It’s April in Ohio, which means that it’s almost time for me to bust out my various flip flops and welcome the warm summer weather! We often hear about 3D printing being used to make athletic shoes and other types of footwear, but the technology has also been put to work producing flip flops and sandals as well. A California company called Impact Footwear recently launched a Kickstarter campaign for its new, eco-friendly, customizable IMPACT F1 Flip Flop, which it’s spent the last 18 months creating using 3D design and 3D printing. Customers can use the company’s 3D design tool to choose their specific insole, midsole, and outsole designs, as well as the foot bed color, interchangeable upper, and the unique lattice type that will best fit their support and activity levels.
This already sounds like a really cool product, but what’s even better is that Impact Footwear’s founder, Craig DeMerit, created it to change the wasteful way consumers tend to think about flip flop sandals.
“For far too long, our consumer culture has bought into the idea that flip flops are cheap, throw away products that do damage to your feet and disposable. There had to be a better way to make a product that hundreds of millions of people buy and wear. Better not just for us, but also for the environment,” DeMerit explains on the Kickstarter campaign page.
“We set out to change the current process where over 95% of the production of flip flops occurs overseas using injection molded plastics and EVA foam. These flip flops are made cheaply and in mass production factories where inventory is then transported across the world contributing to even more pollution. The materials and processes used create a product that ends up in a landfill after a short amount of wear time.“
As 3DPrint.com Executive Editor Joris Peels has mentioned in his Brittle Spear series, a lot of the waste associated with consumerism has become pretty ingrained in our culture, and it will plenty of hard work and ingenuity to break the ongoing cycle of unethical consumption. There are some innovators out there working to create more sustainable footwear, such as LuxCreo, national James Dyson Award winner Rik Olthuis, and now, it seems, Impact Footwear.
The company is using selective laser sintering (SLS) 3D printing to create strong, detailed foot beds for its flip flops, using SLS powdered Pebax® elastomer powder. According to the Kickstarter, this material, designed for high-performance sports wear, is made from the oil of the castor beans grown in India’s Gujarat region. The beans are crushed to produce the castor oil, which is then refined to create the polymer’s primary bio-based raw material.
“The excess powder not sintered is removed from the flip flop and reused in the next batch, producing nearly zero waste of materials,” the Kickstarter page states.
In order to measure the IMPACT F1’s performance response when under pressure, an independent lab mechanically tested its latticed midsoles, which resulted in “four levels of firmness, support, and comfort” that customers can select from to achieve the optimal support and comfort levels for their own heels, toes, and arches.
“Lattice technology is not just incredibly efficient and comfortable, it also looks really cool,” Impact Footwear’s website explains. “With this in mind, we allow you to choose your midsole design separately from the comfort lattices found in the interior of the shoe. It is like having your cake and eating it too!”
The process starts by generating a custom CAD design file, using the company’s easy 3D design tool to choose from over one million unique combinations of insole and midsole styles, colors, and more. Then, the flip flops undergo DyeMansion’s VaporFuse Surfacing process, which continuously circulates eco-friendly VaporFuse Eco Fluid solvent in a closed loop to create sealed, washable parts with surfaces not unlike injection molded ones.
“This enables a sustainable contact-free process without chemical waste,” Impact Footwear explains on its Kickstarter page.
The 3D printed midsole is a closed surface to the flip flop’s interior, which means that if dirt or sand gets into the lattice structure, it’s quick and easy to clean them out using water. Plus, because the foot bed is sealed, you won’t have to deal with that weird, squishy feeling, or an unpleasant smell, once they dry out.
The foot bed and upper of the IMPACT F1 are two separate parts, so you can clean and recycle the former, and switch out the latter if you want a different strap color. Each pair will be shipped with a molded TPU upper, designed and fitted by Impact Footwear for a comfortable fit, but you can also get an ADD-ON fabric upper made of organic, recycled materials that can clip right onto your flip flop.
The IMPACT F1 Flip Flop comes in sizes ranging from a women’s 5 all the way up to a men’s 13, but if your foot doesn’t fit this range, never fear—the company “will provide an alternate upper to address special sizing needs when we have you design your pair,” in order to accommodate everyone.
There are still about two weeks left in the Kickstarter campaign, and plenty of rewards if you’re interested in pledging. For $99, which is 20% less than the planned retail price, you can design your own pair of IMPACT F1 Flip Flops, which includes one set of foot beds and rubber uppers.
I wanted to see for myself just how easy Impact Footwear’s 3D design tool was, so I tried it out on the website, and they’re not kidding: it’s super easy! First you choose your size, and then the style of your insole. What’s really nice is that you can click on one of the eight options to read more about it before choosing; I picked Scattered Traction for comfortable, everyday walking. I chose Weave as my midsole style, and Stones as my outsole style. My sandal color is Slate Black, and the upper is Orchid Mist. You then have a choice of Ultra Compression, Compression Plus, Medium-Impact Firm, and Ultra Firm for your toe, arch, and heel cushions.
My pair of IMPACT F1 Flip Flops is below; what do you think?
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