The Grounded hiking shoes are an attempt to encourage people to make their belongings last as long as possible.
This is done by making it easy to take the shoes apart to replace worn parts and to put the upper under a sewing machine to patch them up. Grounded in their philosophy, this paired with natural materials and simple construction makes for a sustainable shoe for the present.
Current Problems & Statement
How can we design hiking shoes that use low-impact materials and processes to create a shoe that has half the impact of current shoes?
Use of Toxic Adhesives
Most solvent-based adhesives contain VOCs which are toxins to those working in the factories and seem into the soil when they reach the landfill.
Parts that are not sewn together are for the most part fused together, making it impossible to separate parts to replace.
Many shoes have tens of parts increasing the steps and energy needed for manufacturing.
Research and Interviews
The reference model was made of 30+ pieces.
Based on the Okala impact point system, the product has a lifetime impact of about 5.4 OPI over 3 years.
Interview with Footwear Designer
Before diving in, I decided to meet with a footwear designer, Nick Jimenez, to hear about his thoughts on the state of sustainable footwear.
Here are some main takeaways and a few reasons why shoes today aren't sustainable:
Can’t be recycled
Can’t be repaired easily
Complexity adds to the energy needed in the production
The Design Approach
The way I decided to tackle the problem was by focusing on changing consumer behavior. This can be done by creating a repair culture where users are encouraged to fix and care for their shoes on their own.
Keeping our stuff in use just nine extra months, reduces the related carbon, water, and waste footprints by 20 – 30%
Who is this for?
An Avid Adventurer
Before diving in I created a persona and character board to gear the shoes towards.
The project will be geared towards a younger backcountry lover who wears a lot of heavy-duty and earthy textiles. He is also the DIYers who try to preserve his belongings. He is not skilled when it comes to soft goods.
With the problems found, I started exploring with these issues in mind. Trying new methods for construction, manufacturing, and material use. At first, I had no idea which problem to focus on so I ideated on each one extensively.
Top Concepts & Mock Up
The focus was on how to make the shoes come apart as easily as possible and back together in a way that was strong against the elements for hiking.
Concepts that stood out were ones that prioritized simple methods of hooking on to each other such as those inspired by snaps and outlets. The midsole acted at the "bone" of the construction where everything was attached to it.
Low budget test builds
Choosing a few concepts to prototype, I was going through the motions of building and repairing to experience what a user would experience.
I found that these patterns tested were not as strong as thought and the way they were sewn to the midsole was too time-consuming, tedious, and difficult for an average person to do.
Bringing it all together
After extensively ideating on how the shoes would go together, I landed on the upper being held together by buttons.
The buttons offered a simple and secure way to put on and take off the vamp. After some tests, it was clear that there needed to be a button-like system that was stronger such as with inserts.
Putting it to the test
I was convinced of the concept of buttons. It was strong, easy to work with, and disassemble.
After a few tests, it was noted that the buttons did not hold up as long as expected. After taking it on and off once, the thread had stretched.
Taking inspiration from the buttons, I moved toward inserts. The inserts allowed for extra strength and easy usability.
After the test, it proved its ability to stay in place but I still had to take stretching, aging, and ease of removal into consideration.