Just a few months after his graduation, Horatio Han watched one of his prototypes go viral, landing in numerous design blogs, The Daily Beast, and Fast Company. The piece is called Unifold. It’s printable footwear made of recycled foam. To construct it, one simply follows the instructions, folds and tucks a few tabs and flaps, and voilà: a shoe.
Han developed the design during his senior product design studio with visiting professor Kevin Crowley, an industrial designer with more than 40 years of experience in the shoe business. Crowley wanted his students to create shoes without the typical factory resources. But what’s good for the classroom may prove good for the world at large: some are heralding Han's design as revolutionary—a inexpensive and easy way to provide footwear to those that can’t always afford it.
Pratt's Gateway publication spoke with Han about his plans for Unifold.
How would you describe your shoe design?
Unifold, my experimental shoe design, explores ways to construct footwear with a one-piece die-cut pattern. Right now, the two models that exist still need to be preassembled before being sold at the retail level. But I am looking forward to developing them into a kit that would allow customers to put the shoes together by themselves.
What inspired you to design affordable and environmentally friendly shoes?
It takes a large investment to set up footwear production. The main benefit of Unifold is its low-cost and localized production. I envision designers from all over the world sharing their folding shoe designs online; customers could choose the ones they like and get them printed and cut in a local workshop. This way, designers would not have to be part of the large shoe industry to see their designs produced. And, of course, designing in an environmentally friendly manner is a must nowadays.
What makes your shoes affordable?
Besides being made of recyclable material, the extremely simple structure makes this shoe easy to put together—as opposed to the conventional process, which is highly labor intense. This allows for the possibility of producing Unifold on a local scale. The flat pack also reduces shipping expense. I am working on refining the pattern to the point that customers could pick up the flat pattern from the store and put the shoes together by themselves.
What makes your shoes environmental friendly?
The shoe design is sustainable because it uses less material. Fewer different materials are being combined, allowing for easier recycling. The production process is simple. The product can be shipped in a stacked, efficient way.
What material are they made out of?
They would be made of synthetic suede or polyurethane mesh, which could be partially recycled. I am still searching for a more environmentally friendly material, which would be 100% recyclable.
What have you been doing since you left Pratt?
I am interning at New Balance, learning more about shoe design.
Are the shoes being made currently?
I just graduated and still have a lot to learn about starting a business. So at the moment, I have no business plan. But since the shoe is attracting publicity, I am in touch with people who are interested in putting the design into broader production. And when I see the chance, I would like to push Unifold in that direction.