The idea of a recyclable shoe knit from plastic is something the footwear industry has fast been approaching, but few would have guessed that the designer who developed it would still be a student. Nike and Adidas paved the way for this innovation, but UK-based Ammo Liao, a recent graduate of the Royal College of Art’s Innovation Design Engineering program, is taking the process to the next level.
Liao invented Bio-Knit, a knitted shoe made of a single plastic material that can be easily recycled. The inspiration behind the shoe came from a field called biomimetics, which has recently entered the dialogue surrounding sustainable design. Biomimicry seeks to create answers in design through studying nature’s patterns and strategies.
Liao has applied this science to his Bio-Knit shoe. He explained, “Through textile biomimicry, a single material can provide multiple functions, simultaneously displaying soft, flexible and robust textures.”
To create the shoe, Liao uses a 3-D knitting machine to create the upper, which is then heat pressed to create areas of greater strength in the heel and toe. The insole of the shoe is also knit and then laser-engraved, and the sole of the shoe is 3-D printed. The entire shoe is made from one plastic material that is completely without composites, reducing the recycling cost required for multi-material products.
Liao explained the importance of introducing biomimicry into footwear design. He said, “330 million pairs of shoes are sold in the UK every year. However, a pair of shoes takes over 50 years to decompose in a landfill and has 65 discrete parts and 360 making processes.”
He says the reason more designers have not worked with new materials is cost and how it affects the price of their product. However, with the growing awareness surrounding the effects of fast fashion, this may be a price consumers are willing to pay.
The shoe is not yet available on the market, but Liao has begun working with factories and design studios and plans to work through the shoes’ development through a fundraising platform like Kickstarter. He intends to experiment with the shoe design to provide functional structures for different uses. In addition to launching sneakers, he plans to launch other products created with the Bio-Knit design process.