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Sustainable Shoes

Lead Image Courtesy of Adidas

The designers at Adidas have put their (sneaker) heads together to create sustainable shoes that minimize textile waste by making every thread matter — literally.

Their innovation focuses on the part of a shoe that wraps around the top of the foot, known in the biz as the "upper." Creating uppers usually starts with cutting a pattern out of a piece of textile, which inevitably leads to scraps of fabric getting tossed.

The team at Adidas' innovation incubator, Futurecraft, decided to take a different approach.

"Every single thread is serving a purpose."

Fionn Corcoran-Tadd

Inspired by string art (the weaving of thread between nails to create a pleasing pattern), they built a robot that could create uppers by deftly layering individual threads across a pegboard in a precise pattern. Once heated, the strings then fuse into place.

The result? Sustainable shoes that minimize waste, while simultaneously delivering a better fit to the wearer.

Adidas Futurecraft

Adidas calls both the shoes and the process used to create them STRUNG.

STRUNG is similar to a technique called Primeknit that Adidas has been using to make minimal-waste uppers for nearly a decade now. However, the old machine can only weave threads horizontally or vertically.

The STRUNG robot has no such limitations.

"With STRUNG, for the first time we can program single threads in any direction, where each thread has a different property or strength," Fionn Corcoran-Tadd, an Adidas innovation designer, said.

"Together they form this seamless network of really precise performance zones," he continued. "Every single thread is serving a purpose."

Designing Sustainable Shoes

To figure out where the threads in the upper should go, the Adidas Futurecraft team used motion capture technology to record a pair of runners, who also provided feedback during the development process.

The soles of the sustainable shoes, meanwhile, are the same ones used for another Futurecraft design, 4D, which uses 3D printing to minimize waste.

In the future, Adidas could design different versions of STRUNG to meet the needs of different types of athletes.

It wouldn't take that long, either — Adidas' VP of Design Future Jon Munns told Fast Company that a sneaker designer could map out a new pair of STRUNG shoes in as few as five minutes using their software.

The STRUNG robot, meanwhile, can produce an upper in less than 20 minutes.

That's a faster production time than the Primeknit machine, and the robot itself is cheaper — two factors that could influence pricing for the first STRUNG sneakers, which Adidas plans to launch in early 2022.

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