Leaving a Footprint

Footwear brands, designers, and 3D printing manufacturers have been collaborating on 3D-printed shoes for at least a decade, and the number of examples has slowly been growing over time. This year designer collaborations have been notable enough on the runways that 3D-printed footwear has been called out by fashion watchers as a key trend of the spring.

Among the collaborations debuting in 2023:

  • Just last week, controversial R&B singer Chris Brown, in collaboration with streetwear company Auracles and footwear label Nos Ailes, paired with Zellerfeld, a startup 3D footwear brand that has been a leading participant in collaborations, for a shoe model called the Nami Slide. Other partnerships for Zellerfeld this spring have included Danish rainwear maker Rains, known for its puffy outerwear, with which it produced a 3D “puffer sneaker,” and sustainable lifestyle label Pangaia, for a slip-on Absolute Sneaker. These follow pairings in 2022 with partners including Brooklyn apparel store KidSuper; designer Heron Preston (who also partnered with Zellerfeld in 2021); Tokyo-based experimental luxury brand Ambush (whose collaboration included an accompanying NFT); and Kanye West, who introduced a boot at his YZY Season 9 runway show.
  • Caribbean-inspired, Netherlands-founded, Paris-based fashion brand Botter teamed with Reebok for a sneaker in multiple solid colors and two-tone combinations, produced by HP. The shoes debuted at Botter’s Paris Fashion Week show. The design took its cues from the spiral shell of the murex sea snail and incorporates elements of both Reebok’s football boot and Botter’s Banker shoe.
  • British label House of Errors paired with 3D-printed footwear specialist Aliveform, founded in 2022 in Japan, for a sustainably made shoe called the TOPO-01, with a design inspired by melting.

Other designers that have previously been involved in collaborations for 3D printed footwear have ranged from Seth Aaron, who paired with Feetz in 2017, to Stella McCartney, who created 3D-printed shoes in 2019 as part of her long-term partnership with Adidas. Several designers have also experimented with 3D-printed footwear without entering into a collaboration; Dior introduced a 3D-printed version of two models of its Derby shoe this spring, joining luxury designer names such as Chanel and Givenchy in experimenting with not only 3D-printed shoes but eyewear, beauty accessories, and other products.

For the most part, these collaborations are about creativity and produced in limited quantities or even as one-offs. Often inspired by nature or sculpture, they tend to incorporate spaces, bumps, textures, ridges, oversized elements, and/or puffy areas that would be complicated, cost-prohibitive, or impossible to achieve using conventional techniques.

All of the major athletic footwear brands have gotten into 3D printing as well, typically with a technology partner. Most recently, Puma teamed with Porsche on a pair of shoes with a 3D-printed midsole, named the 3D Mtrx sneaker, in two colorways (all black and black and white). A few of the growing list of initiatives in past years have included New Balance pairing with FormLabs in 2019; Nike partnering with HP and Adidas with Carbon, both in 2016; and Converse creating Chuck Taylors with 3D design studio Modla and artist Damilola Odusote in 2014.

The collaborations in the sneaker space are often driven by other objectives than pure creativity, although that can be an element. Customer-friendly goals such as fit, comfort, performance, personalization, and customization tend to be more important and are likely to drive much of the significant innovation in 3D-printed shoes in the future.

For a glimpse of what was happening in 3D printed footwear in 2019, see our past coverage.

If you will be attending Licensing Expo next week and are interested in meeting with Karen Raugust, author of RaugustReports, please contact us. And watch for our detailed recap of trends from the show later this month.

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