German shoe giant Adidas has just released their new sneaker made in collaboration with Parley. It was revealed earlier in the year that Adidas is utilizing 3D printing in the development of their new ‘Ultraboost Parley’ shoe, the German shoe brand is collaborating with the environmental group Parely in their effort to reduce ocean plastic pollution and to raise awareness to this issue. The shoe’s upper is made with 5% recycled polyester and 95% dredged plastic waste from the ocean with the shoes being made up of 11 recycled plastic bottles per shoe, which makes for a very environmentally friendly trainer.
Despite this, the use of 3D printing seems to be primarily focused on the design process of the shoe rather than its’ mass manufacturing. Despite the original concept being 3D printed it seems that Adidas has not yet perfected the environment in order to produce 3D printed shoes on a mass-scale.
The concept of the Parley shoe is focused, understandably, with Parley’s environmental concerns at the forefront on tackling ocean plastic pollution. However, Adidas have another project that may pave the way for 3D printing into the shoe mass market. Coined ‘Futurecraft’ the idea, is for a future in which consumers can purchase a shoe that is completely 3D printed and therefore unique to their feet. For now the project’s initial steps are towards producing custom shoes through its rising factories in Germany and the U.S.
Futurecraft may be the future of 3D printing technology’s relationship with shoes, being more personal, for now it is mainly olympic athletes who are able to get their hands (or feet?) on the shoes. The first 3D printed shoes Adidas created were given to a handful of Olympic athletes, with the color of their laces dependent on the color of the medal they received at Rio 2016, a special reward for performing well. This exclusivity is also prevalent in the case of Adidas’ collaboration with Parley with only limited availability for the time being, at least until 2017 according to Verge, they are elitist in nature with both high retail prices and limited quantities.
The Future of 3D Printing in Shoe Manufacture
Adidas is not the only brand exploring the use of 3D printed technology in the manufacturing of their shoes, Reebok’s ‘Liquid Factory’ concept utilities 3D printing to accent their shoes with new materials. This, for Reebok, is particularly exciting as it does not rely upon molds and thus allows the brand’s designers to create in a new innovative way. For the last 30 years the manufacturing of shoes has not changed significantly but according to Bill McInnis, the head of Reebok Future, the movement away from molds is a dramatic shift. Using molds is an expensive and time consuming process but Liquid Factory could, according to McInnis, “fundamentally change the way that shoes are made, creating a new method to manufacture shoes without molds” which could both change what a brand can create and the speed in which it can be created.
Speed is a crucial factor in Adidas’ exploration into 3D printing and this is shown with the title of its robotic 3D printing centre being referred to as a ‘SpeedFactory’ and this may be the most appealing consideration to brands like Adidas for adopting 3D printing. These factories should allow Adidas to develop its manufacturing process in order to produce quality 3D printed products for a mass audience, both quickly and affordably.
A Hope for the Future
The more distant future of 3D printing in Adidas’ eyes will have customers’ shoes printed in store before their very eyes having been measured and fitted beforehand leaving the consumer with an incredibly personal experience and product as a result. Nevertheless, it seems 3D printed shoe manufacturing remains, for the time being, caged within the confines of concept designs or as bit-part accents but one can hope that in the future the big players in the shoe industry, such as Nike and Adidas, will be releasing affordable digital shoes that the consumer can then download and print themselves. While this notion may be a far-off future it does seem that the benefits of 3D printing are appealing to the big brands and increasingly so.
Featured images show Ultraboost Parley. Image via Adidas