop the athlete’s ankle mobility while providing cushioning to address force exertion
- Laterally extended “Mondo” heel counter to reinforce the stability of the heel and act as a guide to prevent supination
- Textural representation of the Mondo surface of a track, featuring five fading lanes underneath a reflective Thermoplastic overlay on the lightweight, knit upper
- Rubberized spiked lugs at the forefront of the shoe to give the athlete the same traction as a spike
Not only did Babashak’s proposal illustrate her clear understanding of an athlete’s needs, her storytelling prowess, and her talent for product innovation, it also provided the selection committee at Pensole Lewis College with insight into her creative ideation and research process, winning her a seat in their Footwear Design Masterclass. Babashak will be participating in the program from October 17th – November 18th in Detroit, Michigan.
To read more about Alice Babashak’s work with wearable technology, visit VCUarts: https://arts.vcu.edu/community/news/in-developing-wearable-technology-fashion-student-blends-science-and-style/
To learn more about the Footwear Design program, visit Pensole Lewis College: https://pensolelewiscollege.com/footwear-design/