It’s been over 9 months since I was first teased with a picture of Adidas Futurecraft 4D, a sneaker carved by light. Since then, it’s been nothing more than a cool concept car that you come across via a friend on Facebook.
On January 18th, Adidas released the Futurecraft 4D at just 3 stores in the United States.
The sneakers feature a knit upper (Primeknit - I’d go into it but that’s a whole other ballgame) with a 3D-printed midsole that looks like an intricate basket woven from a futuristic combination of light, lasers and plastic. There are currently only a few hundred pairs in existence, but already they represent the dawn of a new era of sneaker manufacturing, because these are actually coming to the mass market.
For the past couple of years, Nike, Under Armour, and even New Balance have put a lot of focus on 3D printing sneakers, but most are either in the early stages of production or are rare limited editions. So how did Adidas (now the second biggest footwear company in the world) pull ahead in the 3D race to victory?
Whilst Adidas has been raising its global profile by smartly leveraging partnerships with cultural icons such as Kanye West, Pusha T and Pharrell Williams, it has also been upping its technical manufacturing by partnering with Carbon and it’s Digital Light Synthesis (DLS) technology in 2016.
Think of DLS as the next step beyond 3D printing. By projecting UV lights into a pool of resin, which immediately hardens, it allows Carbon and Adidas to create and customise every aspect of the shoe en masse.
Ultimately, it is believed that by using DLS it will allow the average customer to send in their measurements and have the perfect sneaker built and delivered on demand, ensuring an optimal fit and fully customisable experience for all.
Which sounds cool...but nuts, right?
And if the team at Adidas had just focused on the technology, then it perhaps would have stayed as nothing but another vision of hyper personalisation.
But they went further, and changed the whole process.
In 2016, Adidas opened its Speedfactory in Bavaria, just an hour’s drive from the small German village where Adidas founder Adolf “Adi” Dassler first began making sports shoes. The opening created just under 200 jobs, but also consists of robots capable of producing sneakers from materials to final product within a day - nothing compared to the months the process usually takes.
This reason alone is the point of Adidas Speedfactory: speed.
With this new approach, Adidas are able to react to trends instead of predict them and deliver the product to the customer quicker - and despite being more expensive to make (the Adidas Futurecraft 4D retail is $300), today’s customer will pay more to have it sooner, especially if what is also promised is the sort of one-of-a-kindness that sneakerheads can only dream about.
With talk of Speedfactories opening in London and other major cities, I imagine I’ll soon be able to simply submit my sneaker measurements, pay online and have a bespoke pair of sneakers delivered same day. Better yet, with the increase of affordable 3D-printers, I reckon I’ll soon be able to buy a piece of code from Adidas and print the shoes myself.
Now, that’s nuts.
Piece by Ben Rutherford, Creative, Hometown London