3D printed shoes: one small step for man, one giant leap for fashion



LJMU’s FabLab takes first steps into fashion with 3D printed shoes featured at the British Style Collective event in Liverpool.

3d printed shoe

With 3D printers becoming ever more commonplace, a future where we’ll be able to print off a new outfit to wear each morning isn’t too far off.

Used widely in a range of industries including medicine, manufacturing and architecture, 3D printers are also being embraced by the fashion industry. Footware giants, Nike and New Balance use the technology to manufacture custom-fit shoes for athletes. Even high fashion designers such as Karl Lagerfeld are employing 3D printing in their collections. The online shoe company, Feetz, has 3D printing at the heart of its business. It has found its niche by creating custom made footware for those consumers who struggle to fit into mass produced shoes available on the high street. Customers take photos of their feet with their smartphone, choose or design their own shoes, and then allow the company’s 3D printers to produce a shoe that perfectly fits the shape of their feet.

At LJMU’s digital fabrication laboratory, FabLab, they have been 3D printing a wide range of items from highly creative pieces with complex geometries to the more practical, as well as plenty of objects that fit into the ‘just because we can’ category. Having been approached by Emma Rodgers, one of Britain’s leading ceramic sculptors, to realise her designs for the British Style Collective event, FabLab has now taken on the fashion world.

3D shoesEmma is probably best known for her part in creating the bronze Cilla Black sculpture that stands outside Liverpool’s Cavern Club. In addition to her passion for sculpting she also has a thing for shoes. Although she can’t quite rival Imelda Marcos collection just yet, she’s trying her best at 1,000 pairs and counting. It makes sense then that her latest project features these wearable sculptures. But they aren't any old high heels. One pair has been 3D modelled with the heel taking the form of Emma’s Liver Bird sculpture. The other pair features the Liverpool skyline built from layered wood using the Lab's laser cutting tool.

Collaborating once again with Emma, having worked with her on several projects in the past, FabLab was prepared for the project with an experienced team on board and state-of-the-art tools and technologies to enable 3D scanning and printing, laser cutting, vinyl plotting, 3D modelling and much more.

Second year Fine Arts student Alexandria White, an intern at FabLab, was tasked with 3D modelling the shoe. One of the challenges Alex and the team faced was getting the materials at the right balance of flexibility and rigidity needed for the shoe to be functional while not losing the detail of Emma’s design. Alex was thrilled to work on such a high profile project with a successful artist:

“This is such an amazing opportunity to work and learn from somebody who has so much talent, especially being a fine artist, it’s great for me to experience another artist’s practice but it also gives me motivation to get one of my first professional models as perfect as I can.”

Being exposed to the new technologies in FabLab and working professionally with clients will help Alex prepare for her future career:

“It has helped me develop my skills in 3D modelling software, as well as my understanding of the possibilities of 3D printing and the other technology in the Lab which are must needed skills for the careers I would like to go into in the future such as prop design or freelance design work.”

Working on the 3D printed shoe at FabLab

Alex, James and Emma designing the Fab shoe based on Emma's Liver Bird sculpture.

FabLab is helping others gain new skills too. Students studying architecture, graphic design and illustration, and fashion are given the opportunity to work on projects for their courses. Plus the Lab opens its doors on Wednesday afternoons for Playtime, a chance for any student to drop in, explore their creativity and experiment with the technology.

Alex was drawn to an internship at FabLab by the creative possibilities:

“It’s a creative space where any idea or concept can come to life in some way. In my Fine Art practice I love making physical things and objects for installation and this is definitely something that the FabLab can make happen. The space allows me to create objects which I sometimes didn’t think were possible due to materials or time.”

3D scanning in FabLab

FabLab Manager, Lol Baker, 3D scans a student in the FabLab.

FabLab has ambitious plans to bring the technology to a wider community. It has recently added virtual reality headsets to its equipment in order to find new ways of working and having reached out to the community of makers including Baltic Creative, DoES Liverpool, Castle Fine Arts Foundry and Constellations, FabLab, as a member of the global FabLab network, is ready to play a part in making Liverpool a Fab City.

Follow FabLab on Twitter to find out more about their work.

If you’re interested in studying on a course which integrates design and technology, why not take a look at the courses on offer at LJMU?



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