No matter what line of work you’re in, chances are you wear shoes every single day, whether they are steel-toed construction boots, Birkenstocks, or razor-sharp stilettos. But how often do you stop to think about the actual shoemaking process? Traditional footwear manufacturing is a centuries-old practice that has relied on the same tried-and-true techniques for decades, however, fashion graduate and shoe designer Zoe Jia-Yu Dai is determined to shake things up, and she turned to 3D printing to get the job done.
The talented young designer has released a collection of nature-inspired, high-end 3D printed shoes titled“Breaking the 3D Mould.” Her project seeks to push the physical limits of traditional shoemaking processes and create designs that would be impractical or even impossible to produce with traditional methods such as machining or molding. “It was clear that 3D printing could not only achieve this, but would also allow a large amount of flexibility in the design stage, as well as allowing me to push the limits of design structures,” she told 3ders.org.
The custom-made ladies footwear collection is almost entirely 3D printed, from the heel to the last (the piece that resembles the human foot and determines the shape of the shoe itself). Four 3D software packages were used to create the models, including 3D Studio Max, Rhino, Maya and ZBrush. In terms of printers, the artist used an FDM model for prototyping and an EOS printer for manufacturing the final shoe heels, giving them a superior finish.
Shoemaking is a complicated procedure, and Jia-Yu Dai had to follow five precise steps in order to achieve her desired result. The first stage was to create individual 3D printed lasts using foot scanners to obtain the exact parameters of her clients’ feet. “The shoe last must represent the anatomical information of the foot, whilst at the same time giving the finished shoe a pleasing and fashionable appearance,” she told us.
he second step is to create the shape of the shoes. Jia-Yu Dai began by hand-drawing her designs, reproducing them as 3D models, and then printing prototypes of the heels. Her design inspiration for this collection came from natural structures, such as shell, fossil and bone, she says. “Bone is a crucial part of a creature’s body, supporting their weight in a similar way to a shoe supporting the weight of the wearer.” She also drew inspiration from organic shapes already used in art, such as The Bone Chair by Joris Laarman and the Sagrada Familia by Antoni Gaudi.
The third stage involved creating the shoe upper out of embossed leather. Once again, 3D printing technology was utilized to create and print the embossing stamp. Next came the more traditional shoemaking processes of pattern cutting, stitching the leathers and making the insole and outsole.
Finally, the fifth step was to print the finished heel using an EOS 3D printer, spray-paint it an elegant white, and assemble it to the body. According to Jia-Yu Dai, the most difficult part of this lengthy and detailed process was to create a complex heel structure that could support a person’s weight while also being aesthetically unique. One look at the intricate cage-like shapes and sinuous curves of her heels, and we’d say she definitely succeeded.
‘Breaking the 3D Mould’ was featured at the London College of Fashion LCFMA15 exhibition, however the artist intends to sell the entire collection. “This collection focuses on the high-end, high fashion luxury and custom-made market,” she said, adding that her collection “sets the standards for 3D printed work in fashion.” Thanks to 3D printing, the heels, last, shape, materials and colour are all entirely customizable, and targeting a more high-end market allows the designs to be realized within the budget required for 3D printing with such cutting-edge materials.
Originally from Taiwan, where she graduated from the National Taichung Institute of Technology College as well as The Innovation Incubation Center of International Textile & Fashion Design, Zoe Jia-Yu Dai has since moved to London, which she considers the fashion capital of the world. Following her passion for footwear design, she completed her Master’s from the London College of Fashion in 2014, where she won the Jimmy Choo Award, and has since dedicated herself to combining modern technology, complex design skills and a high level of craftsmanship within the footwear industry.