WHAT MATERIALS ARE USED TO CREATE SHOES?
The footwear industry is made up of a diverse range of products and industrial processes. Integral to this process are materials, which today come from a wide range of sources and in all sorts of applications. With the modernization of the footwear industry, innovation and the environment are two of the most significant factors influencing the development and usage of contemporary footwear materials today. Thanks to a supply chain that is global, there is a much greater choice of materials, however this can also make the selection process more challenging. Rich leathers, sustainable synthetics or soft canvas, the footwear materials that you select for your shoe design are what makes your footwear styles come to life. In this piece we take a look at the importance of selecting the right materials and what your choices are.
Before you begin the selection of footwear materials, a design brief that defines the type of shoe you are making needs to be finalized. Questions such as
- what is the purpose of this shoe?
- how durable should the shoe design be?
- will they be premium or commercial sneakers?
Need to be asked. Utilizing the design brief, the best-fit materials can be chosen. The most common materials used for shoes are leather, textiles, synthetics, rubber, foam and PU. A material selection is one of the fundamental elements of the footwear design. Because of the growth of the footwear industry, new markets have emerged enabling further development of footwear materials. This can also make it difficult to source the right materials. There is an infinite choice of materials that can be used to construct your perfect footwear style. We take a closer look at these a little later in this article.
LEATHER FOOTWEAR MATERIALS
Leather is the OG (original) material used in traditional shoe-making. In fact, the shoe industry is the world's largest user of leather, utilizing it to manufacture 14 billion pairs of shoes a year.
The most common type of leather used in footwear is cow leather. The benefits of this material is that it is extremely durable and flexible, while at the same time it is also available in a large number of styles, colors and prices. The beauty of leather lies in its character as it changes as it wears.
VEGETABLE TANNED LEATHER
Tanning is the process through which animal hides are transformed into leather. One of the main production methods, accounting for 10% of all leathers, is vegetable tanning. Carried out by experts, this technique involves using natural vegetable tannins to modify the protein structure of the hide. The process causes it to change into leather giving it strength and color.
CHROME FREE LEATHER
Chromium salt tanning is the most popular leather tanning procedure. However, because of its potentially negative impact on the environment, chrome-free tanning methods were invented. This tanning system is free of the use of chrome, utilizing less pollutants to tan leather with the same efficiency as chrome-tanned leather.
With ecological and environmental concerns, a new type of leather that is devoid of using animal hides has emerged. These are commonly known as vegan leathers. Huge innovations have been made in this department, with more and more manufacturers and businesses exploring alternatives to traditional leather usage. Here are a few outstanding vegan leather materials.
Believe it or not, pineapples are one of the recent fruits that have been used to generate vegan leather alternatives. Pinatex is an innovative natural textile made from pineapple leaf fiber, which champions sustainability through a significant environmental and welfare impact.
TREE BARK LEATHER
Similar to cork but made from sustainable wood, tree bark leather is produced from fast growing, renewable wood. Due to the natural grains of the product, tree bark leather is durable, strong and totally unique. Major fashion brands such as Dolce and Gabbanna have already used this alternative to leather in their footwear styles.
Coffee has also become a basis for modern leather productions. With the texture of cork and suede, and smelling of a freshly made cappuccino, coffee leather is already being used to create sneakers. This type of eco friendly leather can achieve various types of textures and holds a rich natural brown hue.
Textiles, like leathers, are available in a vast variety of types, including colors, weaves, knits and fibers. For footwear, fiber types include cotton, wool, nylon, polyester, lycra and many others with each having its own appearance and properties. Textiles can be found on the inside and outside of a shoe's construction.
Knit shoe construction has exploded onto the footwear scene, led by big players in the game such as Nike and Adidas. The advantage of knitted shoes sits within their breath ability and elasticity as well as being a relatively simple process. Footwear knitting machines often run 24-7, enabling extreme efficiency and more sustainable production.
Mesh is a popular material used in footwear construction because it is specifically made for shoes. Mesh fabrics are extremely breathable making them an ideal material for lightweight sport shoes. The downside of mesh is that it lacks structure meaning that the shoes may not have the longest life-span.
Synthetics in the footwear industry are known by many names, such as: synthetic leather, PU and PU leather. Synthetics materials include nylon, polyester, acetate, acrylic and kevlar. These man-made materials are often constructed with a combination of 2 layers, one made of polyester fibers and the other constructed through a lamination process. Synthetics have become an extremely popular material choice for modern sport shoes thanks to their lightweight, breathable and often water-resistant nature.
We all love shoes, but we also all want to discover a way to tread more lightly on our planet. Over the past decade, sustainability has become an important element in the process of shoe production and design. Today, every aspect of the shoe can be manufactured sustainably contributing to a smaller ecological footprint.Lightweight EVA made from sugarcane, 100% recycled rubber, recycled cork, rice-grains, hemp, cactus leather, mushroom leather, coconut fiber and bamboo are all ecologically-friendly materials used in shoe productions.
Kickstarting your footwear collection with the right materials is easier and faster than you think, especially with Addvance Studio. With our specialized experience in footwear development, materials sourcing and production, we are able to efficiently develop tailored shoe requests based on your specific needs. From a shoe design to sampling to manufacturing.