SHOES IN CIRCLE : Sustainable knitted shoes

Manufacturing company

Tapi-1 Aleksander Żur





Technology Provider

Studio GF&L Unipessoal, Lda



The Shoes in Circle (‘smoothing out of shoes production process by supplying ready-made circularity knitted uppers’) project takes place within the manufacturing facilities of Tapi-1 Aleksander Żur, a shoe producer in Poland. The manufacturer produces a large variety of models for third party shoe brands and designs, producing the complete shoe, from the moulds to the final shoes. The production of regular shoes involves various materials, which are either glued or (partially) knitted together, thereby limiting the options for recycling and reusage of materials drastically.  

The Shoes in Circle project aims to create a custom circular shoe model, by automating the (re)manufacturing process with the technology provider, Studio GF&L Unipessoal, in combination with parametric design, adding the optionality for personalisation, with the artist, ANKA WALICKA PROJEKT.


  1. Lower the average waste per pair of shoes:
    While traditional leather shoes are a success story of upcycling according to Leather Panel, a United Nation agency (“Leather is currently the best way to up-cycle hides and skins […] converts around 7.3 million tons of hides that otherwise would go to landfill.”) ,there is a lot of waste when cutting out elements out to form leather. With this project Shoes in Circle wants to try a different approach. Why cut out leather, when we could use yarns in circular knitting process? That is an additive process eliminate virtually all of cut out waste. With fundamental change of how shoes are made we could dramatically lower weight of waste generated during manufacturing process.
  2. The automation and easy customisation of shoes:
    When you make traditional shoes, customisation is hard – as you need to make die-cuts from special metal tape for each element and each size. As you can imagine it is a lot of metal and takes long time to make. With circular knitting, the team skips the whole ‘metal-works’ part, and just modifies the programme executed by knitting machine. In this way, the customisation will be easier and faster compared to traditional shoes.
  3. Control and optimisation of the manufacturing process:
    Making shoes is a process involving multiple steps, using many different machines and a lot of manual work. With the use of IoT sensors and software provided by Better Factory, Shoes in Circle want to visualise the real-time state of machines to better understand where are the constraints during the production.
  4. Create a safer environment for workers:
    Making shoes involves making dust. A lot of leather dust. One of the crucial steps is called ‘roughing’, which uses a metal brush to remove a bit of leather so the cement can penetrate it. If this step is not completed, the soles will fall off from the shoes. The team wants to use the cobot to automatically rough and apply cement to shoes – so the workers can be moved away from this task, thus lowering their exposition to dust and cement.
  5. Create a more interesting work environment, as new digital tools allow for more intellectual work:
    The shoe industry has rather long tradition, where most of the tasks are manual. With this project, Shoes in Circle want to digitise as many of these as possible. With a digital work environment, the team can upskill their employees and hire new people for jobs that involve overseeing robots and knitting machines, instead of manual labor

Expected impact

With a background in fashion art, the artist has designed shoes for the catwalks of Europe. In this project, she uses her experiences to create shoes fit for circularity, exploring how future footwear could look like. Similar to how catwalk fashion serves as inspiration for what ends up in stores or how concept cars do the same for car manufacturing, this project will result in concept footwear as well as a model for production on the robotic processing line. 

Specific impacts expected include: 

  • Reduce usage of electricity by 1 mWh per year 
  • Eliminate usage of chemical base cleaner about 30kg per year 
  • Create 2 new jobs 
  • Minimalise workers’ exposure to leather dust