Sep 4, 2015 | By Alec

While 3D printed outfits and accessories have been revolutionizing fashion runways all over the world for a while now, we’ve heard surprisingly little from the world’s shoe designers. But it looks like all that’s about to change, as one California-based designer is embracing 3D printing technology as the solution to relieve women of a torture device that has been commonly worn in society for about two centuries: the high heel.

The project is called Thesis Couture and essentially revolves around a reimaging of how a high heel is supposed to function, a process in which 3D printed plastics can play a critical role. And surprisingly enough, it is being masterminded by someone who isn’t really a designer at all. Dolly Singh has spent years working in the space industry in California as a recruiter, matching those who build rockets with the companies interested in building rockets. In doing so, the entrepreneurial woman started working for Elon Musk as well, who has been trying to invigorate the rocket industry over the last few years.

Dolly Singh.

Singh worked for his SpaceX business for five and a half years, during which the concept of Thesis Couture forced its way into her mind. Not the rocket technology, mind you, but the endlessly touring candidates through the SpaceX campus. After years of wearing high heels on a factory floor, she became frustrated as to why technology can do so much while high heels have stayed the same for two centuries. ‘To me, when you’re surrounded by some of the smartest people on the planet, building some of the biggest and most badass machines on this world, the idea that my shoes are such crap became really obnoxiously unbearable,’ Singh told reporters.

Thinking about this problem for about a year and a half, Singh, then approached contacts in the aerospace industry with a simple question: who would you redesign a chassis capable of supporting a human’s weight while walking? For the basic problem of high heels is that the entire design relies on three materials: a metal plate, a metal shank and a bit of compressed cardboard; the rest is all aesthetics. ‘A skinny metal rod and cardboard is basically all you're standing on when you're wearing stilettos, so it doesn't take a lot for scientists to see that it's not a particularly sophisticated structure from an engineering standpoint,’ Singh explained.

Learning that this basic shoe structure can indeed be made far more comfortable, Singh left SpaceX and started Thesis Couture as part of the incubator Founder’s Institute. Since then, she and her team have been working on the design of comfortable yet stylish heels. ‘’It’s a stiletto. It’s never going to feel like a tennis shoe. But it doesn’t have to feel like a torture device either,’ she writes on the website of Thesis Couture. ‘We’ve redesigned the high heel shoe from the inside out. Using structural engineering and advanced materials, our patent-pending architecture redistributes pressure across the foot for a longer-wearing stiletto.’

But as anyone working on a product will tell you, prototyping isn’t easy and it isn’t cheap. Part of the process has therefore been to manufacture shoe prototypes efficiently, and that is where 3D printing technology has come in. ‘When something hasn't changed for more than 50 years, it doesn't take more than a leap of faith to say I can take the technology and everything that has matured and go back and apply them,’ Singh said. ‘High heels are a $40 billion a year plus industry.’

Learning from innovations in aerospace technology, she brought on Matt Thomas, who has an extensive background in engineering and modern plastics. He steered the startup towards 3D printing technology as a design and prototyping technique, in which they largely rely on industrial grade polymers. Not only has this made prototyping much easier, the resultant structures are also far more efficient in distributing the weight of the wearer.

Things are thus looking good for the 3D printed prototype heels of Thesis Couture. The company is currently looking at manufacturing options and is busy raising funds. So far, $700,000 has already been raised, slowly closing in on the 1 million goal. While R&D is also still ongoing, pre-orders are expected to start in the fall of this year. While initial prices are expected to be in the region of $925 for pre-orders, prices could eventually fall as low as $350. If you are interested in this revolutionary approach to footwear, keep an eye on their website here


Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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