Step by step, the walk toward sustainability also passes through the footwear industry. This latter is responsible for a dramatic environmental and social impact that involves the entire value chain. The average carbon emissions released in the atmosphere amount to 30 Kgs for each pair of shoes, doubling the effect when it is considered the production of sneakers.
It is important to note that a shoe is usually made of more than 40 different materials. This results in an almost impossible process to disassemble the products in order to recycle and reuse the various components. This makes the footwear industry a real threat to the people and the planet, making it complex the adoption an efficient business model based on the circular economy.
However, many companies are now adopting innovative materials and technological solutions to reduce the footwear impact drastically has on the planet and the people who produce and wear it.
One of the pioneer companies is HILOS, as explained in this interview with the Founder and Chief Executive Elias Stahl.
Tell us a little bit about HILOS and its mission to transform the fashion footwear industry?
HILOS is the result of a team who questioned the way shoes were made in order to do better.
We believe that advances in material science and 3D printing are beginning to profoundly transform where and how we make things in what will be the largest fundamental shift since industrialization. These changes will allow brands to rapidly launch new products into market, only make after a customer buys, and take back when done for complete circularity.
You touched on the concept of circularity. What is circularity, and why is the urgency to transform our current way of producing things to one that is circular?
Footwear is just one of many examples of our extremely wasteful supply chains.
Circularity is the concept of creating products that can be remade into new products at end of life. It is one way to address the unsustainable amount of waste we create. By doing so we can prevent the massive amount of manufactured goods we make every year from ending in a landfill.
One of HILOS’ pillars is “Only What is Needed” – what does that mean in terms of how HILOS makes its shoes?
We believe that product circularity is only half of the equation. Brands still overproduce, spending twenty cents for every dollar on something no one will ever buy. Making things on-demand, only after a product is purchased, can eliminate a fifth of the overall environmental impact while saving the company money, which can then be reinvested in creating a more sustainable, circular product.
The cornerstone of “Only What is Needed” is the use of 3D printing. Can you give us a tutorial on that and why it is critical to reduce the waste in shoe production?
3D printing is similar to 2D printing. It takes a digital file and translates that into a layer of material deposition, in this case, stacked layer by layer, into a 3D object. 3D printers are now advanced enough to print thermoplastics and metals, materials traditionally made into products through expensive tooling and wasteful injection molding. Because these products are made completely new, designers can also print designs that would be impossible to make traditionally through forging and molding.
Footwear is a great example. Today’s shoe is made from a layered construction: different materials glued and bonded together, so you have durability on the outsole, comfort on the insole, etc. This uses up an insane amount of harmful glues and makes it near impossible to recycle.
Will 3D printing ever transform the footwear industry away from one that produces a lot of waste to one that is circular in nature?
It won’t just stop at footwear. While HILOS is initially focusing on footwear because it’s such an incredible example of inefficiency and waste, many markets will be completely reshaped by 3D printing. Apparel and accessories are two others with similar levels of overproduction and waste, high labor requirements, and a massive environmental impact.
Where will HILOS be in 10 years?
How and where we make things has a dramatic impact on our society and our planet. While it’s aspirational, I hope that we have enough confidence in our ability to scale on-demand, zero-waste supply chains that we can start moving from the defense to the offense: not just imaging how to keep our planet under 2C but envisioning how we begin to reverse the damage we’ve done and bring back the biodiversity we’ll have lost.
As humans we’ll never stop imagining or creating – a bird’s got to fly and a fish’s got to swim. Ten years from now my hope is that we’ve broken the relationship between consumption and production and are creating more while making less.