Sustainable footwear sector to be revolutionised in new industrial partnership

The way that sustainable footwear is designed and manufactured could be changed thanks to a new partnership between Manchester Metropolitan University and footwear manufacturer Vivobarefoot.

The project, which is the first of its kind in the UK, will see Vivobarefoot (Vivo) working with University experts to transform every aspect of the company’s supply chain including exploring the possibility of using 3D printing in the manufacturing of its footwear.

Vivo is a UK company that manufacturers ‘barefoot’ trainers and shoes, which are popular among people that prefer to run or walk in a barefoot style but with the added protection of a shoe.

As well as revolutionising the way Vivo operates, the project aims to set an example to the wider footwear sector in the way shoes can be manufactured using UK-based, sustainable practices.

The partnership aims to set a new benchmark in sustainability within an industry that currently relies on complex supply chains, which include global networks of materials, components, prototypes and finished products.

Asher Clark, Design Director at Vivo, said: “Supply chains for the UK footwear industry currently bring a level of risk through the use of numerous global suppliers, complicated contractual agreements, shipping, logistics and volatile costs.

“We believe the future of footwear is data-driven and based on innovative digital technologies to develop customised, health-beneficial footwear.

“Our partnership with Manchester Met will be the first of its kind in the UK, demonstrating how to realise a fully connected digital, 3D printed supply chain in the footwear sector. We are looking forward to working with the University to develop a unique, healthy digital customer journey to personalised barefoot shoes.”

Vivo’s management team will work with experts in Manchester Metropolitan’s Business School to implement best practices in digital supply chain management, mass customisation and efficient business processes, which will involve bringing some overseas production back to the UK.

Experts at Manchester Metropolitan’s 3D printing hub PrintCity and the Manchester Fashion Institute will also work with Vivo to develop the company’s 3D printing hubs and designs, which will help them to balance out production between Asia, Africa and Europe.

As one of the UK’s largest 3D printing facilities, with more than 70 3D printers on-site, the technological experience and knowledge at PrintCity will play a central role in helping Vivo to realise its ambitions.

Dr Iain Reid, Reader in Operations Management at Manchester Metropolitan University, said: “As well as addressing the development of digital shoe design and manufacturing through our 3D printing capabilities, our partnership with Vivo will transform the way the company’s supply chain and sustainable design teams operate.

“Vivo’s status as a Certified B Corp organisation, which meets the highest standards of social and environmental performance, fits perfectly with Manchester Metropolitan’s sustainability credentials.

“This new project brings together the University’s experience and expertise in a range of business areas that will not only benefit Vivo, but the wider UK footwear sector.”

Vivo’s drive to a localised, sustainable and innovative manufacturing model will be realised through a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with Manchester Metropolitan.

KTP’s are a government-funded initiative that allow businesses to improve their competitiveness, productivity and performance by joining forces with a university to address a specific challenge.

Vivo and Manchester Metropolitan’s partnership will run until 2023 with an academic from the University working within the company for the duration of the project.