We’re currently carrying out research on magnets, plastics and rubber. It’s our intention to be as eco-friendly as possible right from the start with the materials we use for our first “Inside-Outside Slippers with detachable outdoor sole.”
It was our desire at the beginning of our research to source natural materials like rubber and cork for our first slipper boot and not go down the route of using TPU, which is a mix of rubber plus thermoplastic polyurethane. TPU is commonly used in the footwear industry. We judged it as “bad for the environment” and thought it was a less quality material. We also wanted to avoid using any sort of chemicals that were not natural and are damaging for the environment.
However what dawned on us during the research, is that by using natural materials like cork & rubber, we’d be contributing to the erosion of the planet’s natural resources. We learnt for example that there’s not enough natural rubber there to meet the demand, hence TPU and other materials are being used.
So we let go of the judgment of TPU and the Chinese market, which manufactures TPU in large quantities for the footwear industry. We started to see the bigger picture.
Now the other challenge though with using materials like TPU is the recycling part. We were researching about plastics (there’s a lot of different types of plastics) and came across the fact that on average a plastic bag is used for 18 seconds but it takes about 450 years for it to decompost. It often ends up being washed into the sea and people then have to get the plastic out of the sea.
Now whilst this sounds all bad, there’s a good side to it. Plastic can be reused again and again and again and it lasts a very long time. This then got us thinking about 3D printing and the fact that 3D printing becomes more popular now and present in the footwear industry. We were wondering just how “eco friendly” 3D printing was if it uses plastic and that’s so called “bad for the environment”.
We then learnt that 3D printing uses “Thermoplastics” which is a material that becomes soft when heated and hard when cooled. Thermoplastic materials can be cooled and heated several times. When thermoplastics are being heated to a temperate of around 110 C, they melt to liquid.
This made us realise that using a Thermoplastic material for the sole, would allow people to return their sole back to us once its life time is over. We can then reuse the material again for making new soles. We like to lovingly call this recycling process “Reincarnate Your Sole”.
During this recycling process some of the chemical attributes (strength) might get lost during the melting process but the strength can be increased again by adding more “virgin” materials to the mix.
Now there is an argument that during the recycling process of plastics, so called “bad gases” are released into the air which contribute to our climate change. However this is a whole other issue to tackle and we’re not sure whether this only refers to the recycling of plastic bottles or whether the process for thermoplastics is the same. (ie whether it releases the same chemicals)
Hence the best we feel we can do for now is to use a material like Filaflex which is a Thermoplastic with a long life spam. It’s a filament and material that can be melted again and turned into something new. This means we don’t have to draw on earths natural resources and help increase the life span of the sole.
We’re going to test whether Filaflex can not only be used for 3D printing our prototypes but also whether we can use it for manufacturing our indoor and outdoor soles. We definitely know it works for prototyping but it hasn’t yet been tested for its durability to see if it withstands the stresses of being used daily for both outdoor and indoor use.
Who knows what recycling processes we come up with collectively in the future, we might find a way of transmuting the so called “bad gases” from recycling plastic.
Whilst “we’re not trying to change the world”, we do want to focus on making it a more comfortable place both with our slippers in it but also by taking responsibility and seeing what we can do to help restore and maintain earth.