by Jerry ElengicalOct 09, 2021
In a world that finally seems to be coming to terms with the largely wasteful “regularity” of the way we live and the products we use, or of “business as usual”, the latest design innovation is bound to be one that looks at ‘minimisation’ without compromising on aesthetics. Sneature, a completely compostable footwear design innovation using biomaterials, impresses on more counts than one, from its genesis to the material it is built of, to the overall user experience for a potential buyer. The idea for Sneature is born from the life cycle, the final destination, and the post-discarding impact of a regular sneaker. Trainers and sneakers occupy a prime spot among the range of unsustainable apparel that is often discarded after a relatively shorter lifespan. To add to that, the complicated construction and the use of different materials including rubber, textile, and plastics make it nearly impossible and unprofitable to disassemble and recycle a pair of trainers after the wear and tear.
Sneature, designed by Emilie Burfeind, an alumnus of the University of Art and Design Offenbach am Main, Germany, thus looks at implementing and delivering a holistic product design, right from the first knit to what would happen to it when discarded.
Sneature’s design integrates both functional requirements of a trainer and individual customisation by the user. “The focus was on the use of natural, renewable raw materials, the integration of functional requirements for a shoe, the possibility of individual customisation to the user, on-demand production with the lowest possible energy consumption and biodegradability of the products after their use,” states an official release on the innovation at each of the stages of design. In order to approach the problem and conceptualise a solution, a fundamental factor for the ecological properties of every product, its material, was examined. The design is based on a series of material experiments with natural raw fibres after it was segmented into functional and structural areas: the membrane, the sole, and the transition between them.
The membrane, the integrative core of the shoe, is constituted of a protein based 3D knit known as Chiengora, derived from a yarn made of shed dog hair. Owing to the material properties, the shoe is lent additional flexibility, stiffness, and air circulation through a “second skin”, apart from water absorption and anti-staticity. The sole is composed of mushroom mycelium cultivated in a mould, and is stated to be a DIY material that can be produced at home or in a Makerlab. As a material, mycelium has proven to be effective, structurally even, as a sturdy building material, a testament to the rigidity of the shoe’s base, while being compositely cultivable from something as commonplace as even vegetable compost.
The transition from the membrane to the sole is formed by a thin layer of flexible bio-rubber or bioplastic. The junction between the two is highly susceptible to tearage and seeping of water or moisture, but Sneature’s transitional layer accounts for water-repellent properties against external water or internal moisture that may seep in from below, thus protecting the membrane in areas that quickly wear out. The sole is attached to the transition area and serves as cushion and protection against rapid abrasion of the other parts of the shoe, in order to extend the lifespan of the product.
For the ‘face’ of the shoes, the integration of the 3D knitting technology, enabling computer aided designs to be transferred to a piece of clothing seamlessly, provides the opportunity for both individual customisation and on-demand production, utilising remarkably lower energy levels vis-à-vis other industrial production processes. Through a literal minimalism displayed in limiting the overall material count of the product to only three, a significant reduction in the thickness, breathability, and weight of the shoes is achieved. For additional comfort, pedobarographic measurements of the foot pressure during walking were also taken into account, along with the physiological conditions of the foot. Resultant, the slip-on sock shoe’s sole is subdivided into three distinct sections, capturing the foot’s pressure points and enabling additional bending at the base without tearing. An additional insole further stabilises the ankle as well as the sides of the foot.