Sourcing At Magic Panel: Caleres Talks 3-D-Printed Footwear

Will consumers soon be printing their own shoes at home? That was the question today at a panel discussion hosted by Callers at the Magic trade show in Las Vegas.

The panel, titled “Innovation in Footwear: 3-D’s Impact on the World of Fashion,” explored 3-D printing innovations and their effects on the footwear industry. It was moderated by Matt Priest, president of the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America (FDRA), and also featured guest speaker Natacha Alpert, senior innovation manager at Caleres.

Priest opened the discussion by expressing a need for the democratization — and commercialization — of 3-D printing in order for the footwear market to fully utilize it. “We’ve seen wacky 3-D printed heels that no one would ever wear, but what’s needed is to take these technologies and turn it into something people would want to wear,” he said.

Adidas Speedfactory Germany
A shoe made with Adidas' Futurecraft 3D-printed midsole technology.
CREDIT: Courtesy of brand.

In order to introduce the technology into the market, Alpert said footwear brands or companies must introduce the idea slowly. “You can’t disrupt an entire industry with 3-D printing. You have to start slow and teach [footwear] designers the right skills,” she said.

The panel referenced brands that are already on the 3-D-printing bandwagon. It included Caleres’ own women’s sneaker line Ryka — which just partnered with Sols on 3-D-printed insoles and orthotics — as well as high-end designer Iris Van Herpen, whose designs have been worn by many celebrities.

Alpert said if companies want to begin utilizing the new innovations, they must alter the way they approach both the design and production process. “It’s a longer process upfront,” she said, “but you’re shortening the development process overall. You can do 10 [footwear] sketches in one day, but you might only be able to do two [or] three 3-D designs.

Iris Van Herpen Fall 2016 Shoes On The Runway
Iris Van Herpen RTW fall '16 runway collection.
CREDIT: Swan Gallet/Fairchild.

She predicted the 3-D-printing market will be worth $8.4 billion by 2020, with a 23 percent growth rate from 2015.

Another issue addressed Alpert addressed was production costs. Though still high, Alpert predicts the process will soon be more accessible — but not too accessible, otherwise consumers won’t want it. “The cost is high right now, but it will go down. It has to be aspirational though,” she said. “Consumers like something a little unattainable.”

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