Pratt Industrial Design Students Look to Knitting Technology to Curb Waste

Pratt Master of Industrial Design student project by Nan Zhou and Jiangyi Xu

Is knitting technology the way of the future in terms of waste and construction and is waste perhaps just a design flaw? Pratt Master of Industrial Design students Nan Zhou and Jiangyi Xu wanted to know as they created a 3D knit shoe/slipper in their Industrial Design Technology class. People can wear the soft and flexible indoor part of the shoe when at home, and when they need to go out for several minutes, they can just wear the bottoms of shoes by connecting them together. Their modular shoe makes it easy to be warm indoors and if one has to run an errand outside, can simply add to the shoe with an attachable bottom.

Both Zhou and Xu say designers could create less waste if they were to think of shoes as having more than one type of use.

“It is one of the aspects that inspired our design, a multi-functional product that can save material and make the product more attractive,” says Zhou, adding that another reason they wanted to create the shoe was to make it suitable for different situations like for indoor or outdoor use.

“We think knitting technology is the trend of shoes, because it is very efficient for manufacturing, and also because of the abundant patterns designers can create for both aesthetic and function,” adds Xu.

The two student designers were informed about the Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator (BF+DA) textiles they could have access to by the instructors of the Pratt MID Industrial Design Technology course. On a class field trip to the BF+DA, students were introduced to the TEK-TILES Project and a library of samples that were available to choose from. The TEK-TILES project focuses on developing ideas for embedding and manufacturing technology into apparel and textiles.

Milo Tricot’s 3D waffle texture sweater using a honeycomb knit

The tile that resonated with them for the design of their shoe was created by TEK-TILES team leader Mireia Lopez of Milo Tricot. Inspired by her own work creating a honeycomb knit for Milo Tricot (see above image), the tile was created to show a 3D type of surface that has the possibility to extra-extend.
Lopez says when she created the tile, she chose one of her favorite knit structures, a basic stitch called  “the honeycomb” which is popular in knitting books, and where the magic of the design is that stitch structures change or become something else depending on the material or yarn been used.

“The beauty of this swatch is the magic of extending the knit and letting the colors of the base show through. Or depending in what angle we look at it, the look and colors change. Because of the density, it is also more durable to washes,” says Lopez adding that the honeycomb stitch was not particularly designed for shoes but she’s impressed with the Pratt student’s application of it.

Lopez as well as Pratt Industrial Design Professor Matthew Hoey, who guided the students on their work, both reference the life of bees as part of the design. While Lopez was inspired by the honeycomb stitch structure, Hoey looked at the 3D knitting as a form of additive manufacturing, where something is built-up layer by layer, as in the geometry of a honeycomb.

“If you think of how a bee builds a beehive for example or how a bird weaves her nest, it’s more like 6D Printing, multi-axis, as opposed to one Z axis. We are nature of course, but we are currently the only species on the planet that does not live sustainably with the planet,” says Hoey, adding that both students wanted to explore sustainability characteristics that point to a future where all materials will be considered precious.

For the Spring 2019 semester, Pratt’s ID department is planning to carry out a class-wide collaborative design assignment which will make use of the technology and knowledge resources available through the BF+DA.

Professor HyukJae Henry Yoo works in Pratt’s Industrial Design Department and for the last five years, he has directed the Pratt Institute’s DAHRC(Digital Arts and Humanities Research Center), where he works with interdisciplinary teams of designers, artists, industry professionals and organizations on applied research projects. Another important voice guiding Zhou and Xu on their shoe project, Yoo says the students’ understanding of the technology has led to creative design directions and ideas which would not have come about otherwise.

When asked if he thought designers could create less waste if they were to think of shoes as having more than one type of use, Yoo says less waste should undoubtedly be part of the design.

“Since shoes tend to be highly task-specific, therefore driving the need to own many types of shoes, the goal of creating shoes which can fulfill and perform well for multiple types of tasks is probably a good one to investigate further. The technology of 3D knitting combined with viable and compatible post-processing methods seems to offer highly versatile capabilities for the relevant design & manufacturing parameters in exploring the possibilities,” says Yoo.

According to Fashion Revolution’s Loved Clothes Last, the majority of supply chain waste in the fashion industry, around 440,000 tons annually, arises during the preparation of fibers to make yarn and garments. With a staggering amount of waste in the footwear and apparel industry, considering multi-use and waste as part of a design is no passing trend.

“The designers, manufacturers, and educators should explore and investigate on the maximum potential of what the technology can offer for present and upcoming challenges,” says Yoo.

Check out this video below that Zhou and Xu made exploring their shoe design.