3D printed shoes are coming your way

The shoe company Adidas recently unveiled its latest in footwear: the Adidas Futurecraft. Thought by some to be the most anticipated shoe of 2016, Futurecraft is the first line of footwear by Adidas to be 3D printed in stores.

They claim to be “taking the lab to the street”, and engaging customers for a more innovative and specially tailored shoe to fit consumers’ foot needs.

However, Adidas might be a little late on this 3D shoe craze. New Balance has always seemed to be ahead of other footwear companies in terms of three-dimensional technology. In 2013, the company was the first athletic brand to provide a track athlete with specially customized spikes for his races. Since then, all of New Balance’s athletes have worn customized shoes, and the company has stated that they are continuing to expand the program and develop more products. Not many companies are far behind these retail giants as well. Similar dominant shoe manufacturer Nike and rising “digital cobbler” Feetz have hopped aboard this trend train with their own concepts; Nike partnering with HP to use their brand new industrial 3D printer and Feetz coming up with a revolutionary way to purchase footwear. This relatively new technology recently discovered by shoe companies is about to change the shoe game, not just for super athletes or exclusive groups of people, but also for everyday people just trying to find a pair of shoes for their daily usage and their casual sports.

To understand this footwear phenomenon, one must go back to the beginning of it and trace its emergence in today’s market. As stated before, New Balance was the earliest retailer to create 3D printed shoes, but for their own elite athletes and not the general public. The company used the athletes’ feedback and reception to design a generally better shoe to launch to the shoe enthusiast community during the April of 2016. Though the Zante Generate isn’t truly customized to the consumer since New Balance doesn’t actually measure and examine people’s feet, it is still headway in terms of the footwear industry, as its unique midsoles are an “optimal balance of flexibility, strength, weight, and durability”.


New Balance’s Zante Generate

The midsoles are able to achieve these characteristics with a breakthrough notion of having hundreds of small, open cells for both comfort and support. Although these shoes aren’t the best representation of the potential for 3D printed shoes, they are considered a “testament to [New Balance’s] relentless pursuit of innovation”.

Luckily for those interested but out of the loop on freeform-fabricated shoes, fairly-small business Feetz uses ideas that are much better depictions of what 3D printed shoes are supposed to be: shoes customized for every feature of each of a person’s foot. This enterprise is able to make such tailored footwear by its quick and progressive process of having customers use its own app to take three pictures of each of their feet and having them upload it, then letting the user design and style his/her shoes, which are made with 3D printers and recyclable materials before being briskly shipped to the person’s front door. The company, founded by Lucy Beard, who raised approximately 1.25 million dollars in seed funding, caught the attention of retail titan DSW Shoe Warehouse, who has recently organized a strategic partnership with Feetz.

The combination of an innovative product design that offers durable and appropriately fitting shoes with an experienced company who has impressive global reach and customer service has the potential to be a huge hit with consumer markets all over the world.

But at the moment, all eyes are on more prominent shoe manufacturers Nike and Adidas as buyers worldwide look on and prepare for these companies to announce their own new ideas associated with the use of 3D technology. The recent introduction of Adidas’ custom tailored Futurecraft has garnered generally positive reception from critics. That’s because this shoe can be made right before one’s eyes, as Adidas’ “Speedfactory” in select stores custom creates footgear based on data gathered by examining one’s feet right in store. Adidas refers to this data collection process as ARAMIS, which scans a person’s foot and tells where a shoe needs more support and where it needs a bit less attention. In an interview with Ben Herath, VP of Design for the Futurecraft, he states that his company has been working with the idea of the Speedfactory for a couple of years, and that the fact that the shoe has so many small innovations in the shoe has enabled Adidas to create partnerships with a variety of companies. As a matter of fact, in early November 2016, Adidas has revealed that it is about to release Futurecraft sneakers made from recycled ocean waste, courtesy of environmental group Parley for the Oceans. They have teamed up to develop a shoe that would use 11 plastic bottles in a pair of shoes, in an effort to draw attention to pollution problems.


Adidas’s Speedfactory

While Adidas only plans to initially sell 7,000 pairs, the footwear company has plans to make a million pairs of these types of sneakers in 2017. And though these 3D printed technology isn’t a part of the process of these limited edition sneakers, there are speculations that this additive manufacturing method may be used in its mass production sometime soon. Nike, somewhat lagging behind in this contest for the perfect 3D printed shoe, just May unveiled its partnership with HP to use their first 3D printing system, the HP Jet Fusion 3D Printer, for a variety of footgear. The athletic shoe giant is expected to announce their ideas with the technology in the near future, as its experience with 3D printing tech is not lacking. Overall, shoe fanatics are predicting Nike’s 3D printed shoe debut in 2017, while Adidas fans are already satisfied.


Altogether, the race to create the most appealing and customized 3D printed shoe is just heating up. Though not highly publicized, New Balance currently stands as the first company to begin marketing these new types of shoes to the general public. Semi-small business Feetz, a name unknown to the common consumer, recently partnered with shoe distributor DSW in hopes of spreading their reach and gaining publicity.

Currently, Adidas’ Futurecraft seems to gain popularity day by day, as more people seek new sneakers that are both fashionable and customizable in way that is beneficial to one’s health.

The footwear company’s recent decision to partner with environmental group Parley for the Oceans to raise awareness about pollution only seems to help its rising popularity and its endeavor to make the Futurecraft a trendy, household-known sneaker. While somewhat behind, Nike is expected to make a bounce back in this growing custom tailored shoe fad. Overall, the shoe game is about to head in a completely different direction, and in a marvelously individual-based way.

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