From 3D printing to robots that are changing the way shoes are made, 2016 was the year footwear got tech-y.
3D printing technology got plenty of lip service from the industry this year, and in some cases much more than that. Adidas, for instance, released its first commercially available 3D printed shoe, as did rival New Balance. Even non-athletic shoe companies, like People Footwear and Ryka, got in on the action.
Adidas’ Reebok unit also gave a sneak peek of the future with its own Liquid Factory, which utilizes state-of-the-art software and robotics to literally draw shoes in three dimensions. Nike, meanwhile, has been slower to the 3D race, but announced a key partnership with HP, the popular printing company, which would expand its 3D printing capabilities.
3D technology was also a driving force in transforming retail in 2016. DSW announced a partnership with Feetz, which will bring 3D printed footwear to its stores. Online megaretailer Amazon is also looking at the technology for use in selling shoes online in the hopes that it will help reduce customer returns.
3D tech even holds the potential to change the entire footwear manufacturing chain, pushing footwear closer to home and revving up speed to market.
“We are on the cusp of a kind of revolution that may drive production back to the United States,” said FDRA President Matt Priest in August.
Adidas has been the most aggressive on this front, pushing new technology with the opening of its first robot-enabled Speedfactory in Ansbach, Germany last year. The facility is already being used to manufacture innovative shoes made of recycled ocean plastic and naturally degradable Biosteel fibers.
Nike is also betting on a more local future. The company announced a new strategic partnership with affiliates of Apollo Global Management to create a new supply chain company designed to greatly enhance regional manufacturing capabilities in North America. Whether 3D factors into this remains to be seen.
But when it comes to innovations in how shoes are bought, it will once again be consumers who drive most of the change. New studies are showing shoppers are less averse to buying footwear online, and are more comfortable using apps to make purchases.