For sneakerheads and Carrie Bradshaw wannabes, buying the right footwear in the right size online can feel like guessing in the dark. Sizes differ drastically based on the brand, manufacturer, and country of origin. It’s a multi-billion-dollar problem—just think of the environmental and economic impact of all those products returns— and it’s something that founders Sophie Howe and Afiny Akdemir are hoping to solve with Xesto (pronounced zes-tō).
In 2020, the Canadian upstart launched an application, called Xesto Fit, that uses the special depth-sensing camera sensors found on Apple smartphones to scan a user’s foot and create an accurate digital 3-D replica that renders the actual foot dimensions. This can then be used as a reference to help shoppers find footwear that actually fits, taking the guesswork out of shoe shopping. “We really want to help people pick the right size and not have to worry,” says Howe, who serves as the company’s CEO.
In short order, Xesto has earned praise from consumers, corporate clients, and major publications (like Vogue and TechCrunch). It has partnerships with Canadian-based retailer Grounded People, Momentum Footwear and a children’s shoe brand based in the U.K., and it was recently selected to join the prestigious New York Fashion Tech Lab.
Not bad for a pair of entrepreneurs who freely admit they are learning as they go. “My degree really didn’t even come close to preparing me for this world—and it was a business degree,” Howe says. “I feel I did a whole new business degree—a much more useful one—just from the experience of starting this company.”
While Xesto has benefited from some external support—including grants, subsidized office space and research collaborations with the University of Toronto—Howe has so far steadfastly avoided seed funding, preferring to develop Xesto’s product without the outside interference that can come with early-stage cash. “It’s a deliberate choice for us,” she says. “A lot of companies take way too much money way too early. Much of the research and technology that we’ve built may not have been able to be done right if we had taken money earlier.”
It’s a bold choice, one that may change as the company matures. But for now, it lets Howe and her team grow Xesto their own way—with their best foot forward.