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The race is on to build a better shoelace — and companies are stepping up

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It’s something that hasn’t really changed much over the centuries, but there are suddenly plenty of new options for people to choose from when it comes to the simple act of tying — or not tying — their shoes.

It’s a twist on the old “build a better mousetrap” trope, with new shoelace systems claiming to be a huge step up from the old bow knot when it comes to ease of use, freedom from foot pain, efficiency and — especially — fashion.

Just type “shoelace system” into a Google or Amazon search and watch them kick up literally hundreds of results offering new ways to fasten footwear.

“I just hate tying shoelaces. And it is a bad design. The laces, the classic ones, are just ugly,” said David Knez, founder and CEO of QuickShoeLace.

He said because shoelaces hadn’t evolved much over the last hundred years or so, change was overdue.

“[In the past,] people never thought the lace could be fashionable,” he said.

If a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon or make a better mouse trap than his neighbours, though he builds his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door.– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Knez’s product is a flat, elastic lace that doesn’t need to be tied. Instead, it has a ring on the end of the lace that is pulled snug and then clipped over a peg.

Knez’s system comes in multiple colours and the metal fasteners can also be customized.

“This is not just a lace, it’s a shoe accessory. It’s more than just a lace, it changes the shoe design,” Knez said. 

David Knez is the inventor behind QuickShoeLace, one of dozens of new shoelace alternatives being sold online. (David Knez)

“I have 24-carat gold metal clasps. Next year, I’ll have a black line, [and] you can put company logos on them.”

QuickShoeLace is sold direct-to-consumer in Europe for $15 euros and is available on the U.S. Amazon site for $17.99. It’s not yet available in Canada.

But Canadians have no shortage of choice when it comes to shoelace alternatives.

Next-gen laces

Take Xpand laces. Founded and designed by an American but now headquartered in Toronto, the company raised a remarkable $1.2 million US from more than 37,000 backers on Kickstarter and Indiegogo. It was started by Las Vegas native Charles Harris who, like Knez, hated the look of his old-school kicks.

“I was tying bow knots and I’m like, I hate the way the floppy bow looks hanging off the top of the shoe. And when I was younger, I’d tuck it inside and just stand on the laces, but it was really uncomfortable,” said Harris.

“So I thought, let’s make a clip that literally goes right behind the eyelet and holds your lace and you can trim off all the extra [lace]. And now you can slip your shoes on and off, and get the look that you want and you don’t have to stand on your laces.”

Not only does it hide the fasten point, but once in place, the Xpand system allows the wearer to slip shoes on and off without having to tie and untie their shoes.

Harris said that struck a chord with many of his crowdfunding backers, and it showed him just how many people have trouble tying their shoes. He cited people “with back problems, pregnant women, people with tendonitis, people with arthritis that can’t bend over” as well as “people with diabetes that have feet that swell, people with feet that just swell in general.”

Some backers said regular laces caused foot pain. Marathon runners said they wanted something easier on their feet on long runs, while triathletes wanted to get in and out of their shoes faster. 

Harris, who came up with the Xpand idea back in 2012, wasn’t the first to try to build and sell a better shoelace online. But his remarkable crowdfunding campaigns didn’t go unnoticed. And over the last three years, the alternative shoelace space has exploded.

“Your [crowdfunding] numbers are out there, so it shows people there’s a huge market,” said Harris. “Obviously, everyone wears shoes. Everyone has to take them on and off every day. And lots of people have foot problems. So if you can come up with something creative that grabs people’s attention, you have a great chance of success.”

‘Overdue for an update’

“The footwear industry was long overdue for an update and is finally realizing this,” said Keith Martine, PR and communications manager for Hickies, another alternative shoe fastener.

Hickies no-tie laces promise to turn shoes into slips so you’ll never have to tie your shoes again. Instead of a single lace, they’re a series of individual elasticized bands that anchor through the eyelets. The bands expand and contract, allowing the user to slip the shoes on and off.

“Besides velcro and the likes of bungee laces, there was no product that was thoughtfully designed that offered the convenience of a slip-on with a fully customizable fit that was esthetically appealing,” he said

There are now niche variations in this new (foot)space. Straight Laces, started by Chicago private equity investor Jay Thukkaram, are fashion-oriented but designed to be worn with business attire.

“I just thought it would be awesome to have that look with my shoe without having to tuck it in,” said Thukkaram.

Jay Thukkaram, founder and CEO of Straight Laces, said he was looking for a more fashionable alternative to regular men’s dress shoelaces. (Jay Thukkaram)

“The tricky part about men’s dress shoes is that they are usually leather, they’re very thin, and so the biggest issue is not having a big nodule or bump in your shoe that’s uncomfortable.”

Thukkaram has also raised thousands on Kickstarter. Beyond fashion and health, he sees another reason for the sudden popularity of what are essentially slip-on shoes.

“There’s a trend towards efficiency — you know, hacking things, trying to do things quicker, faster,” he said.

“The simple act of tying your shoes is extremely inefficient. And I think people are probably looking for something that’s, like, in and out of the door and not wasting that time.”

Seeking alternatives

In today’s fast-paced society, it seems even the few moments it takes to bend over and tie your shoes is considered a waste of time and effort.

“People have difficulty with shoelaces,” said Ian Fieggen, one of the internet’s foremost experts on the subject.

“And it’s those people who are having frustration with their shoelaces in daily lives who seek alternatives.” 

Ian Fieggen, a.k.a. Professor Shoelace, isn’t sold on new alternatives, and said the old-fashioned bow knot is still the best way to keep your shoes snug. (Ian Fieggen)

Ian Fieggen, who goes by Professor Shoelace in his popular YouTube videos, said even with all the newfangled technology, the old-fashioned bow knot is still the way to go. 

“They’re an extremely flexible way of fastening your shoes,” he said.

“You can use a lacing method that will introduce a gap at the top of the lace to relieve pressure from a sore part of the foot. You can use lacing methods that will pull the laces up off the big toe, if you’ve got problems with it impacting your big toe. There are all sorts of variations to lacing to provide more security or more flexibility over the shoe,” he said.

“Every type of elastic shoelace that I’ve used, great to slip the shoes on and off, but the shoe never really feels totally secure.”

A properly tied shoelace, he said, will stay tied all day long.

That, of course, is the opinion of someone who is remarkably fond of shoelaces. But Fieggen also pointed out that regular laces come in all sorts of colours, they’re inexpensive and easily replaceable.

Even so, the runaway success and sheer number of alternatives now out there shows just how many people appear to be ready to walk away from the traditional shoelace.

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5 ways to pay off a loan faster

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Gaining access to a loan has gotten easier and easier, but borrowers must still navigate a system that offers both good and bad loans. With so many options and hidden clauses, finding the right strategy for paying off a loan faster can seem complicated. But it doesn’t have to be. Borrowers can still achieve financial freedom quickly while remaining Zen.

Here are five ways to pay off a loan faster:

1. Increasing the monthly payment

Yes, this is an obvious strategy and might seem difficult to do at first glance. However, you’d be surprised at what you can really do when you use a loan payment calculator to determine how much you’ll save on interest payments if the loan is closed ahead of schedule.

Before calculating the amount to increase the monthly payment, borrowers need to contact their bank to find out:

  • how early repayment takes place;
  • what hidden fees and penalties exist for early repayment;
  • whether it is necessary to write an application;
  • when the payments can be made.

All these factors can significantly affect the final amount due. Often, the contract contains hidden payments and sanctions for early full or partial repayment of the loan. It is less profitable for a bank to allow their client to close a loan or credit account ahead of time. For this reason, many companies resort to all sorts of tricks to prevent clients from paying off their loans early.

2. Finding an additional source of income

Another perhaps overlooked approach to paying off a loan is to simply increase your income. Some options for doing this might include

  • getting a part-time job;
  • working additional shifts;
  • looking for temporary seasonal openings;
  • engaging in a one-time project;
  • selling unnecessary or unused household items.

Whatever the activity, it does not have to be related to the borrower’s main profile and specialization. In spring and summer, unskilled workers are constantly required for cleaning summer cottages, harvesting crops, or pruning bushes. In the winter, it can be tutoring, cleaning apartments, construction and repair work, tailoring, and freelancing.

3. Minimizing expenses

Many borrowers find it impossible to pay off their loans without cutting costs.

So, it is a good idea to analyze your income and expenses, leaving room for only the essentials.

Borrowers need to be as honest as possible with themselves and clearly define what they can temporarily refuse in favor of quick loan repayment.

During this period, borrowers should avoid unnecessary expenses or online shopping, and develop a rational but economical meal plan.

Cutting costs should also include getting rid of expensive habits like alcohol, cigarettes, morning lattes on the way to work, lunch with employees in a cafe, or Friday evenings out with friends. However, borrowers should have in mind that these are only temporary harsh measures to shorten the loan term that will help them get out of debt.

4. Rounding up the Payments

Rounding up the payments is an interesting strategy to reduce the time it will take to pay off the loan. For example, a borrower owing $425 a month can decide to be paying $500 a month. This little commitment adds up to an extra 75$ in repayment every month. Over time, that adds up to a significant amount, saving interest payments and getting the borrowers out of debt ahead of schedule.

5. Speeding up the loan repayment

Another clever strategy is to make a bi-weekly payment rather than just one monthly payment. Which is better: paying $1000 per month or $500 every two weeks? The second strategy wins.

To really speed up the loan repayment, borrowers could divide their monthly payment in half and pay that amount every two weeks. This means making 26 half-payments in one year, which is the equivalent of a whole additional monthly payment. This 13th payment is called the accelerator. It allows borrowers to pay off their loans faster.

The bottom line

Paying off the loan faster decreases the overall term of the loan and helps borrowers get out of debt ahead of schedule.

In addition to adopting the strategies above, borrowers may be able to help themselves by adopting good financial habits that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

Borrowers who spend less than what they earn can reduce their debt and even start saving for other projects. They can do this by revising their monthly budget. This allows them to control their game plan and quickly see where they need to adjust.

These good habits will not only help people take control of their debt, but also take control of their general finances.

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Future of Ottawa: Coffee with Francis Bueckert

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Francis Bueckert: When it comes to the current landscape of coffee-roasting companies and independent cafes in Ottawa, I think we are at a really interesting moment in time. There are more local roasters that are doing artisanal small-batch production—with more attention to the quality and origin of the beans.

With larger corporations such as Starbucks closing locations, it has opened a bit of space for local players to grow. We have been lucky to work with many folks in the coffee-roasting community, and we have found that there is a willingness to collaborate among different coffee roasters. For example, when Cloudforest started back in 2014, we were roasting our coffee at Happy Goat and it was the expertise of their head roaster Hans that helped me learn how to roast. Other companies such as Brown Bag Coffee have also lent a hand when we needed extra roasting capacity. There are others, such as Lulo, Mighty Valley Coffee, Bluebarn, The Artery, and Little Victories that are also part of the growing local coffee community. It’s small roasters like these who have shown me what a coffee community can look like, and that we can help to elevate each other, rather than being locked in competition.

If you care to make a prediction… What’s happening to the local café industry in 2021?

We believe that there is hope and that 2021 can be a big pivot year for small roasters and cafes.

This year will not be ideal from a business point of view. However, it could create a shift in people’s attitude toward where they get their coffee. We are holding out hope that people will support the roasters and cafes that are local to help them economically survive what is in all reality a very difficult time.

It all depends on where consumers decide to go this year. People are starting to recognize that supporting large corporations at this moment will be at the cost of the local roasters and cafes. There is the growing realization that a future where there is only Amazon, Walmart, and Starbucks would be pretty bleak. So we have an opportunity this year to support the kind of local businesses that we want to see thrive.

In your wildest dreams, what will the landscape for local coffee roasters and cafés look like in your lifetime?

In my wildest dreams, all of the coffee roasters and cafés would be locally owned and independent. They would all be focused on direct trade and artisanal coffee. Each different coffee roaster and café would know exactly where their coffee came from. Ideally, each company would be a partnership between the farmers who grow the beans and the people here selling them. There would be a focus on how to cooperate and collaborate with the farmers in the countries of origin to share the benefits around. We would all work together and share orders of cups, lids, and other packaging so that we could get better bulk pricing. In this way, we would make our local coffee community so efficient that the large corporate coffee companies wouldn’t even be able to compete.

We would also like to see people use coffee as a way to create social good. For example, we started Cloudforest as a way of helping support farmers in Ecuador who were taking a stand against large mining companies. This remote community stood up to protect their environment, so that they could have clean drinking water and soil for the next generation. They started an organic coffee cooperative to help show that there are other models of development, and we are doing our part year after year to help support their vision. They have a vision of development that does not include mass deforestation and contamination, and organic coffee is a key (among others) to show that another way forward is possible.

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Special events in the Ottawa Valley dominate annual OVTA tourism awards

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The Ottawa Valley Tourist Association hopes that its annual tourism awards will provide a little sunshine during what is a dark time for local tourism operators because of the pandemic.

The Ottawa Valley Tourism Awards are presented annually by the Ottawa Valley Tourist Association (OVTA) to individuals, businesses, and events that recognize the importance of working together for the growth of the local tourism industry, as well as offering exceptional visitor experiences.

“After a year that saw a lot of businesses in the hospitality and tourism industry being challenged like never before, the annual Ottawa Valley Tourism Awards represent a bit of light on the horizon” said Chris Hinsperger, co-owner of the Bonnechere Caves.

The Ottawa Valley Tourist Association’s (OVTA) Awards Committee co-chairpersons, Meghan James and Chris Hinsperger, said they were very pleased with the recent nominations received, especially in the Special Events category. Submissions were received for The Farm to Fork Dinner Series at the Whitewater Inn; Light up the Valley; The Eganville Curling Clubs’ Rock the Rings; The Ontario Festival of Small Halls ; The Bonnechere Caves On-line Underground Concert Series; The Opeongo Nordic Ski Clubs’ Ski Loppet; The Tour de Bonnechere — Ghost de Tour 2020; and The Bonnechere Caves Rock ‘n Roll Parking Lot Picnic.

“During a time when communities were challenged, it is nice to see that people still made an effort to get together and celebrate, albeit under certain conditions. It just shows the creativity and resiliency of our tourism Community here in the valley” said Meghan James, director of sales at the Pembroke Best Western.

There are three Award categories: The Marilyn Alexander Tourism Champion Award, The Business of Distinction and The Special Event of the Year.

Hinsperger, is excited about this year’s awards.

“During this pandemic the hospitality and tourism industry was the first to be hit, was the hardest hit and will be the last of our industries to fully recover. As Valley entrepreneurs we owe it to ourselves, to our businesses and to our communities to be an active part of that recovery. Our livelihood and economic recovery depends on our efforts. And we will get back to welcoming people from all over the world to share a little bit of the place we are privileged to call home. This awards process leaves myself and others fully optimistic about our positive outcomes.”

Award winners will be announced at the Ottawa Valley Tourist Association’s virtual annual general meeting on Monday, May 31.

The OVTA is the destination marketing organization for the Upper Ottawa Valley and proudly represents more than 200 tourism businesses, comprised of attractions and outfitters, accommodation, food, beverage and retail establishments, artists and galleries, municipalities, as well as media and industry suppliers. The OVTA is supported by the County of Renfrew, Renfrew County municipalities and the City of Pembroke.

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