Vivobarefoot sets sights on 3D-printed compostable and recyclable shoes

Image: Courtesy of Vivobarefoot

Vivobarefoot has been prototyping 3D-printed footwear since 2019. Brand co-founder Asher Clark previously called the development of a 3D-printed shoe “an obsession”. The process involves 3D-printing the harder parts of the shoe such as the sole, then 3D-knitting the upper.

The idea is that by making shoes to measure, less material is wasted and product longevity is likely enhanced due to the shoes fitting the wearer perfectly. This translates to reduction in energy use and greenhouse gas emissions across the product value chain.

Vivobarefoot is already in the process of developing a 3D-printed footwear hub in the UK and plans to follow this up with locations in Germany and the US. These hubs will take customer foot scans and order details, using them to create made-to-order, made-to-measure shoes.

Through its new partnership with Balena, Vivobarefoot is aiming to create these 3D-printed shoes made with material that is compostable and recyclable. Balena will use its ‘BioCir flex’ material to this end. This material includes at least 50% bio-based content but there is little information publicly available on which feedstocks are used. edie has requested further details.

BioCir flex  is designed to mimic the qualities of thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) in terms of flexibility and durability. It is certified as compostable and is technically recyclable too.

Prototypes of shoes made using BioCir flex are being developed at present. Vivobarefoot and Balena will assess the possibility of scaling this system so that customers can purchase these shows if the pilots are successful.

VivoBarefoot’s Clark said: “The world doesn’t need new shoes. We need a new system and new materials.”

Almost 24 billion pairs of shoes are made globally each year. Only 20% of the shoes thrown away each year are recycled or reused, meaning most are dumped, landfilled or burned.

Banela’s founder David Roubach said that there “is a need to advocate for a clearer circular economy model with a fundamental change in the materials we use” to reduce waste in this sector.

Related article: Allbirds touts world’s first net-zero carbon shoe

Related article: Adidas and Inditex among brands piloting closed loop footwear recycling scheme

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