The Future of Shoes

The past few years have delivered a technological renaissance in footwear. Nike’s Hyperadapt 1.0 made Back II The Future’s self-lacing sneakers a reality. Adidas’ Futurecraft 4D crafted the most comfortable shoe we have ever seen using 3D printing and. Not being outdone, Reebok’s very own Liquid Factory used 3D printing as well to create its own intricate and visually stunning designs prior to the company debuted a totally recyclable — and entirely unique — apparel line dubbed Cotton + Corn.

So where do you get a pair? Well, that is the tricky part.

Technology might be making men and women’s shoes smarter and trendier but it is also, ironically, keeping them off your toes. However fashionable or modern you believe that your shoes are, it’s unlikely you have worn anything like them. The “Future of Sneakers” has largely yielded overpriced, under produced notion shoes that the ordinary person won’t ever have a chance to lace up – many are just sitting in glass showcases rather than actually being worn. Here is what’s holding them back, and why we may not have to put up with it indefinitely.

Where are those?

Reebok released just 300 pairs of the Liquid Factory shoes in 2016, and has yet to formally announce plans for a re-release. At this time, its position as a one-and-done seems necessarily set in stone.

Nike followed a similar route with the Hyperadapt 1.0, first placing them available in December of 2016 and supplying an unspecified quantity. The footwear giant then placed them back out there in September of the year — yet again in large quantities — and capped off the re-release with no voiced plan of making them widely accessible.

Reebok’s Cotton and Corn shoes are the rarest of the bunch — those do not even have a whiff of a release date to their title. So, what gives?

Sneaker companies know these theories generate hype, but they have not put quite as much thought into how to really produce them. The battles of Adidas’ 3D-printed shoe — the 3D Runner — reveal the issue precisely. Adidas 3D-printed and sold several hundred pairs of these shoes in December of 2016, a complete year after unveiling the Futurecraft 3D, the business’s first 3D-printed shoe.

This limited number of shoes were mostly due to the 3D printing technologies Adidas utilised, which only allowed the manufacturer to construct six midsoles in a time — and took a staggering eight to ten hours merely to 3D print those six midsoles. That translates to a few dozen produced daily; it doesn’t require a business major to know that is not exactly conducive to mass production.

3D printing and other new small manufacturing techniques can make it easier for these organisations to crank out a couple of components for collectors, but they do not translate at all to the factories where the actual work gets done. Until all these brands devise a way to create a pair of next-gen shoes as fast and as cheap as, say, a pair of Jordan’s, you won’t find lots of people donning this sort of footwear in the streets.

Mo’ money, fewer sneakers

Costs for these shoes reflect their rarity. While shoemakers do have a history of jacking up costs however small its manufacturing costs are — let’s not forget the often-expensive resale market, either — this current run of tech-forward footwear is in a league of its own. Therefore, while Nike’s intended price of $720 for your Hyperadapt 1.0 is almost laughable, it is logical. After all, new technologies are rarely cheap.

Adidas has not priced its Futurecraft 4D shoes yet, but a recent Reuters report warns of a looming “unspecified premium cost” on the horizon.

As frustrating as these high costs are, they reflect actual costs of adding technologies. Nike’s Hyperadapt features built-in detectors to detect foot pressure, an integrated engine, and also needs a two-amp mobile battery charger — all so that you won’t need to bend down to physically lace up them. Add to that the regular rubber, leather, vinyl, and foam, and no wonder that the cost is exorbitantly high.

Future hopes

The path forward for shoes is not entirely bleak — there is still plenty of hope for a future that fits in your toes. Like OLED televisions, the technology in these shoes begins expensive, but it is getting cheaper all the time.

In May 2016, Hewlett-Packard introduced the HP Jet Fusion 3D Printing Option, which HP currently uses to assist Nike create 3D-printed men and women’s sneakers. HP promises its new 3D printing machines may print shoe parts almost ten times faster, and at half the cost than traditional 3D printing procedures.

Adidas is also refining production practices such as the Futurecraft 4D, intent on making it cheaper. The business hopes to sell 5,000 pairs this season, but plans to launch a whopping 100,000 pairs next year. The catalyst for its 20-fold growth in manufacturing rests with Carbon, the firm pioneering an innovative 3D-printing process called “digital lighting synthesis” to fabricate components of the shoe. Though Carbon currently prints a midsole within an hour and a half, the company hopes to decrease that time to as low as 20 minutes.

Be patient. These improvements will eventually trickle down to futuristic footwear you are able to afford. Like flat-screen TVs and smartphones, some day we will all be able to manage shoe technology that most of us can only dream about now. So, while some currently have limited release, are wildly overpriced or simply sitting in a glass showcase on display – in time they will be accessible for the average individual.