Will 3-D printing tech change the footwear industry?
A new 3-D printing innovation is delivering a new and different kind of shoe.
In partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)’s Self-Assembly Lab, Canadian footwear brand Native Shoes has created a technology that prints full shoes out of liquid rubber, according to the 3D Printing Media Network.
The technology prints the liquid rubber into a vat of gelatinous liquid, allowing the brand to create a shoe in a single piece (rather than printing parts separately and assembling them, as in 3-D printing pilots from other shoe brands). Shoes generated by the process resemble patent leather and are meant to be in keeping with Native Shoes’ commitment to making light, no-frills and more environmentally sustainable footwear. Shoes can be made to order, saving resources, and the process is waste-free with the liquid rubber coming mostly from recycled materials.
The growth of 3-D printing has primarily been driven by hobbyists up to now. Retail-oriented use cases have begun appearing as the technology has improved, however, and 3-D printing offers the potential to radically shake up supply chains if the technology can be made to operate at scale.
Footwear, in particular, has been a hot area for tech innovations that bring together customization and automation, which has included pilots built around 3-D printing.
In 2018, Nike announced that it was using its 3-D printing technology – Flyprint – to design the synthetic upper portion of some shoes, TechCrunch reported at the time. Shoes made with technology were, however, only being made available in limited quantities to elite runners.
Elsewhere in apparel, some small retailers have been testing out the concept of print-on-demand clothing. In 2017, Boston-based Ministry of Supply installed a 3-D knitting machine near its checkout counter, capable of printing out a customized blazer in around 90 minutes.
A 2017 survey said that 95 percent of customers looked forward to purchasing a product that is 3-D printed and 80 percent reported wanting to spend more money at a retailer that would allow them customization via 3-D printing.
- Native Shoes and MIT 3D printing liquid rubber footwear – 3D Printing Media
- Nike’s Vaporfly Elite FlyPrint leans hard into computational design – TechCrunch
- Could 3-D tech move apparel manufacturing into stores? – RetailWire
- How will 3-D printing take hold at retail? – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What is your reaction to the 3-D printing experiment being conducted by Native Shoes and MIT? Do you see 3-D printing being able to scale in the future and what will its impact be on the consumer brand and retailing industries?