MODS sneakers or the circular economy step by step!

Posted on 25 October 2016.

Quang Pham, a design student at Virginia Tech University in the United States, has designed a prototype modular shoe that can be made as good as new, piece by piece, or changed according to your mood - so you don’t have to throw them in the trash.

You may have heard of Fairphone, the ethical and responsible Smartphone created by Dutch designer Bas van Abel. A special feature of this device - and the main reason it is sustainable - is its modularity. The Fairphone was designed to be easily repaired by users thanks to the spare parts available on the manufacturer's website.

In the US, 300 million pairs of shoes are thrown in the trash each year

The brilliant idea to fight planned obsolescence and reduce the amount of electronic waste, inspired Quang Pham, a student at Virginia Tech University, who applied it to shoes, for the Cradle to Cradle Product Design Challenge.

According to the United States’ Department of the Interior, Americans throw away more than 300 million pairs of shoes each year. They end up in landfills, where they take between 30 and 40 years to decompose. But, remarks Quang Pham, most of the time, only one part of the shoe is the problem. So the young designer created the concept of modular shoes, MODS, which can be easily disassembled for repair or can be customized.

MODS have five interchangeable parts which "use a minimum amount of material for maximum comfort and safety, while offering the user full control over the style and functionality of the shoes.".

A worn sole, a perforated upper, a lining covered in mud? Simply remove the offending part to clean or replace it and there’s no longer any need to put your favorite sneakers in the trash! MODS can also be adapted to their owner’s needs and desires... or to the different seasons. During the summer, you can for example put in an inner mesh lining to increase "breathability".

Assembled without using glue, MODS are made of three materials: wool for the lining; bamboo for the toe-box, the elastic wires that secure the sneakers’ various elements and for the bands; PET from waste plastics (bottles, ocean plastics) made into 3D filaments for the sole and heel counter.

Like Fairphones, MODS extend the life cycle of an everyday product

If one of the components is damaged, the user returns it to the manufacturer who is responsible for recycling it. Wool and bamboo can be composted and transformed into new parts while the plastic can be turned into filaments for use in a 3D printer.

With its modular design and durable and reusable materials, MODS extend the life cycle of a pair of shoes and reduces the amount of textile waste.

This summer, Quang Pham’s great idea won first prize in the Cradle to Cradle Product Design Challenge under the "Best Student Project" category. Although MODS are still at the prototype stage, the young designer said he wanted to develop the concept during his final year of study. We wish him the same success as that enjoyed by Bas van Abel and his Fairphone!