With an equal mixture of carelessness and deliberation, we choose our shoes. A pair of pumps might be picked because of the way they go with a certain dress, or a pair of sneakers laced up because of how they impact our theoretical running speed. It's a luxury to forget why we wear shoes to begin with. In the developing world, shoes help prevent the spread of deadly parasitic diseases, yet over 300 million people have no choice but to go without shoes every day. And why? Because shoes are a luxury, and the nature of a luxury is that it is something that many can't afford.
Unifold is a new project by Horatio Yuxin Han and Kevin Crowley of the Pratt Institute that aims to make shoes more affordable for everyone. "These days, almost all shoe-making methods require a complicated production process, often inquiring molding," Han, a Chinese designer, tells Co.Design. With Unifold, Han was trying to discover a simpler way of not just producing shoes but shipping and storing them. The genius trick? Footwear origami. Unifold are shoes you fold.
Made from ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA), otherwise known as foam rubber, a pair of Unifold shoes don't require molding, lacing, sewing, gluing, or any other advanced production techniques. You simply buy a pair and fold them up around your feet. Because Unifold shoes are easier to manufacture—you just cut a sheet of foam rubber into the proper pattern—they're cheaper for consumers to buy, and as an added bonus, they can be shipped and stored flat en masse, further cutting down the price the end user has to pay for a pair. In fact, Unifolds might not even need to be manufactured. In the developing world, for example, Han suggests that a pattern could be downloaded and then brought to a local shop to be printed out.
Right now, there are two patterns of Unifolds: an elegant Asian-style slipper, and a sandal with a more elaborate folding design. "By necessity, the style of the shoe had to be informed by folding techniques, which limited my freedom," admits Han. "However, these limitations in technique encouraged me to explore some more unusual and surprising details for the look of the shoe."
Although right now Unifold shoes are still a concept, Han and some of his fellow students at Pratt are hard at work making Unifold shoes a commercial reality. Here's hoping he succeeds: it's a rare thing indeed when a design that can save millions of lives through affordability can also manage to be so fashionable.