Designing Sneakers in VR
American footwear designer Joey Khamis re-invents how footwear is made by using VR as a part of his design process. Using simple hand interaction to model his creations, he manifests VR certainly isn’t only about digital entertainment. Now he’s launching a physical footwear brand offering 3D-printed custom footwear and NFT wearables.
Traction on the NFT market has crashed over the last 6 months with e.g NFT transaction volume down by 99% on Opensea. How does this impact the way you work and your endeavors moving forward?
—The crash in the market signaled to me that this was the time to start creating a strong and innovative project with a purpose. Once things pick back up people will be looking for real value in projects and my team and I have spent about a year creating a physical and digital footwear brand.
What’s the main difference in mindset when designing virtual shoes compared to physical ones?
—The main difference is that my mind loses all the constraints and limitations that come when I design footwear for production. I love to be able to give myself projects every once in a while where I can just create “impossible” footwear to enjoy visually.
You use Gravity Sketch as a part of your design process. What are the pros and cons of sketching in virtual reality?
—The pros of sketching in virtual reality are being able to rapidly create and review 3D designs with people all over the world. I can hop in VR and work through design revisions live with other designers and even factories that have VR headsets anywhere. One of the cons to sketching in VR is the limited time you can spend in it as well as the fact you’re taken out of your real life surroundings, however, I think with newer VR tech we will have less of this issue.
You’re launching a phygital fashion project with your studio MLLN in November. Can you tell us more about it?
—The name MLLN actually derives from the Greek word, méllon, meaning “a promising future.” We are a footwear brand bringing digital wearables as well as physical 3D-printed shoes. This brand will be launching with an NFT project where consumers will buy our MLLNPass which will give them a pair of shoes printed by Zellerfeld 3D printing company and the pass will act as a membership to future product discounts, early access, exclusive product, etc. We also plan to have digital wearables and AR filters of our designs.
3D-printed footwear is often hard to produce in a way that enables a comfortable fit unless only a part of the shoe is printed. How did you solve this in your design?
—This problem with 3D printing footwear has actually been solved by Zellerfeld. They have developed a way of printing that allows for different internal structures of material so you get a durable outsole, a comfortable midsole, and a thinner more flexible upper all in one piece. As a designer this gives me the ability to then get creative with the aesthetics and also use these different material structures to play into the function and comfortability of the footwear. Another thing that solves this issue is digital foot scans you can take through your phone camera and the fact that 3D printing allows you to custom print to every person’s unique foot shape which is huge for the health and comfortability of our feet that most shoes don’t offer to everyone.
What advice do you have for young designers wanting to have a career in footwear design? Is going digital-only a possible career path?
—I think the great thing now is that there are more paths opening up to different types of footwear design careers. If you’re trying to get a job at a big brand like Nike or Adidas you need to build a strong portfolio of footwear design projects that show storytelling, problem-solving, and show your unique perspective as a designer. If you want to pursue a route as an independent designer you need to start sharing your work, process, sketches, and inspiration on social media. This takes a while to build a presence and personal brand but consistency and patience are key. I don’t know if digital only is a career path (yet) but it definitely could be if you get into designing skins and wearables for video games or animation.
And for the footwear industry, what technologies or topics would you advise brands and retailers to explore further?
—I think brands should educate their designers to learn new 3D tools to at least consider it as a more efficient tool in certain use cases. I think brands and retailers should all definitely be thinking of their presence in digital worlds and gaming considering how much of our lives are spent on technology.
What upcoming shoe brands we should keep our eyes on in 2023?