Symbiotic Shoes

Useful information

Team members
Sara Alvarez Vinagre
3D print digital fabrication parametric design circular economy zero waste slow fashion ultra personalized product traditional shoemaking craftsmanship maker movement distributed manufacturing Rhinoceros 3D Grasshopper

Short Description

3D printed, tailor-made, circular shoes with classic aesthetic inspired in traditional shoemaking

Detailed Description

Symbiotic shoes project applies 3D printing to develop zero waste, made to measure and sustainable shoes that are inspired in traditional shoemaking looks and construction. A working proof of concept has been reached for the parametric shoe design, construction, and recycling model. The designs are open source for anyone interested.
In current shoes most of the materials end up being discarded in landfills at the end of their lives. This project provides an alternative with 3D printed shoes that can be recycled entirely to make new shoes. Besides, they are based on a parametric design which allows for simple customization to each user by inputting their measurements.
The bigger vision is to develop a web-based platform that enables distributed manufacturing of the shoes and allows for community participation in the design process. I want to feed the maker movement and inspire a new wave of craftsmanship that incorporates new technologies together with ancient fabrication techniques.

Project Details

Does your design take social and cultural challenges and human wellbeing into consideration?

The design is made to address sustainability issues in the fashion industry and also incorporates the social impact of design by addressing the maker community, distributed manufacturing, and co-creation. It provides a proof of concept of what future products could look like if we design from a holistic perspective in which sustainability not only means environmental impact but also ethical and social implications.
An additive technology like 3D printing produces very little waste. Also, the use of TPE material allows for easy recyclability and circular production by reincorporating materials in the manufacturing cycle with high value.
Besides, although the materials are produced using new technologies like 3D printing, the construction method is very close to traditional shoemaking. This can be interesting for current shoemakers, which could renew their craft by adding these new materials and tools while keeping their expertise relevant. The design can be produced and shared digitally, and the tools to manufacture can be found around the globe easily in public workshops like Fablabs (currently 1750 around the world).
For customers, buying these shoes means that they can support a local maker community while getting an ultra-personalized product. Bespoke shoes are something only a few can afford. The use of parametric design makes this much more accessible since customization is mostly automated. This way, users can buy or make shoes made for their own feet, providing an opportunity for more comfortable and supportive footwear.

Does your design support sustainable production, embodying circular or regenerative design practices?

Interestingly, even though many sustainable approaches to shoes are seen nowadays, most of them aren’t clear on how can materials be reincorporated into the production cycle at the end of the shoes’ life. There are also many examples of 3D printed shoes, but only a few are specifically designed to be recycled at the end of their life. And for those who are, the designs are futuristic approaches to shoes, a more artistic and fashion-forward take on footwear. Symbiotic shoes have a timeless design and are meant to be for users who want pretty and functional shoes for their day-to-day, providing a design that endures time and trends, making them a relevant fashion item for a long time.
But most importantly, Symbiotic shoes are made 98% out of TPE material. The other components (recycled polyester thread and cotton laces) can easily be detached for recycling. TPE is a material already used in shoe-making due to its resistance and that can be recycled multiple times. Once a pair of Symbiotic shoes is no longer useful, it can be shredded into small pieces and made into material that can be 3D printed. In collaboration with a Spanish 3D print filament manufacturer, the shoes and few leftovers from production will be converted at the end of their life into recycled TPE filament, which can be used to make 3D printed shoes again. Besides, these shoes are meant to be produced on demand for a particular user, which creates a slower way of production in which only materials are stocked and not finished products.

Does your design use principles of distribution and open source?

The designs are open source and available at the documentation page of the project (cutt.ly/symbiotic-shoes). Although it is currently in its primary stage, the bigger vision for this project is to develop a web-based platform that enables distributed manufacturing of the shoes and allows for community participation in the design process. This platform will include in depth tutorials to explain the process of designing and making these shoes so designers, makers and artisans can replicate them. I am in the process of finding funding to continue the development of the project.

Does your design promote awareness of responsible design and consumption?

The goal of the project is to provide an alternative to current shoe making methods and to encourage people to take initiative and participate in the creation of their shoes. Symbiotic shoes explores a holistic way of designing products. It doesn’t only look at the purpose of the product when it is in use, but also during its ideation, production, and disposal.
They have a purpose while being designed and produced since they add to the movement of co-creation, which has been explored since the 1980s and is gaining strength with the increasing accessibility of digital fabrication. Co-design and co-creation change the relationship between companies and consumers and redefines the concept of value. Customers are part of the ideation and making process, allowing more perspectives and potentially producing more inclusive products.
It is a win-win situation, because users get a product made just for them, and implicating them in the making process can be an effective way to draw attention and educate on the implication of our purchases. When we buy ready to wear fast fashion, it is easy to forget about where things are made, by whom and with which materials. But when you are part of the creation process of the product and they are produced near you, it is harder to dissociate the product from its social and environmental implications. This can be a powerful way to create awareness and be more responsible consumers.
Besides, Symbiotic shoes add to the necessary change in fashion and serve as an example of a circular product in which, benefitting from new tools and materials, we can reduce the amount of resources used in this industry.