The materials science brand Pangaia is teaming with 3D-printed sneaker company Zellerfeld on a shoe it says can be melted down and fully recycled at end of life.
The partners’ made-to-order Absolute Sneaker replaces the multitude of components that typically make up a shoe with a single material: thermoplastic polyurethane, or TPU. The “ultimate goal,” Pangaia said, will be to develop a renewable material that reduces waste and does not rely on fossil fuel-derived inputs.
The pilot further tackles waste by using Zellerfeld’s 3D-printing technology to manufacture shoes on demand, eliminating excess inventory that might otherwise end up incinerated. The Absolute Sneaker represents Pangaia’s first foray into made-to-order footwear production, it said.
“With the Absolute Sneaker, Pangaia has created a shoe that not only prioritizes sustainability, but is also the lightest and quickest to print, setting a new standard for what’s possible in printed footwear,” Zellerfeld CEO and co-founder Cornelius Schmitt said in a statement. “Our hope is that this partnership inspires others to join the mission towards a circular future and to recognize the potential that 3D printing holds in revolutionizing the way we create products.”
Pangaia and Zellerfeld’s Absolute Sneaker is scheduled to debut Thursday and will retail for $250. Customers who return the product at the end of its usable life will receive a $30 voucher toward a future purchase. Zellerfeld currently lists 18 unique footwear silhouettes on its e-commerce site, each of which is 3D-printed, made-to-order and “fully recyclable.” They range in price from $250 to $370.
Pangaia, a frequent team player in the sustainable fashion space, unveiled the results of another collaboration, this one with Natural Fiber Welding, just last month. The Pangaia Air-Gilet, a black alt-leather vest lined with organic cotton fleece, marked the first garment to use NFW’s plant-based ersatz cowhide. Earlier this year, Pangaia debuted an oversized denim jacket it had created with the circular textile firm Evrnu.
The company described this week’s Zellerfeld collab as “the first step of working hand in hand” with the footwear brand. Pangaia praised its partner’s technology, saying it has the potential to “disrupt some of the oldest and entrenched incumbents in the consumer goods industry” and that it “signals a seismic shift in the footwear industry and market as a whole.”
“This partnership with Zellerfeld focuses on our waste reduction research pillar, due to the efficiencies gained through this innovative printing process which supports our exploration into process innovation within Pangaia,” Pangaia director of research and development Craig Smith said in a statement. “The goal here is to pair both material and process innovation in such a way that it transforms the typical product supply chain.”
Zellerfeld is not the only brand looking to perfect the recyclable shoe. In March, the French footwear brand Salomon introduced the Index.02, the follow-up to its 2021 Index.02. Changes to the design made it 25 grams later, more comfortable and easier to disassemble at the end of its life cycle, Salomon said. Unlike the Absolute Sneaker, it utilizes two materials: a recycled polyester mesh upper and a TPU midsole and outsole. The two parts are recycled separately.