Proposing a cradle-to-cradle approach to fashion footwear creation, construction processes, materials and product life-cycle have been examined and re-designed. Icica wedge relies on the principles of modular construction and mechanical grip to replace glue. The result is a striking shoe with components which can be separated (for recycling/biodegrading) post-consumption.
Prototype manufacture sponsorship: Y-3 adidas, Natureally Organic Leather, Studio Van der Graaf. Photographs: David Abrahams Animation Rendering: LCF Fashion Digital Studio.
This was an instant winner for all of us in this group. We loved the consideration for after life of the product, the design sense, and the presentation of the concept from initial idea to fruition. We all looked forward to seeing this in the market place, and all the iterations that could come from it. The only critic for this was the name "euphemia" it didn't relate to us. All in all it was a shining example of considered design.
1. Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the challenge posed to you? Did it get you excited and why?
Inspired by the seminal text “Cradle-to-Cradle” and as a response to the issue of throwaway fashion and disposable consumer-culture, Euphemia is a proposal for a “sustainable” fashion footwear solution designed for my university final year BA Footwear Design course at London College of Fashion. The self-set brief was to learn and demonstrate use of CAD/prototyping I observed as an intern at adidas, utilizing it in development of a unique “sustainable” product concept and brand. Also to explore digital communication, with creation of a product animation, editorial, blog and twitter presence.
I was hugely excited to devise and complete my first own project, viewing it as a chance to establish my design identity, prove myself as a designer and launch my career. A quiet environmentalist, I am passionate about the role I believe designers play in determining how and why the earths resources are used in products. My goal was to create something aesthetically beautiful whilst shifting the boundaries of what sustainability can mean. I hoped to demonstrate it should be more than marketing, instead integral to design practice and exemplified in brand and product.
I proposed that that to be truly more sustainable, the footwear life-cycle must be re-examined: A shoe by nature is an amalgamation of materials and processes, typically utilizing materials which are environmentally-damaging to create (e.g. leather, plastics) which pose a real challenge for recycling/disposal. My task was to re-evaluate each stage of development - from material creation to end-product disposal - and design a better alternative.
2. What point of view did you bring to the challenge? Was there anything additional that you wanted to achieve with this project or bring to this project that was not part of the original brief?
Primarily I wanted the project to be forward-thinking, original and genuinely relevant to industry. I wanted to propose a viable, commercial and appealing solution to the problem of a lack of sustainability in footwear. I completed a range involving 3 new constructions, the wedge “Icica” chosen for prototyping being the most distinctive.
I also wanted to create as many opportunities for employment and direct opportunities for the project as possible. I approached it as a genuine business proposal, considering that on the basis of industry feedback I could potentially launch a brand. I also felt sustainable materials in a footwear context could be explored more thoroughly, and that the project could lead into a life-cycle/material investigation.
Sourcing a more ethical alternative to conventional leather was a final goal. Many “ethical/sustainable” footwear brands substitute plastic-based alternatives for leather, but following research into alternatives and original consumer feedback, the key finding was that the consumer values leather. Having researched leather-creation and the unethical treatment of many animals/environmentally-damaging tanning processes, I felt Organic leather (meat from organically raised animals) posed an opportunity. I approached and gained sponsorship from Natureally, then the only certified Soil Association Organic leather tannery in the world, where animals are traceably raised and slaughtered according to strict British Soil Association Organic Standards, and hides tanned using vegetable tanning processes (as opposed to chrome tanning) in a tannery TUV-certified free of harmful substances. Though restricted to 6 colours, and at significantly higher cost, I felt this was an important step.
3. When designing this project, whose interests did you consider? (Discuss various stakeholders, audiences, retailing, manufacturing, assembly, distribution, etc., for example.)
Designing the brief, I considered the skills I wanted to demonstrate as a footwear design graduate. Coming from a fashion institution teaching traditional leatherwork and footwear hand-making skills, I wanted to show I was forward-thinking, aware of the wider industrial design community and have skills applicable to companies I aspire to work for: those working on research and development and/or producing innovative products and who typically recruit industrial designers. I needed to demonstrate a professional level of: CAD-literacy, understanding of design and development processes, lateral thinking, ability to learn new skills, trend-prediction, experience of commercial manufacturing processes, market-knowledge, ability to identify and engage consumers, ability to product original high-quality work under pressure, and ability to demonstrate innovation in a commercial context.
I also had to consider the university’s pass criteria.
Finally I approached the project as a business proposal for an eponymous luxury brand, considering the luxury fashion industry as the target market, designing to proposed goals for sustainability and personal ideals as brand-creator. Based on research and internship experience with growing successful luxury footwear brand Nicholas Kirkwood, I devised a brand equity and business development model. Strategy focused on a London-based launch, with separate wholesale and retail approaches, aiming to enter the market via established luxury retail channels simultaneously to own-retail. Wholesale development was the primary focus, proposing European manufacturing, sourcing from select suppliers and aiming to establish an end-of-life programme. Packaging utilises recycled materials and would potentially involve shipping of product as modular components rather than complete shoes.
4. Describe the rigor that informed your design. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) If this was a strictly research or strategy project, please provide more detail here.
1. Materials, manufacturing and product-life research, including:
Industrial internship experience including adidas AG, Nicholas Kirkwood, and a small London bespoke shoe factory.
Consultation of industry experts including material and manufacturing experts at adidas AG, The Institute of Minerals, Mining and Materials, University of the Arts London, The Centre for Sustainable Fashion, Lineapelle trade fair, NNFCC, The Materials Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) and various plastics-industry representatives at Ecopack packaging fair 2010 (Birmingham).
Materials-specific publications and web-research e.g: Footwear Science Journal, articles from “Advances in Life Cycle Engineering for Sustainable Manufacturing Businesses..”, Thesis: “Leave no trace : can the use of bioplastics within textiles create a sustainable material future?” , etc.
2. Footwear/ Luxury/Fashion/Organic/Sustainable trend, consumer and market research:
Publications, Journals and Web articles: e.g. Mintel, WGSN, Business of Fashion, Drapers..
Two original consumer surveys carried out in London in September 2009. Sample groups were Organic Meat Purchasers, and Luxury Goods Consumers. Surveys aimed to establish footwear buying habits, opinions of “ethical” fashion/footwear, reasoning for Organic meat consumption and potential opportunity for Organic Leather.
24 hour consumer snapshot. 3 luxury survey participants agreed to take a disposable camera and photograph their belongings over a 24-hour period. Resulting photographs were used to compile a consumer profile.
LCF Webinar and informal interview involving Martin Raymond (The Futures Laboratory, Viewpoint Magazine) Tony Glenville (CMB, Vogue, Harpers) Jane Kellock (WGSN, Topshop).
3. Business strategy and brand creation research:
Industrial internship experience with new luxury footwear brand Nicholas Kirkwood led to development of a brand equity model and logistics proposal.
Web, Journal, and Written Publications e.g.: “The Luxury Strategy: Break the rules of marketing to build luxury brands” (Bastian & Kapferer 2009), “Entreprenuership Strategy” (Gundry & Kickel 2007) etc.
4. Visual design inspiration:
Gallery exhibitions and collected primary images/articles including V&A Cold War Modern Exhibition, adidas footwear samples..
Various Design publications and online sources e.g. ID, Purple Magazine, Dotum, Surface, Grey Magazine etc.
5. What is the social value of your design? (Gladdening, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, labor-mindful, environmental, cultural, etc.) How does it earn its keep in the world?
Pursuing the ideal of a cyclical product life-cycle, the Icica prototype aims to be paradigm-shifting, demonstrating that by re-thinking the design, development and manufacture of footwear, negative environmental impact can be reduced without compromising aesthetics. Contribution to social value is thus a core part of design ethos, considered at all aspects of development, from materials-creation to manufacture, to post-consumption disposal.
The modular Icica construction allows different materials to be combined in a shoe and then separated for recycling/biodegrading. Materials testing and implementation of an end-life programme is the next step, establishing a programme for re-collecting and recycling materials, or adopting materials which can be recycled in the mainstream. Testing is required for each new material adopted, aiming for maximum reuse and potentially working with a recycling firm. The use of bio-based plastics as opposed to petroleum-based is another step, though more in-depth analysis of materials needs completing before the product is brought to market.
Strict sourcing is imperative, producing as ethically and ecologically as possible. Manufacture is European and ethical, producing for the luxury market and utilizing skilled craftsmen. The use of organic leather is key to more ethical production of leather. Likewise replacing exotics with fish/ostrich means hides are a meat industry by-product and supplied by Atlantic leathers, the tannery is run on hydroelectricity and naturally heated geothermal water. Organic cotton organza is used in one upper. Trims are off-cuts.
Materials in packaging are recycled unbleached card and embossed where branded, with shoe-bags made from organic brushed cotton.
6. If you could have done one thing differently with the project, what would you have changed?
Asked for help from my sponsor adidas sooner, which might have allowed further development of the pinbed mechanism. We had one week to complete the CAD and RP of the pinbed and wedge which meant there was no room for significant design development. Certain pins are too small and long which is not ideal and posed a big problem during manufacture as I only had access to silicon moulding for the bioresin wedge and RP for the pinbed. Silicone did not allow for the fine tolerances required in small parts fitting together and meant that the pinbed and wedge do not fit together as some of the holes in the wedges moved during moulding. In the end I produced a “pinbed” with only the prongs used to secure the grips through the wedge. Though this works to demonstrate the concept and successfully holds the shoe together, it’s not a resolved design. Neither the resin nor plastic used in the pinbed and wedge are wearable and had I been able to develop these parts earlier I might also have been able to gain sponsorship from a manufacturer who could have produced wearable working prototypes.
I might also have been able prototype my other 2 constructions or to explore the locking mechanism of the shoe itself more, feeling that locking the parts together with screws through the grips is a bit crude. The idea of a system of barbs on the “pins” was an option but required much more time to develop.