The Re-birth of Footwear

Updated: Oct 29, 2019






Expo: ‘The Re-birth of Footwear’ visualizes sandals, shoes, and boots inspired by four indigenous types of footwear using different levels of production. The exhibition is part of Future Footwear, an artistic and academic PhD research project that integrates three disciplines – design, anthropology, and biomechanics.

‘Future Footwear’ offers reflections on what it means to create footwear that is sustainable for the body and for the environment. It explores if indigenous footwear could serve as an example of design that balances biomechanical and cultural functions. It poses questions on materials and form, on the meaning of design, on the effect of walking with and without footwear, and on working with hands and tools versus semi-industrial and 3D production. The main subjects of the research are reindeer fur boots from the Finnish artic, juttee footwear in Rajasthan, and kolhapuri and bantu footwear from Karnataka (India), along with the artisans who make them. Biomechanical analysis suggest that the indigenous footwear respects the foot’s natural form and restricts the human foot less than conventional western shoes. Indigenous footwear is widely used in everyday life. Production is low, keeping pace with need, and the design of the footwear changes only gradually over generations. This exhibition shows that designers can benefit from interdisciplinary research that combines traditional craftsmanship and industrial and high-tech production to create new models, and suggests that they should do so in view of increased footwear waste and landfill, global warming, and shortage of natural resources. To achieve a sustainable shoe design economy, we must further explore hybrid economies that combine conventional market places with collaborative aspects of new technologies and materials. The handmade indigenous footwear and adapted designs (X-Indigenous models), the hybrids manufactured in Portugal, and the 3D knits and 3D prints are exhibited together with the tools needed for production. All the models are inspired by and keep a close link with the indigenous models and reflect barefoot-style gait.

The research project of Catherine Willems was generously funded by the Research Fund University College Ghent.

Opening Hours: Tuesday – Friday: 14:00 – 18:00 Saturday – Sunday: 11:00 – 18:00 Closed on Mondays

Opening: 15.09.2015 – 20:00


‘Future Footwear’, a PhD in the Arts by Catherine Willems, was defended September 2015. The research was financially supported by the School of Arts, Gent,  KASK.

I wish to thank my supervisors, Prof Dr Dirk De Clercq, Dr Dirk van Gogh, Prof Dr Gaëtane Stassijns and Dr Kristiaan D’Août, and my former supervisors Prof em. Dr Rik Pinxten and Prof Dr Wilfried Van Damme for their support, guidance, and mentoring over the years.

To every one: dank u, thank you, bahut dhanyvad, kiitos.

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