ATHENA is born: finally, women too have their own safety footwear

Starting from listening to the needs, wants and wishes of women, Diadora Utility has designed work footwear specifically for women

Safety footwear covers a lot more ground than you might think. Millions of people depend on work shoes to keep their feet and legs healthy. Like a fingerprint, every foot is individual and moves differently. That is why it is so important to choose a shoe that meets specific requirements such as safety, comfort and durability. Diadora Utility, Italy’s leading player in the safety footwear and apparel sector, has filled what, until now, was a major gap, or better, the lack of safety footwear such as Athena, unique in its kind, which was made starting from the shape of the female foot. Thanks to technological innovations, extremely high quality standards and a strong sporting influence, Diadora Utility changed the rules of the market by dictating new competitive standards. This is how Athena was born, the first Utility model designed to meet the needs of female workers, in the Diadora Research Centre with the collaboration of the Instituto de Biomecánica of Valencia (IBV), one of the most authoritative bodies in the field of studying the behaviour of the human body and its interaction with products and the surrounding environment. In this interview, Michele Risatti – R&D and Quality Manager and Romina Zanchetta – Marketing & Communication Director Utility tell us how it was created, the great work behind its development and what its special features are.
Romina Zanchetta: ‘Diadora was founded in 1948, Utility was established within the Diadora world, fifty years later in 1998, and still rests on the same two pillars: research and innovation on the one hand, and sports design on the other. Utility has always shared the same premium brand positioning and assets within Diadora: the Diadora Research Centre (CRD), for example, which works across all product categories. Let’s think about what a runner looks for: light weight, breathability, reactivity and cushioning. If we make a to parallel with the world of sport, just as there is no universal running shoe that can satisfy every runner, so there is no personal protective equipment that fits everyone: it depends on the physical nature of the worker who wears it and the type of work he or she does. It is on this basis that our work and great technological research is developed. We are unique in this, there are no other companies that can claim such a close coexistence between sport and the safety world. We develop technologies for sport and translate them into safety, and vice versa. To do this at the highest level, we collaborate with research centres all over the world. We collaborate, for example, with the Institute of Biomechanics of Valencia (IBV), the University of Medicine of Washington (UMW) and the Polytechnic University of Turin, to name a few.”
Athena Project: where does it have its roots?
“We start from an assumption, which is then the core of this project: every safety device is standardized. The employer, who is responsible for choosing the PPE used within his company, should take into account the characteristics of the wearer. To date, women have almost never been able to benefit from safety equipment designed to meet their needs and created on the morphology of their feet. Our mission is to take care of our consumers: for us, at the centre of everything is their well-being. This is where the push to take on new challenges comes from. Just as sport has the well-being of the athlete at its centre, so we put the worker himself at the centre of our work. In this case, we focused our energy on female workers, developing a completely new product that would meet their expectations and respond to physical needs that are different from those of men.
What kind of research have you done?
“In addition to having set up a truly bibliographical research specifically aimed at studying the shape of the female foot with one of the most prestigious institutes in the field of analyzing the behaviour of the human body, the Institute of Biomechanics in Valencia, we have conducted countless interviews in the field.
Can you tell us more about what you mean by ‘field interviews’?
“We involved IPSOS for two different research studies: one qualitative and one quantitative, interviewing hundreds of women of different nationalities working in different sectors. The output that emerged is a very clear picture of the needs for comfort, fitting and weight. For most of the interviewees, functionality is the main characteristic, and the younger age group is also interested in aesthetics.” Michele Risatti takes over: “At the same time, we did a more objective analysis on ergonomics, based on scientific data, which highlighted the anatomical differences between men and women. To do this, we relied on one of our main research partners, IBV, with whom we already have a number of active projects for the world of running. From this study, data emerged that allowed us to select the best materials, study which shape and lacing were most suitable for our Athena shoe, and work on the possibility of optimizing the distribution of foot pressure according to the specific needs of women. For the first time, we created a shoe dedicated to the female foot’.
What components are we speaking about exactly?
“Each component of Athena was developed from the study of the anatomy of the female foot and the needs of the hundreds of women who took part in our research. The points we focused on were shape, lacing and fitting. Dedicated lasts, lacing and drop guarantee the best fit and maximum comfort to accommodate the foot for total safety. Thanks to a footbed designed specifically for women, in open-cell, bi-density polyurethane foam with active carbon that works according to the pressure applied, and therefore to the weight of the end user, we were able to ensure that the drop was ideal for working women, allowing optimal distribution of foot pressure on the head of the metatarsal and the heel. The D-Light polyurethane foam midsole provides excellent cushioning and stability for the foot. The tread features a design and configuration never seen before. The sole caps have a technical function relating to slip resistance, which meets the new standard. Their distribution is designed with areas of reinforcement in the toe and heel area to ensure the passage of liquids for rapid tread cleaning and a flex zone to facilitate and accompany the natural direction of the foot when rolling. Finally, the sole is characterized by a soft design, with lines designed to enhance the female foot.
What were the next steps?
“After the first benchmark phase, we moved on to the second phase, where, once the shoe had been created, IBV had the new Athena models tested by the workers, carrying out ‘perception tests’ to receive precise feedback on the new product. This was followed by mechanical tests on the shoe, certified by a third party. The result that emerged was decidedly positive and in line with women’s needs. Athena turned out to be a highly innovative shoe, which in terms of shape, fitting and drop, fully meets the needs of the wearer, increasing the feeling of protection”.
Why launch it now?
“First of all, the number of women working in environments where safety equipment is required has increased significantly in recent years. In addition, and no less important, the attention of employers towards their employees has also increased. The time was ripe’.
Romina Zanchetta: ‘We have been working on Athena for a couple of years now. Last year we launched Fly, the lightest safety shoe in the sector, and we haven’t stopped. We care about being true innovators, those who break the rules of the market. We did this many years ago with the introduction of colour in safety footwear; then we introduced the ‘Net Breathing System by Geox’ technology that ensures maximum breathability of the foot, and now we are proposing a new product that, once again, anticipates what the end consumer’s real needs are. Until now, women had to be satisfied with what the had; with the Athena safety shoe, this is no longer necessary. Our desire is to raise the awareness of the RSPP and the Managers who are responsible for purchasing the devices, conveying the message that a person’s well-being also depends on choosing the most suitable certified footwear for his or her needs. The Athena line is also certified according to the new EN ISO 20345: 2022 standard’.
When will Athena be available? How many styles is it offered in?
“Starting in April, which is also the month in which World Health and Safety Day is celebrated, Athena footwear will be available on the market in 3 different styles: S3L mid, S3L low and S1PL. The S3L mid version is available in black and with hibiscus red details, emblematic of the line. Instead, there are two colour variants for the S3L low and S1PL. Both are available in black and anthracite as well as in steel grey and lighter grey, with contrasting hibiscus red details. In the S1PL version, which is typically more summery, we also have a coloured tread.”