Stepping into the future with 3D-printed shoes

Stepping into the future with 3D-printed shoes

Put your best foot forward

Text: Zimin Ho

United Nude and 3D Systems have teamed up with five leading designers and architects to add an innovative new kick to ladies footwear

Unveiled at Milan Design Week 2015, 'Re-inventing Shoes' is a collection of 3D-printed shoes curated to push the boundaries of design with cutting-edge technology and novel materials.

United Nude is no stranger to 3D printing. Their popular Float and Coral shoes were made with 3D Systems's Cube printers. This time round, United Nude's 'Re-inventing Shoes' collection has gone beyond mere utilitarian footwear to resemble a stable of conversational art pieces. From experimenting with mesh-like textures to drawing inspiration from fossils of the deep sea, each of the five designs in the collection is visually arresting in their own way.

Zaha Hadid

Zaha Hadid's Flames visually embodies the deadly dynamism of fire. A swooping silhouette embellished with thorn-like 'flames', the piece reflects Hadid's architectural language of abstraction and explosion.

Fernando Romero

Likewise, Fernando Romero's Ammonite is a design that speaks in juxtaposition. While the shoes are created from cutting-edge technology and modern notions of geometry, the final product is mirrored in the very image of nature — a timeless and delicate fossil.

A stylish amalgam of the delicate and the dynamic, these pieces aren't only an exploration of visual elements but also the effects of motion. Shoes are, after all, made for walking and United Nude's 3D footwear doesn't neglect the need for usability. The shoes are as focused on the ergonomics of comfort and support as they are on aesthetics. A newly patented soft rubber material known as thermoplastic polyurethane is used in the shoe uppers for a pliable fit. 

Michael Young's "YOUNG Shoe"

3D-printed shoes aren't just limited to designer footwear. They are already used in orthotic shoes for therapeutic applications and big names like Nike have also jumped onboard the bandwagon with their 3D-printed athletic shoe cleats. Advancements in the world of 3D-printing may completely reinvent how we make shoes. If this technology becomes more accessible, it might perhaps even tease at a new definition of homemade footwear. After all, the ability to print shoes from scratch spells an unprecedented degree of customisation and comfort. We may never have to go through the pain of breaking in new shoes again and that in itself is certainly a step in the right direction.