StepOne is a Sneaker Craft Kit that allows users to experience their shoes in a completely unique manner, with the end product being a zero waste, home compostable sneaker. The final design can be broken down into two separate parts to ensure an impactful product was created – The Sneaker and the Experience. This project aims to face the super wicked problem that is Fashion Sustainability.

Sebastian Tan Castillo

The Story

An introduction to fashion sustainability

An infographic showing the Fashion supply chain and the goal of moving toward a circular economy.
The ultimate goal of this project is to incorporate sustainability as a core function of the fashion industry. Although achieving this may seem unrealistic, the current practices in place highlight the impending destruction on our planet which makes the endeavour imperatively worthwhile. Due to the shear scale of this super wicked problem, the focus shifts to the idea of evolving economic and business models that are fit for our future. The problems in a typical, linear cradle-to-grave, garment lifecycle were explored and summarised in the infographic on the right, along with the scope of the project (i.e. moving toward a cradle-to-cradle, circular economy).

Exploring the problem space to formulate a design opportunity

Dissertation Cover
Recycling garments became the focus in closing the loop of the fashion lifecycle… or at least avoiding landfill. A thorough literature review was conducted focusing on Closed Loop Recycling (CLR) systems and Open Loop Recycling (OLR) systems and it was concluded that CLR systems are not feasible at this moment and although OLR systems are more realistic, it may not be the most impactful approach this project. As the recycling process is complicated for both OLR and CLR, Bio-textiles were considered. Having a bio-textile garment means that they don’t need to go through a recycling process, they can just be put into the ground once they have been used.

Nature knows how to recycle them.

Campbell Mohr of Campbell's Collective during an Interview.

The literature presented design opportunities; however, it also presented many gaps in the research. Eight experts in the field of fashion sustainability were contacted and the problems were discussed. In addition to this, a survey was sent to 115 participants to understand behaviours around buying, using, and throwing out garments and sneakers. A trend forecast was then conducted to meet the needs of the future consumer. This data was rigorously analysed using grounded theory, thematic maps, and practice theory. The key themes and data found, integrated with the literature formed a set of design opportunities and recommendations.

The full research paper can be found here

This research provided incredible insights into the fashion industry and the data provided key design criteria for 3 potential design opportunities. These design opportunities were then combined to form the design proposal of a zero-waste sneaker. This sneaker will aim to provide a much needed sustainable, high performance, durable and comfortable alternative to current sneakers that are almost impossible to recycle due to their material complexity.

Step One. The First step toward a more sustainable tomorrow.

StepOne is a Sneaker Craft Kit that allows users to experience their shoes in a completely unique manner, with the end product being a zero waste, home compostable sneaker. The final design can be broken down into two separate parts to ensure an impactful product was created – The Sneaker and the Experience.

Sustainability through product design

Sneakers are a tricky product to make sustainable due to the shear complexity of the materials required to construct them. Because of this, StepOne uses all organic materials that (even when combined) are home compostable. Although it is a biodegradable shoe, the materials selected match the durability of current sneakers. The shelf life of the StepOne is predicted to be approximately 4 years giving users plenty of wear while not lasting an eternity before decomposing. The sneaker is constructed using 4 organic materials:
– Slow poured, natural latex for the sole construction
– Bio-TPU Plastic for the lace eyelets
– Australian Certified Hemp fabric for the upper and tongue
– Australian Certified Cotton for the laces

The sneaker design was inspired by the beaches of Stradbroke Island (sole shape), the hot Queensland climate (upper breathability) and the growing sneaker culture within Australia.

Sustainability through user experience design

After a thorough reflection of the research, trend forecast and exploration of the design problem during the design process, it was found that sustainable material choices are not enough to make the fashion industry more sustainable. Other key concepts such as home-craft, garment storytelling, emotional durability, and sustainability awareness need to be play integral parts in the design. Because of this, the experience of owning and wearing footwear was explored. It was found that typically, users will buy, use, and dispose of a shoe (throw away or sell). This linear approach to owning footwear means users are slowly becoming disconnected from their shoes, and sneakers are becoming just another materialistic object to buy and send to landfill.

To combat this, a concept found in the research of ‘garment pre-story’ was developed where the user buys a garment that comes with an attached personal story. This will connect the user to the sneaker and therefor the user will be less likely to just throw the sneaker away. StepOne induces this pre-story by providing a craft experience where the buyer of the shoe is given the materials and parts to construct the sneaker. The act of constructing the sneaker instantly provides the maker with the product covering key criteria and concepts such as emotional durability and garment storytelling. WGSN analysts also discuss that creativity has been the most popular coping mechanisms throughout pandemic lockdowns, with craft being the biggest market.

On the subject of the pandemic, Covid-19 has opened the eyes of many to where and how our products are being manufactured, with a push to make manufacturing more local. The StepOne Makers Experience brings that to light as the user becomes the manufacturer and the kits being put together locally.

2020 has also been a year where people around the world are expressing themselves and their views more and more each day. The StepOne makers experience provides a ‘blank canvas’ sneaker that is easily customisable so you can share your identity and tell your story. Custom sneakers are also a huge market among shoe industry.

Most importantly the sneaker build is a learning experience. It was found that many target users wanted to be more sustainable with their clothing options, however, did not know many simple and easy sustainable practices they can apply to their daily lives or were being deceived by greenwashed labels claiming to be sustainable when they’re really not. Each instruction in the build provides a key learning in fashion sustainability such as:

– Greenwashing
– Importance of garment story telling and emotional durability
– Transparency
– Microplastics when washing clothes
– Basics of mending clothing
– What to do when disposing old clothing
– Benefits of each material used in the sneaker

This is crucial to the design as the target demographic is 15-25-year old’s, meaning the leaders of tomorrow and the general population can be informed about these sustainable practices, then the fashion industry must shift to conform to these new values.

Step One Makers App

The StepOne App is a platform to communicate sustainable fashion practices among the community. The app is firstly, an instructional guide to building the sneaker accompanied with walkthroughs and step-by-step processes. The app will also provide a creator’s platforms where custom StepOne tips and tricks can be shared. The app will also be another place where users can learn about sustainable practices such as how to mend and repair clothing, upcycling old sneakers into the StepOne etc.


Summarising the project

StepOne Upcycled
After a rigorous design process, a new sneaker experience was developed that provides the user with a home compostable, craft and customisable sneaker, with a learning experience that will ultimately make them more aware of fashion sustainability practices.
The design implications are a more sustainable demand in the market, a more knowledgeable market and a more sustainably conscious sneaker market therefore directing the fashion industry toward a more sustainable future and achieving the UN Development goals.

Image on the left shows a constructed StepOne with upcycled parts from one of my favourite (worn out) sneakers and symbold on the sole representing all the people that helped me throughout the project.

For the full project, instructions, videos and research visit the button below.

Full Project.

Sebastian Tan Castillo

Sebastian is always trying to push the boundaries with innovative and unique ideas. No matter what the project may be, Seb enjoys the process of designing and solving wicked problems, from learning about the issue, to making prototypes, to ensuring that sustainable solutions are met.