Field Notes: Sustainability Ushers in a Better, Brighter Industry

Keen, a Portland, Ore.-based footwear company, has built the “World’s Smallest Shoe Factory,” a mobile trailer that is home to a consumer-facing robot that enables customized manufacturing and consumer interaction in real time.

Aptly named the Uneekbot, its robot can manufacture a pair of personalized sneakers from its Uneek line in less than eight minutes using precise technology, based on 40,000 lines of code. As the Uneekbot is housed in a trailer, the robot and members of the Keen team are nearing the end of a nationwide road trip that included stops at U.S. college campuses to introduce the Uneekbot to students who can view the robot’s manufacturing process. Its Uneekbot tour will have visited 15 cities by the end of the year.

Keen said “the idea is to meet the next generation of innovators and designers while highlighting Keen’s innovative and entrepreneurial spirit,” and that its concept illustrates how the firm is “leveraging tech to clean up the supply chain and build shoes in a more sustainable and clean way.”

And in tech, it’s always about staying ahead of the curve, according to Swiss textile company Schoeller Textil AG. The firm recently celebrated a 150-year anniversary, and attributes its long-lasting success to sustainable technologies and products that fuel the industry forward. Schoeller is known for its “C_change” membrane technology, the world’s first intelligent membrane, as well as its new PFC-free technologies based on renewable raw materials. And the firm recently won the Design Prize Switzerland award in the textile category, for its heatable “E-soft-shell” product. Schoeller’s chief executive officer, Siegfried Winkelbeiner, said today “as ever, Schoeller strives to deliver what our brand partners’ end users need to differentiate themselves. We work to stay ahead of the curve on all fronts — providing our customers with what they need, sometimes even before they know they need it.”

As a result, brands, too, are increasingly more invested in leveraging new technologies that can speed up supply chains. “AI is bringing increased transparency to production and the design process, while 3-D printing is being applied to fabrics and production schemes to save on samples and reduce lead times,” according to a recent report by Trendalytics. The report also noted the importance of technology in sustainability: “Blockchain technology promises to be the future of what advanced traceability could look like. Bringing automation to the materials and dye step of the life cycle also greatly reduces water waste and dye pollution,” researchers noted.

Collaborations such as Avery Dennison x Evrythng created Janela, a smart label that tracks clothing through every step of the supply chain via cloud-based technology and Tommy Hilfiger x IBM x FIT, which uses AI for trend intelligence and calendar restructuring, all according to the same report.

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