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Product, Service & Design Innovation
Vivobarefoot & Balena Take Next Step Toward Regenerative Barefootwear

The footwear manufacturer and material-science company aim to deliver the world’s first 3D-printed, made-to-measure footwear that is fully compostable.

Global natural health lifestyle brand Vivobarefoot recently announced a partnership with circular material-science startup Balena — which developed its biobased, compostable, recyclable, thermoplastic materials range BioCir® for use in a variety of industries. The partnership vision is footwear made-to-order, made-to-measure, made locally, and made to be compostable and recyclable — an antidote to the vast amounts of waste created by conventional shoe production.

Over-designed and over-produced, conventional shoes are now mass-consumed, damaging to our bodies, and creating massive waste. In short, shoes are trashing our feet and our planet — they make our feet weak; are made through off-shore, through often less-than-ethical supply chains; and 12 billion pairs end up in landfill every year.

The journey toward a circular end-of-life system for footwear faces a significant challenge rooted in the intricate nature of shoes — both in their design intricacy and the diverse materials used during manufacturing. The complexity arises from the multitude of components — making recycling and reintegrating used shoes into the supply chain a formidable task. Nike recently unveiled its first fully circular shoe, designed for disassembly and recyclability; but industrywide efforts to change the wasteful ways shoes are made remain piecemeal.

Vivobarefoot and Balena are hoping to prove that biodegradable material alternatives and on-demand design and production offer a viable solution to the challenges posed by the current limitations of recycling in the footwear industry.

“The world doesn’t need new shoes. We need a new system and new materials,” said Vivobarefoot co-founder Asher Clark. “This future is literally at our feet and this footwear will enable us to reconnect to nature, move as nature intended and return footwear to nature when you’re done.”

Vivobarefoot acknowledges that it is part of the problem but also part of the solution, thanks to initiatives such as VivoBiome — its scan-to-print, circular design platform that enables rapid prototyping to save development and lab time, labor, and materials waste — revolutionizing the shoe design and production process.

Now, Vivobarefoot aims to take this innovation a step further with the incorporation of Balena’s BioCir flex material — a compostable, biobased, recyclable, thermoplastic material with advanced performance properties that Balena developed for scaled durable goods production, including footwear, on a mission to create a circular model for consumer industries.

Founded in 2020, Balena is on a mission to create a circular model for durable consumer goods and solve one of the biggest challenges for achieving circular models across industries: the products’ end-of-life. Founder David Roubach told Business Focus he’s excited about the partnership with Vivobarefoot — which inspired the creation of his own company.

“About 4 years ago, I heard Asher on stage with his amazing vision for VivoBiome; and it was clear to me that in order to enable consumer product companies to achieve true sustainability, there is a need to advocate for a clearer circular economy model with a fundamental change in the materials we use — and that’s what Balena is all about," he said. "Seeing that collaboration become a reality fills me with immense pride.”

BioCir flex maintains high flexibility, similar to TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane — a standard filament for 3D printing), providing reliable and long-lasting 3D-printed products. At the same time, it is biobased and industrially compostable, reducing the environmental impact of discarded prints — and for the first time, enabling 3D printing of flexible and durable items while giving them the unique property of biodegradability, whereas traditional TPU is non-biodegradable and contributes to plastic waste.

Prototypes are being made using a patented scan-to-print, computational design system that, if scalable, will enable them to make bespoke, on-demand footwear for individuals — not mass markets.

“Our goal at Vivobarefoot is to develop performance footwear that is both durable and fully compostable,” Clark says. “This first-of-its-kind collaboration moves us a step closer to that goal — giving us the ability to make product design and development decisions based on science, which we’ve never been able to do before.”