Shoe brand Vivobarefoot, in collaboration with material science company Balena, has revealed a prototype at the Biofabricate conference — a 3D printed compostable sneaker. The mono-material shoe, created from Balena’s compostable thermoplastic, follows the innovative “scan-to-print-to-soil” concept.
This fully automated process allows users to scan their feet via a smartphone app, triggering an immediate 3D printing of the shoes. The design prioritizes compostability in industrial facilities, challenging the traditional approach of designing, manufacturing, and disposing of footwear.
“Whilst the current system might have been fit for the early part of industrialisation, it’s definitely not fit for the future” said Vivobarefoot co-founder Asher Clark.
“In contrast to that, our goal is to create a flagship solution – one that’s on demand, rather than from stock. We want it to be fast, digital, simple and ultimately an additive process,” he continued. We want to build a system that creates product when you need using only the materials you need when you need it, as opposed to an industrial system that’s making huge mountains of stock with subtractive processes.”
The prototype shoes, made from Balena’s BioCirflex, adhere to international biodegradation standards. Despite being compostable, they are intended for industrial composting rather than backyard disposal, highlighting the need for an infrastructure supporting circularity.
Balena’s founder, David Roubach, emphasized the importance of collaborating with brands to establish comprehensive circular processes. The trainers align with Vivobarefoot’s broader goal of revolutionizing the footwear industry by minimizing material usage and promoting foot health.
Clark argued that conventional shoe manufacturing processes, with their offshore industrial supply chains, contribute significantly to environmental degradation. By reducing waste through a 3D-printing approach, the brand aims to mitigate the negative impact on both feet and the planet.
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