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Former Head of Yeezy-Adidas Innovation Lab Launches 3D Printed Footwear Studio with $6M Investment

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FCTRY LAb, a Los Angeles-based 3D printed footwear prototyping lab and venture studio, has launched, and in the process, is announcing a $6 million initial tranche of private equity investment. FCTRY LAb was founded at the beginning of 2022 by venture capitalist Abhishek Som, and Omar Bailey, the former head of Yeezy-Adidas Innovation Lab.

Yeezy Supply 3D printed boots. Image courtesy of Zellerfeld

As the Yeezy brand has made headlines for many other things these past couple of months, anyone could be forgiven for losing track of how integral additive manufacturing (AM) has been to the design innovation and supply chain management of both Yeezy and Adidas. Nevertheless, it would be easy to argue that it is precisely that aspect which once made the partnership between the two brands so harmonious, no matter how acrimonious the split ultimately was.

Stratasys’ J850 TechStyle 3D printer. Image courtesy of Stratasys

In the press release announcing the fundraise and launch, FCTRY LAb emphasizes that by being based in the US and using 3D design and AM production methods, the company can get product development done four to eight times faster than the industry norm. The press release also mentions Stratasys as a partner, and FCTRY LAb appears to use the stalwart AM brand’s textile printing platform in its rapid prototyping services.

There are plenty of reasons why the footwear market has benefited so much already from AM, and why it seems poised to benefit even more in the very near future. The most frequently cited advantages that footwear manufacturers can realize from incorporating AM into their business models include reduced carbon emissions, materials saved, and the ability to provide more personalized sizing to customers.

Co-founders of FCTRY LAb, Omar Bailey and Abhishek Som. Image courtesy of FCTRY LAb

Beyond those factors, though, there is the simple fact that footwear brands need to be able to adapt the styles of their product lines much more quickly than is currently the norm. This has been evidenced by the very fallout from Adidas’ severing ties with the Yeezy brand, but it is not a problem unique to Adidas. There is no accounting for taste, but apparel companies still have to constantly fight that losing battle. AM, however, has made that job at least a little bit easier, as the design process can now respond more quickly to consumer demand, while also giving suppliers much more precise control over inventory.

A company like FCTRY LAb streamlines that process even further, as it makes the prohibitive expense required to take advantage of technological advancements accessible to people who have little capital, but big ideas. And $6 million is an impressive haul amid the most volatile investor environment in years, combined with tangential associations to controversy that would likely give many otherwise eager backers pause.

Even more impressive are the names that the company dropped as being part of its investor list. In addition to the West Coast Head of private equity giant Warburg Pincus, FCTRY LAb also touts receiving funds from “a consortium of NBA & NFL stars via Chicago based Aurelian Capital.” With that latter group represented, it seems to be more or less a guarantee that, in 2023, we will see at least one pro sports star market their own signature 3D printed sneakers directly to consumers. Finally, that, itself, will serve as merely a test case for the underlying business model in general: the potential for 3D printed, celebrity-endorsed merchandise is only as limited as the American consumer’s demand for parasocial interaction. and SmarTech Analysis are hosting Additive Manufacturing Strategies in New York City on February 7-9, 2023. Register for the event here to learn from and network with the most exciting companies and individuals in AM.

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