The Growing Sneakers is Nicholas Rapagnani‘s thesis project at UniBz – University of Bolzano. The designer, passionate about sports shoes and natural sciences, started his research with the aim of combining footwear design with microbiological experiments.
As previously said, a complicated production and the use of different materials (rubber, textile, various plastics, etc.) make it almost impossible and unprofitable to disassemble and recycle a pair of trainers after their use. Therefore, Nicholas decided to deepen his research on fungal mycelium and the biofabrication of materials to create a sustainable alternative.
The Growing Sneakers is a concept that comes to life at UniBz’s Master in Eco-social design, with the support of his two supervisors Aart van Bezooijen and Luigimaria Borruso. Experiments with mycelium-based materials were carried out inside FaST Lab, the laboratories of Science and Technology faculty at UniBz. The importance of mushrooms for the Earth has been already stated as vital for entire eco-systems and biodiversity and there are already many examples of designers and studios who are experimenting with these fungal-based, therefore sustainable, materials.
Given the short period of the research, developed for a university course and still in progress, the designer used Petri dish micro-moulds to let mycelium grow following the sneaker components’ shapes and prove his thesis. The current result, developed in collaboration with Salewa (Oberalp Group), is a shoe that stands between tradition and digital craftsmanship. Nicholas presented the work at Milan Design Week 2022 and is continuing his research with the aim of creating truly sustainable sneakers.