Here's what the 'sneaker of the future' will be like, according to a streetwear expert
- Sneaker design is evolving at a rapid pace, thanks to advances in technology like on-demand 3D printing and the ability to adapt organic material like algae into biofibers.
- We talked to designer Jeff Staple - founder of Staple Design and an integral part of the early-aughts streetwear scene in New York - about what we can expect from the "sneaker of the future."
- Staple said to anticipate 100% recyclable shoes with features like built-in health-tracking technology to be the new normal.
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As sneaker design technology continues to become more advanced, sometimes even the most seasoned hypebeast can hardly keep up.
With emerging futuristic features like self-lacing technology and on-demand 3D printing, it can be hard to discern which features are merely gimmick and what has the longevity to redefine the modern sneaker. To help us envision what the sneaker of tomorrow might look like, we turned to designer Jeff Staple, who spent the past two decades shaping the streetwear scene in New York City.
In the early aughts, Staple started his own design studio and opened a retail store called Reed Space on Manhattan's Lower East Side, a site that quickly became synonymous with the growing sneaker culture. In 2005, hysteria broke out in line as crowds clamoured to purchase Staple's rare R4,000 Nike Pigeon Dunks. Today, lines of shoppers descending into chaos to get their hands on the latest designs is commonplace.
See also: These are the most expensive sneakers we could find online in South Africa - including a used pair of Nikes for R29,999
These days Staple runs his eponymous visual communications agency, Staple Design, which provides consultative services to brands like Gap, Levi's, Puma, and Timberland, among others. We talked with Staple to hear his thoughts on the sneaker of the future. Here's what he foresees from footwear in the next decade.
Sneakers will be 100% recyclable
The most preeminent trend on the horizon, Staple said, is the push toward adapting closed-loop technology and total recyclability in sneaker production. Brands like Adidas have been at the forefront of integrating such efforts, with its debut in April of the Futurecraft Loop, a 100% recyclable performance running shoe made using only one material type and eschewing toxic glues.
"Total recyclability is being able to take a shoe and have no waste on it, it's completely closed-loop," Staple said. "You can repurpose and re-grind the shoe fully without a single percentage of waste."
The Futurecraft Loop, which is also made using 3D-printing technology, can be returned to Adidas where "they are washed, ground to pellets and melted into material for components for a new pair of shoes, with zero waste and nothing thrown away," the company said in April.
Still, Staple said closed-loop design is in its nascent stages. The next challenge will be in scaling the process to make it available to a mass audience, given that so far Futurecraft has only been available in limited batches and at prices upwards of R6,000.
Biofibers like algae foam will take centre stage
While materials like ocean plastic have become commonly used in the sneaker world, Staple said next up we can expect to see the rise of shoes made with another type of sea material: algae.
"The next trend after shoes that are printed will be shoes that are grown and shoes that are algae-based," Staple said.
See also: This South African invented an eco-friendly sneaker cleaner that is now in hot demand across the world
While it may be hard to picture a shoe made with algae, companies like Vivobarefoot are already selling styles made with Bloom, an EVA-algae-based hybrid material. In addition to being better for the environment by using natural, organic fibres, "algae could help clean up an industry that's notorious for harmful environmental impacts," Kelly Bastone wrote in a recent Outside magazine feature on Bloom technology.
"Bloom is just a cleaner, better material," Guillaume Linossier, founder of environmentally friendly sneaker company Saola, told Outside. "And its production results in cleaner waterways. To me, it's a double benefit."
Your shoes will track your steps
As consumers continue to adopt healthier lifestyles and experiment with wearable tracking technology like Fitbit, Staple said he believes we'll see an increase in shoes with tracking capabilities.
While companies like Nike and Under Armour have previously offered smart training shoes as early as 2012, these models were more flash-in-the-pan offerings that didn't resonate with consumers, according to technology website Wareable.
"The truth is these smart shoes haven't really ever taken hold," Wareable writer Keiran Alger wrote. "Nike's Training + shoes quietly disappeared not long after the big marketing fanfare had faded, while Under Armour and Altra's connected shoes haven't really made a dent in the traditional shoe space. At least not yet."
But Nike and Under Armour gave shoes with tracking chips another shot when they both rolled out refreshed models in February 2018.
"Even something like a Fitbit or a watch, for as discreet as that is, it's still another thing that you have to put on it," Staple said. "For watch or jewelry fans, if you're wearing a FitBit or Apple Watch, you can't wear your Rolex or Chanel bracelet, too, it's kind of like give or take. So putting it into the shoes is awesome because you're going to be wearing shoes when you go out."
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