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Q&A: Foundry Exec on 3D Digital Shoe Design’s Economic, Eco Savings

Covid created an impetus for fashion firms to move to more realistic digital design, as teams scrambled to adjust to remote working.

Beyond the necessities of the pandemic, adopting 3D rather than 2D tools is a means to save time and money in product development. According to Ken Malfi, account-based marketing manager—design at visualization software company Foundry, the typical 18-month lead time for footwear includes 11 months of designing and sampling. By using 3D models and virtual prototyping, this process can be shortened to just two months, resulting in halved lead times. He also estimates that the financial and environmental costs during the design phase can be reduced by 90 percent.

Not all 3D software is the same, and Foundry is aiming to make footwear design speedier and simpler. The company’s Enterprise Solution Partnership, which includes 3D design tool Modo and 2.5D tool Colorway, is outfitted with footwear tools including digital lasts and shoe-specific workflows.

Ken Malfi Foundry
Ken Malfi, account-based marketing manager at Foundry Courtesy

“The beauty of Modo is that you can build anything your imagination can conjure. This means that you are truly only limited by your imagination,” Malfi said. “That said, spending hours making every workflow bespoke to your current project is not very time efficient. Artists want to jump into the cockpit of a tool like Modo and know that it is customizable in their projects.”

Foundry’s footwear solutions have attracted customers including New Balance, Under Armour and Keen Shoes.

Sourcing Journal spoke to Malfi about the state of digital design in footwear, making the switch from 2D to 3D and the potential for eliminating physical samples.

SJ: How would you describe the current progress report for digital design adoption and proficiency in the footwear business? What impact has Covid had on companies’ attitudes toward virtual design tools?

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KM: We have seen a renewed interest in digital product creation this year. With the pandemic hitting, and most design teams working from home, significant gaps were discovered in how designers collaborate. Most of the existing collaboration structure revolved around geography—you had to be in the same space to work together effectively. But the pandemic put that old model on its ear. I heard stories of companies that had to ship a physical sample to one designer’s house, and once they looked at it, they shipped it to the next designer, and on it went until everyone got a chance to see it. Very inefficient! With a new, more distributed workforce now the norm, design teams need to collaborate seamlessly. Digital product creation is the perfect set of tools to meet the challenge.

Foundry Modo Bezierr Tool

SJ: If footwear firms are currently designing in 2D, why should they make the switch from 2D to 3D?

KM: Many times, the barrier for 2D teams to adopt 3D workflows can be high. Most designers already have a full workload, and trying to learn 3D software can prove challenging. That is why the adoption of our 2.5D rapid iteration tool, Colorway, has proven to be invaluable in our clients’ digital transformation journey. Most 2D designers can pick it up in a couple of hours and start iterating on their designs. In this way, most of your team does not need to become 3D competent right away. They just need one or two designers to learn 3D, or outsource it. The rest can use those 3D models in Colorway to rapidly iterate on color, texture and material to discover their final design.

SJ: Even with 3D tools in place, many companies still create at least one physical prototype. Is it possible for companies to develop 3D models that actually eliminate the need for physical prototypes, and how could they accomplish this?

KM: Most of the clients I have spoken to don’t imagine being able to let go of the final physical sample when designing a product for the first time. And to a large extent, I understand that. They need to verify that the color is truly the color they picked. They need to feel the texture of the leather or suede or touch and test the rubber of the sole.

Once a product is made, and only seasonal updating is required, no physical samples need to be involved. With 3D modeling tools like Modo and 2.5D iteration tools like Colorway, you can see your updates in any context imaginable. With true 3D lighting and photo-realistic renders, you can see what your product will look like on the retailer’s shelf, in a mall, on the street, or even online at Amazon or Instagram. You never have to produce another physical sample again.

Foundry digital footwear design

SJ: What would be the sustainability benefit of switching from physical to virtual prototypes?

KM: The environmental savings of switching to digital product creation are enormous. For every physical sample created, 15 pounds (6.8 kilograms) of greenhouse gases are pumped into the atmosphere. Let’s say, as an example, a company typically produces 100 samples for each product each year—also think physical samples for the sales cycle. That would be 1,500 pounds of carbon emissions (680 kilograms) per shoe. That is a lot of greenhouse gas emissions! And for what? Just for these shoes that are viewed and handled a few times and then tossed into a bin—or worse, a landfill. With digital product creation, those greenhouse gases are almost entirely eliminated. That is a considerable saving to the environment.