Slem is a two-year-old international innovation and education institute in the footwear field, based in Waalwijk that is launching many ground-breaking initiatives. Acting as a school, as a museum and as a think tank for the industry at the same time, it initiated a new master's degree course on footwear innovation last year.

Each course runs for nine months and is limited to ten students from all over the world. The first one began last October with students from the Netherlands, India and the U.S. The second one started in January, involving students from Australia, Chile, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates as well as a Finnish-Belgian and a Vietnamese-Canadian participant. A third cohort will start next October.

The program of the graduate course includes three months in Waalwijk, three at a university in China and three at a site chosen by the student, possibly for an internship with a company in the sector. The course is run by Annaluisa Franco, a young, multi-lingual Italian native who previously ran the fashion department at the Florence campus of the European Institute of Design.

Slem also organized an interesting conference in the neighboring city of Eindhoven last December, with eye-opening presentations by various industry experts on new materials and new health-related footwear technologies. Articles on two of them follow.

About 70 delegates from all over the world, including the U.S. and China, attended the conference. The next one is tentatively scheduled for sometime between next Dec. 5 and 10, but the exact schedule and the venue have not yet been chosen. The organizers indicate that they are willing to hold a conference in any country that wishes to sponsor it in behalf of the local shoe community.

In addition to its so-called Sleminars, or seminars open to the students and the public, the institute is also offering a so-called Slem Scan, designed as a one-day counseling service based on a questionnaire submitted to a company that has a particular problem and is wondering about the next steps. For a basic price of only €250, a team of experts conducts brain-storming game and makes recommendations for the short and longer term, suggesting priorities for action and investment.

Slem is the brainchild of Nicoline van Enter, the well-known Dutch guru on fashion trends in the footwear sector, who has been giving lectures all over the world and started teaching four years ago at Guanzhou Panyu Polytechnic School in China.

She said she founded Slem because she was frustrated by the slow progress of the footwear industry. Designed to look at the shoe industry in different ways through its various programs, the institute is housed in originally decorated premises in the former town hall of Waalwijk, whose industrial cluster is home to about 250 shoe-related companies. It has a small R&D laboratory with 3D printing machinery and other equipment. The building will also house the local shoe museum, which is full of ethnic footwear.