Fortunately, several smart innovators have picked up on this trend and developed new shoe concepts that tackle these urbanization effects. The following four examples prove how clever design can take a step in the right direction.

Muro.Exe – Interdisciplinary concept sneakers made from architectural materials

Small Spanish design studio Muro.Exe claims to design and produce the best urban sneakers for everyday wear on planet Earth – and its surroundings. While this might be overshooting the mark a little, their human footwear is pretty close to perfect. Unhappy with the technical standards of “urban” or fashion sneakers, when compared to high-performance pro sports models, the people behind the brand created a new concept from scratch to reinvent footwear from the ground up. To this end, they assembled a cross-disciplinary team that would guarantee out-of-the-(shoe)-box thinking: None of the specialists involved had ever worked on footwear before. So, while a biomechanical engineer dealt with the fundamental health aspects of shoe design, an industrial designer, a video game designer, a materials engineer, and an illustrator (the so-called design council) came up with an impressively innovative model that delights feet, spine, and eyes alike. The shoe’s completely waterproof upper is made from architectural insulation material while its foam and recycled rubber insole boasts a cushioning and absorption system designed for rock-hard surfaces like concrete. For easy grip and to strengthen each pressure point, the polyurethane sole has a unique texture. Not to forget the shoe’s other qualities: a great look, lightweight and comfortable wear, and affordable pricing thanks to local production and online-only sales. Did we mention it was pretty close to perfect?

OAT: Blooming marvelous

Trainers that wear out too quickly not only put a strain on our purse, but also burden the environment, especially when toxic materials are involved. Faced with this pressing issue, the innovative Dutch designers at OAT came up with a 100 % biodegradable model for conscious urbanites. Based on a blend of natural materials – think hemp, organic cotton, and cork – mixed with certified biodegradable plastics, even end-of-life sneakers have their use: Wearers are encouraged to bury their discarded favorites in the ground and wait for cycle of life to restart as all models come with a sheet of wildflower mix inside the tongue to give these non-polluting shoes a new and blooming lease of life. And since an environmental outlook is something you can learn from the first step, OAT just launched its OATies line of non-toxic, blossoming baby shoes. Each pair will give rise to a beautiful tree of life for the new arrival – and his sneaker-sporting urban mom.

Repair it Yourself by Eugenia Morpurgo: a shoe ready to get broken

Industrial shoe-manufacturing is geared towards short lifespans to encourage new purchases. Pre-industrialization, however, most people could only afford one or two pairs during their lifetime, relying on regular repairs and resoling. To break this modern-day vicious circle of shop and discard, young Dutch designer Eugenia Morpurgo created the Repair it Yourself sneakers. To facilitate the repair process, her shoes are not simply stitched or glued together, but feature a reversible connection between the sole and the upper, thus allowing the consumer himself to take charge of the repair process. Each pair also comes with a bespoke repair kit that is suitable for fixing the shoes, but also handy for other repairs around the house. Moving beyond the product itself, the designer has also set up the creative Don`t Run platform, a project designed to involve the consumer in the production and design process.

Sibling Walking Shelters: futuristic shoe trends and tents

Our most out-there urban shoe example comes courtesy of Australian design studio Sibling. With housing costs rising at skyscraper speeds in many cities around the world, we might soon find ourselves in need of a new form of temporary and easy-to-transport overnight shelter.

This is where the Walking Shelter comes into its own, a one-person tent easily stashed away in a pair of sneakers. Stored in the shoe’s integrated net pockets, the shelter expands around the body to form a tent or sleeping bag that uses the human frame as a supporting structure. Already a potential solution for commuters in Asian metropolises who prefer to sleep on their desks instead of going home at night, the Walking Shelter could provide them and others with a portable temporary home. And although these shoes are still in the prototype stages, they certainly hint at intriguing solutions for the independent traveling urbanite.

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Text: Frank R. Schröder
Header image: voth/