Every part of a shoe produces waste in getting made. With new forms of shoemaking designed for 3D printing, we were able to consolidate parts normally made separately. For example, instead of having an insole, midsole, outsole, and shank, we print a single piece, slashing material waste as well as the emissions from assembly.
Altogether, part and material reduction accounted for a 29% drop in carbon emissions. That combined with only making products that would actually be sold had the most dramatic impact on carbon reduction, jointly reducing carbon by 43%.
This is a conservative estimate. It is extremely complex and difficult to identify the yield of every process that goes into making a shoe, especially one that can have 65 components and 360 assembly steps, so for now, we are only taking into account the material that went into the product itself. Our key takeaway: the right design and application of 3D printing is critical for overall carbon reduction.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
This means circularity is only one part of the equation. Even if everything we made today was 100% returned and recycled, manufacturing is still a wasteful and resource-intensive process. Brands overproduce. In apparel, this sometimes means making as much as 35% more than is needed. We can avoid creating and recycling shoes no one needs by only crafting on-demand, after a customer makes a purchase.
Making fewer shoes, while selling the same number, has an enormous impact across the entire supply chain – even more than you might initially imagine.
As an example, a single cow hide can produce ten pairs of uppers and be one fifth scrap. Injection molding can make a hundred outsoles at 50% yield, meaning half the material is wasted between molds in the mold channels. Even if you manage to collect and reuse most of this waste, reuse has its own footprint. Every time you make something, there’s waste above and beyond the amount of material in that product.
When you reduce overproduction, you’re not just preventing the materials that went into that product from being wasted -- you’re preventing the waste that accompanied every part of the process.
Moving forward, we will focus far more attention on part reduction and on-demand manufacturing to drive a more sustainable and efficient supply chain. Product circularity remains a focus across everything we do, but we now understand that it will not have the impact many of us hoped for on its own.
A sustainability lead for an apparel brand once told us that the most sustainable clothes in the world were the ones already in our closets. They were right: prevent something unnecessary from ever being made, and you can really change the world. If HILOS has one purpose, that’s it.