Zellerfeld’s recyclable 3D printed sneaker to “reshape footwear for the better”

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Footwear 3D printing start-up Zellerfeld has partnered with fashion designer Heron Preston to additive manufacture a unique sneaker line, that it says has the potential to “reshape footwear for the better.” 

Known as the ‘HERON01,’ the slip-on running shoe features a seamless, circular design with no stitching or adhesives, allowing it to be fully-recycled at the end of its usable life. Theoretically, this enables the sneaker’s materials to be reused endlessly, but given that only a small number of pairs are being sold via a StockX raffle, just a chosen few will get to sample the futuristic footwear anytime soon.

“The HERON01 is just the beginning,” explains Preston. “With additive manufacturing, the potential is unlimited. I was able to design and print functional and evolving prototypes in hours  — with traditional manufacturing, this would have taken months. I can’t wait to print more shoes and updates.”

Heron Preston wearing the HERON01s in Milan. Photo via Zellerfeld.
Designer Heron Preston wearing the HERON01s in Milan. Photo via Zellerfeld.

Zellerfeld’s ethical sneakers

Founded just last year, Zellerfeld uses 3D printing to develop experimental footwear with novel unibody designs, that can be customized to meet individual wearer’s needs. Although there’s little in the public domain to indicate which technology in particular is behind the firm’s eco-friendly sneakers, its approach has reportedly been honed at the home of its CEO Cornelius Shmitt over the last three years. 

Based on the industrial engineering experience he gained from studying at the Clausthal University of Technology, Shmitt is said to have developed a workflow that opens new avenues to designers. By adopting his approach, for instance, he says that upcoming designers can enter short-run production without having to pay upfront for molds, or shell out on outsourcing production to an external provider. 

The company also markets its technology as a greener alternative to conventional footwear production processes, under the guise that “3D printed shoes are created with software not assembly lines.” As a result, Zellerfeld’s approach effectively enables the production of single-piece sneakers, that forgo the need for often-toxic adhesives, while eliminating the use of unethical forced labor-staffed sweatshops. 

Leveraging its technology, the firm has previously created a ‘Sneaker Zero’ design concept that placed third in last year’s Formnext purmundus challenge, after working with fashion brand Querencia Studio to 3D print its first commercial footwear, but given that any proceeds from the sale of the HERON01 will go to anti-child labor charity Global March, its latest project brings it back to its ethical roots. 

The Heron01 in gray, orange and black variants.
The Heron01 features a scale-like design, similar to that of a Heron’s foot. Image via Zellerfeld.

Novel fowl-inspired footwear 

Designed alongside notorious footwear designer Mr. Bailey, the HERON01 is modelled to look like its namesake in the natural world. The sneaker’s scale-like aesthetics are meant to mimic those of a Heron’s feet, while its sole features a claw-like design that resembles some of the early sketches Bailey contributed at the project’s start, to guide its direction. 

Bailey, Preston and Zellerfeld are said to have liaised for a year via Whatsapp on the shoe’s design, before finally finally putting it into production as COVID-19 restrictions have lifted, but they now say their journey proves the flexibility of their model, which has allowed them to rapidly prototype their sneaker, before remotely entering production without having to rely on unpredictable traditional supply chains. 

Initially set to drop on StockX as part of its ‘Campaign for a Cause’ initiative, entrants to the site’s raffle can win a pair of HERON01s by making a $10 donation. The lucky winners will not only be able to use an iPhone app to create feet scans as a basis for customizing their new shoes, but they’ll be entered into Zellerfeld’s Beta Program, which allows wearers to trade them in once new pairs are released. 

“Our partners have spent years pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in fashion, and this innovative 3D printed shoe is a direct result of that work,” StockX CMO Deena Bahri told Forbes. “We’re thrilled to bring another first-of-it’s-kind product to the market, and give our global, values-driven customer base the opportunity to support Global March Against Child Labour.”

It has also been reported that a limited run of the sneakers will later be made available via Zellerfeld, and its site currently features a countdown to October 11, 2021 at 3pm EST, when it’s likely that these will be listed here

Zellerfeld's 3D printed footwear is uniquely-styled, but far from the first seen in the industry.
Zellerfeld’s 3D printed footwear is uniquely-styled, but far from the first seen in the industry. Image via Adidas.

AM’s athletic applications  

Thanks to 3D printing’s inherent weight, design optimization and personalization benefits, the technology has really taken off in the world of performance footwear over the last few years. Adidas has continually released new versions of its Carbon-3D printed sneaker, and just last year, it launched the robotically-manufactured Futurecraft ‘STRUNG.’

Created using a unique textile printing process, the running shoes are said to be tailorable to the contours of an individual athlete’s foot. Similarly, cycle shoe producer Lore began taking preorders for its LoreOne carbon 3D printed footwear in July 2021. Developed in tandem with elite cycling coach Colby Pearce, the shoes consist of three parts that interlock, to grip around cyclists’ feet when pedalling. 

Elsewhere, 3D printing is also commonly used to produce insoles with enhanced properties, such as those being created by Voxel8 for Hush Puppies’ new range of designer footwear. Featuring a complex latticed design, that reportedly lends them improved shock absorption capabilities, the additive manufactured footwear could ultimately enable Hush Puppies to reduce its products’ lead times as well. 

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Featured image shows Heron Preston wearing the HERON01s in Milan. Photo via Zellerfeld.