It’s 2022, so yes, shoes are being 3D printed these days. And it’s being done right here in downtown Portland at a company called Hilos, winner of Best in Show at the South by Southwest pitch festival in Austin this past spring.
It goes something like this: a computer-aided shoe design is sent to a 3D printer the size of a small car – specifically, a Hewlett Packard MJF 5200. The nearly 2,000-pound printer works overnight to create about a dozen pairs of shoes (the footbed and heel of the shoes, anyways). Local designers assemble the rest and ship them out directly to the customer. Shoes are only made after an order is placed.
Watch the video above to learn more about the full process.
The 3D-printing technology allows Hilos to produce shoes on demand to help reduce overproduction, a major concern in the fashion industry.
“With our newly developed forms of shoemaking, specifically adapted for 3D printing, we’re able to go from an idea to a reality in the market in as little as 90 days. Traditionally it takes brands 18 months,” said Elias Stahl, CEO and co-founder of Hilos. “With the speed and agility of this technology, we’re able to drastically lower the barriers to entry while increasing a more sustainable outcome for [this] industry.”
Footwear is also notorious for ending up in landfills and scattered on beaches. So shoes at Hilos are specifically designed with recycling in mind at the end of life. The company encourages customers to mail back old pairs for recycling. A bonus for doing so is 15% off their next purchase at Hilos.
“The real beauty I think in this design is that it’s also completely circular,” said Gaia Giladi, co-founder and chief creative at Hilos.
“3D printing allows us to create these internal channels that you see here,” Giladi said as she pointed to an intentional hole in the bottom of one of the shoes. “You can assemble a shoe in a completely new way, slotting the upper without any glue so that you can easily snip the wire, disassemble the leather from the platform and completely recycle each component. You can’t really do that with traditional manufacturing.”
Giladi and Stahl hope to make a footprint in the industry at large by partnering with other brands. Hilos recently collaborated with Helm Boots, a men’s boot company based in Austin, to create a custom design using Hilos’ 3D printing technology.
“We came to Portland to build this company because Portland is the capital of footwear in the U.S.,” Stahl said.
At the same time, Stahl also recognizes that Portland sits at the crossroads of footwear and technology, with many big-name companies based here.
Hilos makes everything from strappy slide sandals and clogs to mules and chunky heels. Prices range from $175 to $375.
– Teresa Mahoney