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Fancy Feet

These custom-made shoes have personality-in billions of ways.

Dave Ward is an extremist. But in his line of work, the more extreme, the better. As CEO of Customatix.com, an online shoe manufacturer that allows footwear fans to design their own sneakers, Ward and co-founders Irmi Kreuzer, Mikal Peveto and David Solk are using their Nike and Adidas backgrounds to bring customization to the masses.

Based in Santa Cruz, California, Customatix allows customers to log on and choose from billions of colors, materials, graphics and logos to create their own online portfolios of designs. The blueprints are then transmitted to the company's factory in China, where the shoes are manufactured and shipped to the designer's doorsteps within two weeks. The shoes retail for $70 to $100 per pair, which includes import duty and delivery charges. Says Ward, "The biggest problem we have is, people don't believe we can do what we do."

When you look at the history of Customatix, however, it doesn't seem so unbelievable. Ward and his co-founders had kept a careful eye on the customization trend that was picking up steam in the late '90s, and by the time they launched Customatix in 1999, things just fell into place. "[Customization] seemed to be talked about a lot," says Ward, but the door was wide open for an online venture like Customatix. "We felt with our backgrounds, especially on the manufacturing and logistics side, that we had the expertise to get [the job] done."

The advent of the Internet was also key. If the Internet allows consumers to talk directly to the brand, Ward reasoned, then why not let consumers tell you exactly what they want in an extreme form?

That "extreme form" allowed the Customatix crew to pour millions into development of their Web site. And while their online business is still very small, it's growing quickly. Ward is also eager to expand into B2B, by serving the corporate promotions industry; Microsoft has already purchased custom footwear. Says Ward, "We do take it to an extreme."

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