With the explosion of knit construction shoes in the footwear marketplace, it’s time to revisit the design and manufacturing issues of this growing footwear class. Pioneered by Nike™ as FlyKnit™ for high end running in 2014, knit shoe construction has now spread into basketball, soccer, and casual footwear.
Because knit shoe construction can radically simplify shoe construction, the technique has spread from high-end to price point shoes in just a few years. With rising labor costs in major shoe manufacturing countries like China, the shoe knitting machine, which runs 24-7, is seen as a labor-saving device. Knit shoe construction has also opened the door to new, more sustainable production with less waste.
Of course, the knit upper shoe is now evolving in new directions. The naturally breathable designs combined with stretchable and non-stretchable fibers are creating new opportunities for footwear designers.
Design parameters for knit shoe construction:
- Take advantage of knit technology’s strong points. Breathability and elasticity.
- The shoe knitting machine can support up to six colors, some machines can support even more.
- Knit shoes have unique options for simplification. Use them!
- Knit construction shoes have many fiber choices. Who will be the first to use carbon or Kevlar?
- Nike started its Fly Knit program with running shoes, now knit construction is found in all types of footwear. What is next?
- Clear TPU overlays are being introduced to protect the knit fabric from snags.
- The shoe knitting machine can handle almost any pattern. Go crazy, explore the limits!
- A new technique is now weaving pads into the pattern parts. Hmmm…
Inside a shoe knitting factory:
We recently had a chance to tour a busy shoe knitting factory. This small factory has about 60 machines running. The boss has plans to set up 50 more machines this year. Each machine can knit one upper in 10 minutes and the machines run 24 hours per day. A pair of uppers cost between US$3.00 to $8.00.