Material Matters: Sneaker Tech We Need to See in 2019
Re-releasing our retro favourites is cool and all, but progression and innovation are what ultimately keep sneakerheads coming back for more; we’ll take the contemporary and the boundary-pushing over tried and true nostalgia any day. Whether it be with self-lacing kicks or online drops, sneakerheads benefit from progress and advancement as much as anyone. Thankfully for us all, 2019 is looking like it could take things to another level entirely when it comes to footwear.
As the final year of the 2010s kicks into gear, we’re taking a look at some of the tech we hope to see in the months ahead. Sustainable construction? 3D printing? Virtual try-ons? They’re all on our list, and are just a few of the developments we’re hoping for and looking forward to in the coming months.
Peep some of our hopes and dreams below, and let us know what you need to see from footwear tech in 2019.
Green Thumb; Green Toe
Plastic pollution is top of mind for just about anyone who is even remotely environmentally conscious and, thankfully, there are companies like Parley for the Oceans who are doing something about it. Built on its signature A.I.R. strategy of Avoiding virgin plastic, Intercepting plastic waste, and Redesigning new alternatives, the New York—based company has worked wonders with its Ocean Plastic, transforming plastic waste into material that can be used to create a bevy of products — footwear, most notably. For years now, Parley has been joining forces with adidas to craft a ton of kicks with Ocean Plastic — not to mention Three Stripes—branded football kits for clubs like Real Madrid — and the colab has paved the way for other sportswear giants to hop on the nature-centric bandwagon. Nike recently introduced recycled Flyleather, while Reebok dropped eco-friendly designs using a sustainable corn-based compound from DuPont. Hopefully even more environmentally conscious footwear will follow in the months ahead as sustainability becomes even more important for manufacturers.
3D Printing for All
The promises of 3D-printed shoes finally made their way to the masses last year, as adidas ramped up production of its vaunted 4D creations utilising technology from Silicon Valley startup Carbon. Dubbed ‘Digital Light Synthesis’, Carbon’s tech allows adidas to craft midsoles from a pool of resin using light and oxygen, thus negating the need for injection moulding while keeping overall waste to a minimum. Not only could the tech be hugely important in terms of sustainability, but it could prove to be the next step in adi’s move towards a world dominated by on-demand Speedfactory production. Not only could kicks be quickly crafted en masse, but they could be infinitely customisable if 3D printing technology can somehow be harnessed to craft uppers, too. It’s probably a little too much to ask in 2019, but hopefully 3D printing will someday allow us to all be designers responsible for our own truly one-of-a-kind creations.
Futuristic Wearable Tech
Nearly two years ago, designer Clement Fernandes imagined the perfect pair of kicks for interplanetary travel to Mars, taking cues from SpaceX’s efforts and Yohji Yamamoto’s signature aesthetic to design a conceptual Y-3 slip-on for wear on the Red Planet. Utilising nylon construction in conjunction with carbon nanotubes, the imagined design was intended to adjust to the shape of the foot by heating up with wear, thus activating the nanotubes. Added rubber elements on the heel even provided protection from sandstorms, while a multi-density EVA outsole provided resilient cushioning underfoot. While SpaceX may not be sending Y-3-sporting tourists to the Red Planet quite yet, we could use more forward-thinking, out-of-this-world footwear designs, a la Fernandes’s concept and the likes of Tom Sachs’s IRL Mars Yard Overshoe. Modern sock-like knits and energy-returning foams are all good and well, but it’s high time that the envelope was pushed even further.
Alternative Lacing Solutions
With pushing the envelope in mind, we’d love to see more unique lacing solutions out there — something beyond the bungee-style laces that have become increasingly popular in recent seasons. Thankfully this is already being addressed by the Swoosh, as Nike have made good on the long-held promise of the MAG with the introduction of the self-lacing HyperAdapt and this year’s Adapt BB. Kicks don’t need to lace up on their own to switch things up, though: Jordan Brand’s FastFit tech provides one of the coolest solutions out there, as a system of cables can be adjusted with a single tug on a forefoot strap. Even silhouettes like the ISPA React WR are able to provide a twist on the more prototypical options. Kudos to Nike and Jordan Brand, and here’s hoping that more brands take note.
Harnessing Virtual and Augmented Reality
Whether it was limited-edition Kyries via Facebook Messenger, customisable designs at the Swoosh’s NIKEiD Design Studio in London, the celeb-centric unveiling of the Deerupt, or exclusive ComplexCon drops from the Three Stripes, augmented reality has been used sporadically by the footwear giants over the past couple of years, and we’re ready for someone to take things even further. Who wouldn’t love to virtually try on a pair of kicks with a number of different fits in the comfort of their own home? Tech like Uniqlo’s Magic Mirror has allowed wearers to virtually try on jackets in the past, but that experience was exclusive to its flagship brick-and-mortars way back in 2012. In the years since, a number of brands have introduced virtual at-home dressing rooms, but that experience has yet to be available to sneakerheads. Maybe trying on kicks in an augmented reality from your couch could be the next retail game-changer for purchasing sneakers.
Kill The Bots
CAPTCHA only goes but so far. Bots have long been a problem for online drops, and have even forced many retailers to hold in-store only releases for some coveted kicks. Back in 2016, President Obama signed into law the ‘Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act’ in the United States, which makes it illegal for bots to buy more than a specified number of tickets to public events. It’s time that similar legislation be put in place for material goods like sneakers.
Too Much to Ask?
Hopefully this isn’t all too much to ask for in the coming months. In fact, as we mentioned, the groundwork for a lot of what we’re looking for is already there. Who knows, maybe we’ll even get lucky and get a sustainable 3D-printed sneaker with next-gen materials, and a unique lacing system that we can virtually try on at home and cop with ease.