Jun 27, 2024
by Karl Smith
Zellerfeld’s Open Platform Is Here To Democratize the Footwear Industry
by Karl Smith
Jun 27, 2024

If you’re not familiar with Zellerfeld, there’s a good chance you will be very soon. The made-to-order, 3D-printed footwear company – which has already released collaborations with the likes of Moncler, PANGAIA, Louis Vuitton, Heron Preston, Rains, and PLEASURES – is opening up its platform to the world. And, in doing so, hoping to change it.

For just over a year now, Zellerfeld has been in what’s called Open Beta. This is kind of like when a door is shut, but not locked – and, yes, technically you could push your way in – but there is one of those “authorized personnel only” signs and you’re not quite sure whether or not that applies to you. Now, though, that phase has come to an end; the sign is gone and the door is very much ajar. What happens next is all about who walks in and what they do once inside.

So, what does this all mean in real terms?

First and foremost, it means that the Zellerfeld platform is now open to anyone. But, perhaps more importantly, what this actually means is that the footwear industry has been opened up too.

Effectively, the New York-based disruptor’s combined technology and infrastructure allow anyone with an executable footwear design to render that creative impulse as something tangible. Uploaded and verified via Discord, the barrier to entry only exists so far as a designer’s genuine conviction. Previously, this was far from the case: design is one thing, but, prior to the Zellerfeld announcement, actually producing sneakers – in terms of development, prototyping, and manufacture – has been a process reserved for those with access to the kinds of infrastructure that only money can buy.

Naturally, Zellerfeld isn’t producing shoes for free – but, still, the financial outlay and time constraints are significantly reduced by the launch of a platform “where anyone can upload and launch footwear designs globally within 24 hours” and through which “development times that once spanned 12-18 months are now reduced to mere days,” according to the Open Platform launch statement.

CEO and Co-Founder Cornelius Schmitt describes the news as “war on the footwear industry” and it certainly feels like there is some truth to that. Not so much in the sense that this is an attack of Zellerfeld’s peers, but rather on the stranglehold of the status quo. Zellerfeld’s Open Beta is a genuine attempt at the democratization of an industry which thrives on exclusivity and on the hoarding of knowledge.

But it’s also a progressive step in other ways, too. Something that’s often passed over in the reporting on Zellerfeld’s rise since 2015 are the multiple ways in which sustainability sits at the core of its mission statement alongside creativity.

First, there’s the fact that all Zellerfeld-produced footwear can be returned at the end of its usable life and, given that every product is made from only a single material thanks to the 3D-printing aspect, can be easily recycled by the innovator into new footwear more or less ad infinitum. (It seems important to note that this material is TPU, Thermoplastic Polyurethane, which – while somewhat lower impact than regular PU, is still a plastic. It’s also important to note, however, that – with so much room left to evolve – Zellerfeld may well make its way to biomaterials before too long in the same way that Vivobarefoot has.)

Secondly, there’s also the made-to-measure and pre-order aspects of the program. These may sound like administrative details, but – being made to size and specification, fulfilled only to the number of units actually required – there’s both an extremely low level of returns and a near-zero level of excess.

In terms of the former, consumers provide a smartphone scan of their exact foot dimensions, ensuring a precise fit rather than the usual (and very rough) number system that we’re all used to. With regard to the latter, there’s a $10 USD up-front cost and consumers only cash out on the full price of the shoes when they’ve reached a sufficient number of reservations and are put into production.

It’s refreshing to see Earth-friendlier efficiency and old-fashion creativity given equal billing. But, most of all, it’s a huge and genuinely game-changing shift to see this level of power put in the hands anyone capable of using it. What happens next remains to be seen of course, but – really – that’s the beauty of Zellerfeld’s Open Platform: a step forward, for sure, but also a step into the unknown.