We’re beginning to move past the phase of demonstrative 3D printing products, those which simply aim to prove that it’s a worthwhile tech. In this emerging landscape, Sneaker production is one of the most fruitful venues for the tech as both the design practices and production accessibility continue to improve. Joey Khamis, co-founder and one of the designers behind MLLN, just launched his own brand, Khamis Studio. The seasoned designer has been working with 3D printing studio Zellerfeld to concoct a series of sneakers custom fitted to a model of the wearer’s foot with a keen eye for sustainability and what he refers to as “the circular life cycle” of the materials. We caught up ahead of the launch of Khamis Studios' first shoe, the Ero, which launched this week.
Part of what makes Joey so interesting as a sneaker designer is the fact that his trajectory is one that could only really exist in the 21st century and the rapidly increasing emergence of new technologies in the design space. He explains his path to me: “I studied industrial design at Purdue University, graduated in 2018, and during that time one of my professors sent along a link for a shoe design contest. It was the Pensole Footwear Design Academy, which is now like a whole university or college. And so that's kind of what got me started in it, just submitting sketches of sneakers, entering the contest, and then using Instagram to promote it.
"I was always into designing something around sports, whether it was wearable tech or watches or gear or whatever. And then I realized footwear was kind of a path you can go down with product design.”
From the jump, Joey’s entrance into design was one cultivated by the social media era and the possibilities opened up by it.
“Then I started an internship at Columbia Sportswear and it kind of just took off from there. That was just a short summer internship. Then I had a quick three week masterclass in footwear design at New Balance through the Pensole Academy.
When that ended, Reebok had reached out to me and I started a one year apprenticeship there that turned into a full-time job, and I was there for about two and a half years. And then after that, left, got a phone call from Kanye and I did some work for him for a little bit.”
All of the elements of this story are punctuated by Joey’s ability to share his work on IG, where he has amassed a following for his interesting and future-facing footwear design.
MLLN started at the end of 2021, founded by Joey and four other founders, some designers and some more focused on the crypto aspect of the brand. They've launched one shoe so far with Zellerfeld, the Prota, and now Joey is working on a signature shoe under his own eponymous label.
Since its genesis, Zellerfeld has operated in its beta phase, allowing users to join to potentially receive what are effectively demos of their futuristic shoes. But they will soon go public with a more accessible interface and purchase process, and part of this evolution will debut when Joey launches his first shoe with the studio.
You can take a look at some of Zellerfeld’s previous products below: an iteration for Heron Preston, a previous collab with MLLN, a Kid Super collab and a shoe with fellow MLLN co-founder Finn Rush-Taylor.
Joey and Zellerfeld linked soon after the genesis of MLLN, and now he's partnering with the studio again for his first personal release. “So they focus just on 3D printing footwear, and they've kind of designed this whole process of a circular lifestyle of the material of the shoe,” Joey explains, adding: “So it's super comfortable, durable and they've been doing beta testing to the point where, after you've worn your shoe out—it's been kind of worn down or you're tired of the design or whatever—you can send it back. They can grind up that material and reuse a hundred percent of that material.”
“That's their thing, the sustainable and circular lifestyle of that shoe. You could be wearing a shoe that was made of two other shoes before that from years ago essentially,” he summarizes.
They also work to create a perfect custom fit for each and every wearer using 3D modeling tech: “3D printing, you don't need molds. They use the face recognition scanner tech to scan your feet. Essentially it creates a 3D file of everyone's foot. So it has an exact custom fit for everyone.”
The shoes are produced in a fairly unorthodox manner, and they’re similarly designed through a less traditional method. “I designed using virtual reality. It's like a very intuitive way of creating in 3D,” Joey begins, going on: “So I usually start with taking some inspiration, usually something from nature and then just start doing some rough sketches on iPad or paper, and then bring those images into VR. And then I start drawing some wire frame and remodeling and go from there.
“It's pretty intuitive. I've always wanted to learn 3D softwares and I always put it off because it was so difficult. There was a learning curve. And then Gravity Sketch, which is the VR software, it was just so intuitive. At the beginning you're just making doodles and stuff, but it's very sculpture-like. And you can do whatever you want more intuitively, instead of figuring out 10 different buttons and tools just to make an object move a half inch or whatever, it's now just simple hand movements.”
When we turn to the future generally, and Joey is eager to release some pieces that he sees as a culmination of a lot of the work he's produced over the years. He recently announced the debut of his eponymous label, Khamis Studio, which he envisions as a representation of his most personal curated work thus far. “I'm excited about finally getting a lot of the ideas that I've been wanting to make in their most pure form out as physical products that people can finally buy,” Joey tells me, adding: “I've had people following me for a while and I've worked places like Columbia and Reebok, and I’ve had a lot of cool projects come out of there. But it's nice to finally be able to have the creative side—not messed with too much—getting it from idea to on people's feet.”
The Ero will is available for order right now on the Zellerfeld website.