Upcycling shoe workshop

The last two days of Devika the Garbage Guru’s upcycling workshop focused on design of an object that we are all familiar with and all think we need: shoes. And she did so by combining nature and waste in the most seamless and beautiful ways.

She began with a presentation about footwear more generally–showing us images from the oldest footwear designs to getting students to think about the basic purpose of footwear. For example, do you really need spikes on your shoes if you want to run fast in a race? Because many students here do run barefoot,many could tell the difference. She talked about scientific studies that show humans are meant to be barefoot, partially because the nerves in our feet are all connected to points in our spine and cushioning them with fancy shoes made by the likes of Nike and Adidas prevent you from feeling.

Then she showed us examples of juttee shoes in Rajasthan, traditionally made out of buffalo hide and which often last longer than the wearer. When the person is finished with the shoe, it is opened up and the leather is reused to make new shoes. Likewise, the Bakarwal tribe in Kashmir wears a straw kind of chappal over their feet wrapped in wool and tied on top of that. The straw soaks up the snow and keeps the person’s feet dry.

This led her back to a discussion of mass-produced, over-consumed companies like Nike. These factory-produced shoes number in the 20 billion produced each year and 300 million are trashed each year, even though each sole should last at least 800 kilometres. This lesson brought her to illustrate the anatomy of a sneaker (compared to a chappal), something that is over-designed.

After this little talk, the students were charged with designing their own piece of footwear. They were broken down in to groups of 4-5 people. Half the groups had to design a shoe out of organic matter and the other half had to design it out of the trash we had saved up for this workshop. All the shoes had to consider the following points:

  1. protect the sole of the foot from being damaged
  2. easy to wear and remove
  3. simple to make
  4. either has to be long-lasting or (if from organic matter) compostable

Here is what the workshop looked like. Some of the designs are just beautifully inventive.

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