The footwear industry churns out 23.4 billion pairs of shoes annually in a global supply chain that is responsible for 1.4% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. One designer’s solution? Make your own shoes from upcycled fabric.
While most DIY fashion projects tend to result in objects that are not very fashionable (just take a look at my homemade scarf collection), Polish designer Iga Węglińska wants to equip people with the tools to make fashionable products at home using everyday materials and simple techniques. She has designed a simple sneaker silhouette that has a modern aesthetic but also looks classic and timeless enough to wear for years, even as trends come and go.
Węglińska, who is based in Krakow, serves as the head of fashion design at the Academy of Art in the Polish town of Szczecin. She received a grant from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of Poland to develop a series of three DIY fashion objects—a ring, a sweater with a reflective panel, and a pair of shoes—whose design would be open source, available for anyone to download using links on her website.
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When it came to the shoes, Węglińska went back to basics. The shoe has just two components: a sole, made from EVA foam, and an upper, which can be made of either leather or felt. Węglińska points out that you don’t need to use new fabrics; you can upcycle any of the materials you might have lying around at home. “The project combines the world of industrial design with the world of apparel design, art with craft, tradition with modernity,” she says on her website.
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Constructing the shoe is surprisingly simple, according to the instruction manual, which is available in both English and Polish. You can print out the forms to make the shoe on a regular printer. Węglińska has created the forms for a size 38 (or 5.5 in U.S. sizes) but she has made it easy to size up by increasing the proportions on the printer. You then need to cut out the forms on paper, which will help guide you as you cut out the pieces for the upper out of fabric and the sole out of plastic. Finally, all you need to do is sew the pieces of the upper together using a thick needle and use fabric glue to put the sole together. You can do the whole process by hand, if you want. However, if you happen to have access to a 3D printer, these instructions can be used to print the pieces directly out of the materials.
The whole process is deliberately simple and straightforward, but the end result is anything but basic. That is thanks to Węglińska’s clever use of proportions. The upper consists of swaths of fabric layered on top of one another in an architectural way. It’s a look that hearkens back to Medieval shoes in Europe, which also consisted of layers of fabric sewn together. But it also takes cues from simple, hyper-modern sneakers, like Yeezy’s. “They are a combination of traditional shoemaker’s methods with new technologies,” she says.
The world is already beginning to see the devastating impacts of climate change. If we’re to avert even further disaster, we need to radically rethink our conspicuous consumption, and this means coming up with creative new alternatives to the status quo. While not everyone will be up for building their own shoes from scratch, Węglińska’s project inspires us to reconsider our shoes altogether. What if shoes were designed more simply and from fewer materials, so they could be taken apart at the end of their life cycle and recycled more easily? What if designers created shoes from recycled materials? What if consumers better understood how shoes were built, so we felt more confident about repairing them ourselves?
“The method (with these shoes) was deconstruction,” Węglińska says. “Not only of the shoe, but also of the way we think about the shoe.”