Kiwi invention a big step for sustainability
This year’s national winner of the James Dyson Award, Voronoi Runners, addresses the global issue of waste from the footwear industry. The Voronoi Runner, designed by Massey University student Rik Olthuis (pictured), is a shoe that can be easily deconstructed, with every component and material able to be composted at the end of its life. […]
This year’s national winner of the James Dyson Award, Voronoi Runners, addresses the global issue of waste from the footwear industry.
The Voronoi Runner, designed by Massey University student Rik Olthuis (pictured), is a shoe that can be easily deconstructed, with every component and material able to be composted at the end of its life.
Runners up in this year’s competition also included Massey University students, Lisa Newman with her design SWITCH, a portable hand tool to help maintain clean cattle tails, and Samantha Hughes, with her design Clean Catch, a paediatric urine sample collection device.
Waste from the global footwear industry is increasing tenfold, however the industry has been slow to create better alternatives. Largely inspired by other alternative environmentally friendly footwear, Rik explains that even sustainable footwear using recycled or biodegradable materials still involve the use of strong adhesives, joining plastics and polyurethane foam.
Rik says: “Currently, footwear materials focus on performance, which is important, especially in runners. However, what isn’t being considered is what happens to the product once it’s no longer of use. The use of adhesives prevents the separation and treatment of materials at the end of the product’s lifecycle. I was inspired to design a sneaker using only biodegradable materials with no adhesives – leading the future of sustainable footwear.”
This year, the three New Zealand judges included founder and CEO of the Sustainable Business Network, Rachel Brown ONZM, Dr Michelle Dickinson and Engineer Sina Cotter Tait. The trio reviewed over 20 entries submitted from university students and graduates (within four years) across the country, a record year for the number of New Zealand entries received, before selecting the New Zealand Winner and two Runners Up.
Rik developed a gelatine and glycerine-based recipe for biodegradable foam to replace the more traditional blown polyurethane. Natural ingredients were added to improve the strength, compression, and water resistance needed to make it suitable for footwear. Rik then created a Voronoi structure, 3D printed from a strong and flexible biodegradable filament used to form a skeleton for the sole and midsole of the shoe. The upper was cut from a Merino wool fabric with 3D printed details, printed heel and toe caps that are inserted with a plant fibre reinforcement and sewn shut before stitching onto the edge of the sole.
Rik says: “Entering the James Dyson Award is a great way to have your ideas and designs evaluated and brought in front of critical eyes, helping with the transition from idea to realistic opportunity. Taking student work and presenting it in a professional light is a difficult step and James Dyson helps bring a sense of support and community in New Zealand’s product design market.”
As national winner of the James Dyson Award, Rik will receive NZ$3,500 to go towards his project, helping to test the strength and form of a biodegradable filament. All three finalists will move on to the international stage where a Top 20 will be selected by a panel of Dyson Engineers. The International Winner and Sustainability Winner will be handpicked by Sir James Dyson, with the International Winner receiving NZ$55,000 and NZ$9,500 for their university, and the Sustainability Winner receiving NZ$55,000, and announced on 19th November 2020.
 Staikos, T., & Rahimifard, S. (2007) A Decision-Making Model for Waste Management in the Footwear Industry. International Journal of Production Research, vol. 45, 4403–22.