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Implications and applications

Goal of the project

In a nutshell, the project I'm planning to make has as a goal to design and develop a concept for 3D printed shoes that embraces a classic aesthetic while being completely circular.

  • 3D printed shoes with traditional aesthetic, mimicking the look of classic shoes.
  • Focus on zero waste and circular production. Use of few materials, no adhesives and made for upcycling.
  • Based on traditional shoe making construction methods: several parts attached to each other, applying and learning from shoemaking knowledge.


The project is motivated by 3 main things:

  • Waste issues derived from shoe production. The use of multiple materials and adhesive in current production methods difficults post-consumer recycling.

  • 3D printing opportunities for sustainable production. Fully localized sourcing and manufacturing, plus zero waste and circular business models.

  • Aesthetic gap on existing 3D printed shoes. Most of them stand out because of their futuristic design.

Research questions

When thinking of this project, a few research questions come to mind:

  • What materials, structures, processes and techniques intervene in shoemaking? What could be their analogue in 3D printing and digital fabrication?
  • Can 3D printed materials provide the properties needed for shoemaking?
  • What would the durability and life span of these shoes be?
  • Is it possible to ensure the recyclability of the shoes?
  • How can 3D print materials be enhanced with additives to add new properties to the shoes?
  • What range of sizes/proportions does a single parametric design allow?

State of the art

Since I was sure I'm not the first one thinking about this kind of solution, I went out and looked for other similar projects. I found plenty of 3D printed shoes, but I didn't see a project that integrates both in a way that looks like a classic shoe while providing a clear way to repurpose the materials at the end of the product life.

3D printed shoes competitors

Materials and tools

A variety of materials are tools are needed to develop this project. Both software and hardware skills are involved.

Rhino and Grasshopper

The design can be developed in Rhino, and later on it can be made parametric using Grasshopper. This would allow for easy customization of the shoes to each user.

Flexible TPE filament

The idea is to use TPE as the base material for the whole shoe, and prevent adding any more materials. At least, all the different materials in the shoe should be easy to separate for recycling.

The good thing about TPE is that it can be easily upcycled into new 3D printing filament by shredding it and remelting.

Besides, this material has good properties for shoe making as it is quite resistant to abrasion and wear. It is actually already used in the shoe industry.

I have already had the chance of using the material to create fabric like structures (you can check it out here) so I plan to use that knowledge as a starting point.

3D printer

This is the main hardware tool needed, since it is the one that tranlates TPE filament into a textile-like structure.

The things to take into account are:

  • The particularities of printing flexible filaments. It is preferred to use a printer with direct drive extruder, but I don't have one available, which could limit the complexity of the designs.
  • Build plate size: is it possible to print all sizes? Patterns need to be adjusted for the printer limits.


The main question is how to get rid of glue to attach parts together in a secure way. I'm thinking of experimenting with weaving, interlocking modules and sewing.

It is also important to ensure the construction is robust enough for the application.

Traditional shoemaking

The plan is to learn first about traditional shoemaking and apply that to the project. I don't want to reinvent the way shoes are made, but rather adapt the techniques by using newer tools available and digital fabrication.

So in a nutshell:

  • Methods used will be inspired in traditional shoemaking
  • I want to find analogues in digital fabrication

Available open resources

I have looked for open source tools that could be useful for the project. I found a few:

  • Sole generator. Gensole is a free web tool that generates sole designs optimized for 3D printing.
  • Free 3D printable shoe designs. There are some available in places like Thingiverse.
  • Free shoe last 3D models. As I already used during Textile as scaffold week, there are some 3D models for shoe lasts online.

Parametric design

I am not sure if within the time I have I will be able to tackle parametric design, but it would definitely be a nice one to have. The plan is to use Grasshopper for this since it is a very powerful tool and there is already a lot of material and resources available for it. However, I would also like to check Blender parametric modeling tools, in order to use an open source software if possible.


Circularity and zero waste goals

I key aspect of this project is to provide a better alternative to current footwear, which is so hard to recycle that most materials are lost at the end of the life of the products.

Therefore, my aim is to create a shoe that produces little to no waste during production (thanks to 3D printing) and can be fully recycled to make new products (circular).

It would also be interesting to use recycled 3D printed filament as a starting point for the shoes, to make them even better.


The idea is that old shoes can be shredded and made into new shoes. I know that TPE can be easily recycled, but how can I find the infrastructure to do it? Is it feasible to do this with a partner?

Open source

I would like for the project to be accessible and open source so it can be improved by the maker community. Talking with Cecilia, Ista, Margherita and Bea, I was suggested to think in levels of open source I would like for the project in order to also make it financially viable (if that's what I desire). Perhaps having levels of open source, some content/designs free, some of them paid.

Possible business model

I envision a possible business model for these shoes that allows for circular production and reusing the materials at the end of the product life.

3D printed shoe possible business model

Project timeline

Project timeline

Notes from the review with Oscar Tomico

  • Think about emotional durability of custom made products
  • Check out:
  • Check out: Vibram shoes
  • Check out: Sustainable Fashion Collective
  • Check out:

Comments on my project from Oscar Tomico:

  • Maybe there is a reason why there are not 3D printed shoes with a classic aesthetic. Perhaps there are not users for it, because people that are interested in buying 3D printed shoes want them to have a different aesthetic.
  • Explore materials and construction. My project is mainly about material exploration. What can I create that evokes traditional shoemaking?
  • Don't separate aesthetic from functionality.
  • Case study: make contact with shoemakers and share this idea to them, see how they engage with it.