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Yes, I want a pair of these 3D-printed shoes

3D printing, or additive manufacturing, is often referred to as the next industrial revolution. And we are certainly seeing it creep into the mainstream economy in meaningful ways. You can soon buy a 3D-printed home for under $99,000, and already you can buy a home in the world’s largest 3D-printed community. We also now make bridges using additive manufacturing, which in this case in Amsterdam, was prefabricated off site and craned in.

Many of the architects we work with also use 3D-printed models to rapidly prototype, which I am guessing is disruptive to the whole unpaid architectural intern thing. But what has been missing, for me at least, is a comfortable pair of 3D-printed shoes from the future. Thankfully, Denmark-based RAINS (in collaboration with Zellerfeld) announced their first 3D-printed pair at Paris Fashion Week earlier in the year.

And now they’re available for order:

Maybe you like the look of these, or maybe you don’t. I would definitely wear them. But what’s interesting is that they’re 100% recyclable; they’re printed upon order (so no excess supply); and they’re made using a fully automated production process — meaning there’s little to no labor component and there’s no overseas factory. This sounds like something!

I mean, presumably this completely changes where shoes want to be made. Previously you wanted an overseas factory where labor was cheapest. But if labor is no longer a meaningful input, do you now just want to produce these things closer to where your customers actually live and reduce shipping costs? From what I have read, Zellerfeld’s factory is in Hamburg and it currently takes something like 40 hours to print one pair of shoes.

Decentralization was always one of the great promises of 3D printing. And to be honest, it’s not hard to imagine a world where you walk into a store, have your feet scanned for optimal sizing (already the company lets you do this online with your phone’s front camera), and then you get a new pair of shoes printed for you right on the spot. Maybe you even get to play with the design a little so that no two shoes are ever exactly the same.

Of course, along with this, you’d also get an NFT version of your shoes indicating where you printed/minted them. This would be your decentralized blockchain record for your decentralized physical shoes. This sounds weird and consumers won’t necessarily think of it in this way, but it’ll be what’s happening behind the scenes. What consumers will care about is being able to flex their new shoes both offline and online.

On that note, let’s get back to the basics here: Would you ever order/wear these shoes?

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