Future-Proofing a Heritage Footwear Industry


Last week I had the pleasure of speaking at the conference hosted by the ASBCI – Association of Suppliers to the British Clothing Industry – about the potentials of CAD/CAM to solve the footwear industry’s biggest problems. The event was titled Head To Toe – A Focus on Leather Fashion, Footwear and Accessories. It was a well-organised event with a great line-up of experts ranging in specialties from the microscopic analysis of leather to shoe-fitting to textile chemistry. And, of course, me, the UK’s resident expert on the future of design and manufacturing. I certainly learned a lot from the other speakers so I believe it is safe to say that members of industry in attendance also benefitted.

The event took place in Northampton, otherwise known as England’s heritage cobbler town where many surviving footwear manufacturers reside. If you are not associated in some way to leathergoods manufacturing or the footwear industry, bear with me over the next sentence. Given the range of topics listed in the program, some of the topics the audience heard expert testimony on were the changing locations of leather sourcing hotspots from Kurt Salmon, which leather tanning processes produce harmful chemicals from SGS UK, the state and opportunities of the UK footwear industry from the British Footwear Association, many things our bodies can suffer from medically if our shoes aren’t fitted to our feet from the Society of Shoe Fitters, and keeping premium UK heritage brands alive from Cheaney Shoes.

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I was able to address all of the industry concerns voiced throughout the event with anecdotes about how a digital design and manufacturing process can effectively 'save the day'.

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Not that it suits my personality or anything, I was chosen to close the event with a talk about how 3D printing and other robotic manufacturing tech has helped me in my career and how I see it helping the footwear industry. In this case, I think programming my talk last was serendipitously appropriate since I was able to address all of the industry concerns voiced throughout the event with anecdotes about how a digital design and manufacturing process can effectively “save the day”.

There was no better stage than the one at the Northampton Marriot last Wednesday to shine light on how CNC cutting machines can help increase manufacturing output, how 3D printing can reduce dependence on the traditional Far-East outsourcing of early stage design development, and how anyone with a smartphone potentially has a 3D scanner that can be used to once and for all make shoes that fit everyone in the world. The Q&A from the audience was plentiful and there were more questions than time allowed to answer.

As a result, my outlook on the future of the fashion and footwear industry remains hopeful. And that is because the content programming for this event was member-generated. The industry acknowledged issues and concerns facing them as well as knowledge gaps about best practice and ethical sourcing and the ASBCI delivered. Now we just need a bigger stage.

If you would like to discuss how CAD and CAM can improve your ventures as well as solve critical developmental problems, get in touch by emailing me at mail@bryanoknyansky.com.

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