Mad Scientists Offer $1,500 Shoes Made From Genetically Engineered Stingrays

A new company wants to sell you eccentric, custom leather shoes grown from a stingray of your design.

Due to misstatements from the sources cited in this article, we have decided to retract it in its entirety.—Ed.

We’ve been able to customize products for a while, from Levi’s that are perfectly sculpted to our posteriors to Timbuk2 bags in our own triad of colors, and the result is always "custom" but not always so unique. These end products are only as diverse as the choices that go into them—a lesson I learned years ago when my brand-new Timbuk2 matched a friend’s almost perfectly.

Rayfish Footwear is looking to offer consumer customization, not by dye or stitching, but at the genetic level. On their site, you can mix and match various patterns of stingrays, and Rayfish will combine their DNA to match the design of your choice, actually growing you a genetically manipulated pair of stingrays to harvest as the leather for your shoes. The colors are bold. The patterns are intricate. And every pair is inherently unique.

"It would not be feasible for ordinary people to code their desired pattern in the DNA, so we made a design tool that allows them to create a pattern that we can actually grow on the stingrays," says Dr. Raymond Ong, head of Rayfish Footwear. That tool eschews esoteric DNA snippets for a graphic-laden UI, allowing you to drag and drop up to nine patterns into your shoe, selected from a library of 29 styles of leather. With so many choices combining into such an array of designs, the possibilities seem endless, though obviously there are some natural limitations to just how specific users can be about a shoe that is ostensibly grown.

"We cannot breed any desirable shape or logo on the fishes, as our patterning process works by recording and recombining DNA of existing animals…. Squares are for instance not possible, as the expression of the DNA on the skin doesn’t allow it," Dr. Ong explains. "Also, the patterns that grow on the actual fish sometimes slightly differ from what you see in the design tool. Although it is almost perfect, we are still developing the mapping between the design tool and the DNA encoding further."

For these practical reasons, Rayfish is honing their product while soft-launching their line with a series of design contests. You can go on their site now, try out their tool, and submit your own stingray shoe design. Winners will be given a free pair of shoes, which is a hefty prize: These bio-customized kicks will start at $1,800 when they hit the market later this year.

But it does raise the question: While I can conveniently forget that the leather in my shoes was once the skin of a cow, is there something different in knowing that the cow had been bred and slaughtered just for me? Is this a farm-to-table situation, where it’s more ethical to name the pig that you’ll eventually eat? Or am I creating the most majestic animal I could imagine just to thieve its gorgeous skin? Truthfully, I’m not sure if Rayfish’s addictive mix and match UI makes me feel like a hip consumer or an all-consuming monster.

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  • Rayfish Footwear

    These "mad scientists" are precisely that, mad! We found their headquarters, broke in, and released all the stingrays from their captivity. No more turning beautiful, wild creatures into hideous shoes for greedy "fashion-conscious" capitalists!



    I noticed the company has posted an explanation of their technology:
    The links check out, and I read some of the linked articles. It seems like this whole mathematical approach to modeling animal patterns is a real thing. Very cool. 



  • Vorn333-freespeech

    To wear the skins of non genetically engineered non human animals too.

  • Vorn333-freespeech

    As a person who eats a plant based diet and avoids products derived from non-human animals for health, environmental, and ethical reasons, this is pretty tragic, and monstrous to me. But, in fairness to Rayfish, I think that it is tragic and monstrous

  • manuel

     I try to imagine someone telling the story of "... I go to this website and choose a pattern I liked, then some dudes grow that pattern on a stingray, kill it and then I pay a lot of money to get these shoes made out of the skin, so cool!..." I cannot help to think that the person that will tell this story is a complete idiot. To me this is the same as killing sharks for fins or killing tigers for organs. It's the same kind of low life people that do it. These guys do it because it's a cool shoe. Nice!
    Somehow I can't belive this is really happening... it's just a print on some kind of material, right?

  • Artor

    GM my ass! These are obviously dye-jobs, and the GM claims are simply a gimmick to charge more money. When exactly did we get the stingray genome sequenced? What was that? Not yet you say? 

  • Norman

    You can buy belts, wallets and shoes made from stingray skin in Thailand.

    In fact I bought a stingray wallet for my son. Price is more than leather but less than crocodile.

    Not genetically altered of course.

    It is a pretty tough leather and looks good.

  • Cyn

    It's almost a satire on the current way leather dye-ing (and it's chemical run-off) leads to marine animals dying…."well, we can F*&k up their DNA instead, and they will specifically die for the same reason but not from those nasty chemicals…better right? High five!!!"

    I'm wondering if there's anyone who's seen this and thought "Awesome"….and worse, who's already thought they could make some killer cowboy boots, complete with stingray sting spurs, from those babies ;) yee haa….

  • L KSmith

    I am a footwear developer who works with exotic skins.  This is a marketing hoax of some sort.  Stingray skins are available and the skins are usually harvested from accidental kills or after their meat is used.  The skin can be "genetically altered" by screen printing much like you would a t-shirt.  I'm surprised this made it past a thinking journalist or editor.

  • Guest

    For the love of god!  Can we just call this article "Another fine way to exploit our environment!"  When UFO's come down from space and start making us their breeding grounds for humanoid aliens, we will lose our collective minds to prevent the abuse of our fellow human beings.  This is no different.  

    The rights of all sentient beings need to be respected.  The customization craze should certainly stop at changing the genetics of an animal to make a $1,800 sneakers.  It is a good thing there is no store for these products for any brand who enters into this market will definitely feel considerable blow back from environmentalists over this blatant disregard for animal rights.    PETA has been notified. 

    You ruined my morning.  Mark, that you spend 5 paragraphs talking about the coolness of this product and one paragraph thinking about how you might be a monster for wearing these makes me wonder if you feel that innovation at all costs is important.  Where will this stop?  When do we take a stand and say "enough is enough!"  Rayfish product innovation FAIL!

  • Joe

    Seriously?  Should all humans suddenly break from the natural order of things (animals eating animals)?  Do you avoid all leather and animal by-products?  Do you protest outside of Whole Foods for their inhumane treatment of their organically sourced free range eggs?  Get over yourself, it's a frickin' fish.  

  • Rick

    This is a fantastic hoax. Unfortunately there are no academic papers attributed to a Raymond Ong, and although the mechanisms underlying biological pattern formation are well described, getting any complex vertebrate to effect any novel change in color pattern is still a bit of a ways off. The idea that those changes could be combined and multiplexed in a predictable manner, and in a vertebrate no less, is still very very far away. Thankfully, most people seem disgusted by the idea, so hopefully we won't ever see genetic engineering used for such frivolous purposes.

  • Aran

    What a well-executed hoax! The 'design tool' on their website really gives it away though. They're very good at coding and photoshop. Their blog is hilarious.