It’s a lot easier to recycle a shoe made from one kind of plastic than it is to recycle one made up of more than 60 different parts. That’s why designer Ammo Liao created the Bio-Knit shoe, which you can toss into the recycling bin as if it were a disposable water bottle.
To make the Bio-Knit shoe, one single material is woven and heated to form the upper, laser-etched to form the inner and 3-D printed to create the sole. In the same way that paper can be stiff cardboard or a flexible, tough shipping envelope, Liao’s woven polymer can be heated to change its physical properties.
Already, Adidas and Nike are experimenting with knitted shoes, both to save waste during manufacture (knitting doesn’t produce offcuts) and to make them more comfortable. But Liao goes one better with his heat-treating technique.
Liao’s uppers are knitted on a 3-D knitting machine and then treated to stiffen the various parts of the shoe as needed. In the video, you can see that it looks a lot like ironing a shirt. Heat changes the stiffness of the threads, so you could have a semi-rigid heel, but a soft, sock-like texture elsewhere. Lace eyelets can be set hard by spot heating, and patterns can be added the same way.
If you ever cut a plastic rope and sealed the end hard with a flame, you know how this works.
It also impressive to see that a one-person shop can compete, technologically anyway, with the big players, and I dig the homemade vibe of the knitted prototypes, kind of hi-tech meets handicraft. It also seems that you could effect your own repairs fairly easily, sewing and patching holes in a way not possible with leather or composite sneakers.