The future for sustainable footwear?

The future for sustainable footwear?

Published —

Fiona Armstrong-Gibbs has worked in the fashion industry for more than 20 years. She’s written a series of blogs for Ethos talking about some of the issues surrounding footwear – in the final one, she looks at what will help shape the future

Train the educators of the next generation; the phrase ‘if you can’t see it, you can’t be it’ starts with your teachers, mentors and those that inspire you as you learn to create and make. 

We need to embed technology and digital skills in education at all levels from schools to universities. Particularly as a tool for fashion design – because many female creative students tend not to engage as easily with new technical developments. A concerted effort is needed to change this, as it’s essential to find and focus on women; train them, fund them, encourage them to flourish and inspire the next generation.

Create a pipeline of talent but make sure that the jobs and progressive environment are fit for the ambitions of female managers and leaders. If you don’t create a place for everyone to prosper in their career, the established norms and problems will prevail. Creating gender balanced teams will address this.

Creative people conceptualise problems and solutions in different ways. Be open to different approaches, language and words. Create spaces, places and opportunity for the differences to collide. Small but regular funding and investment gives confidence to people in their ability to make a change. Most consumers know that cheap clothes aren’t good and they want hope that designers are working on solutions – so they will be interested and supportive.

Help makers create good news stories and promote positive PR to change the narrative.

The news is full of large corporate brands with huge communication budgets that force a good story out. Makers, innovators and creators have great stories that can change the social landscape and inspire the consumer. They need patronage from leaders, politicians, media, journalists and influencers to reach different audiences. Be an advocate for others if you have a voice.    

There is currently an EU directive that requires all footwear to specify the material that is used in the three main parts of a shoe – the upper, the lining and sock and the outer sole. This could be extended to include recycling symbols or a statement that they are not recyclable. The sticker is usually removed before wear or printed in the shoe but this could be an awareness raising campaign. Products such as fridges and batteries have guidelines – why not shoes?

Fashion in its truest form is an incredibly resourceful and disruptive entity. It’s about inventing something new in the face of what is acceptable by the majority. What is accepted by the majority now is poorly made, exploitative, mass produced products. The industry, with government support has the capacity to find a more effective way of satisfying the consumer. If the rules and reward system are changed, fashion will reinvent itself – the designers, makers and entrepreneurs will find a solution. The fashion industry has the power and persuasive techniques to convince the consumer. The change required is their responsibility but there is little incentive while profit is made and little regulation created or enforced. Top-down changes are desperately needed with clear rules and regulations.


Join us to create a collective of designers, artists, digital and tech people who’re keen to use 3D printing in your work at an early or prototype stage, which could lead to small scale commercial development of a footwear range.

@businessofshoes  @3dshoebirdproject

Fiona Armstrong-Gibbs is a fashion lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University. Her sustainable shoe project is backed by the EU-backed OpenMaker project, supporting digital manufacturing innovation in Italy, Slovakia, Spain and the UK.

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