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Rothy’s 3D knitted shoe turning plastics into something beautiful and useful

‘Sustainable since day one’ with this vision Rothy’s shoe began as an idea to turn recycled, single-use plastics into something both beautiful and useful.

Headquartered in San Francisco, it combines the very best of hand-craftsmanship and machine assembly to create the most efficient, environmentally friendly process and product possible.

Rothy's shoe
Courtesy: Rothy’s

The process for knitted shoes contains four main ingredients: time, engineering, manpower, and the technical process that knits them together.

Time

A designer imagines a color, pattern, shape or outline and translates that vision into a sample or digitized image. Once she’s happy with it, a programmer develops the exact design in the right software. A 3D printing takes a computer aided design (CAD) and slices it into thousands of layers, allowing a printer to recreate the item on a 3D printer.

Three years in, Rothy’s taken over 30 million plastic bottles destined for landfills and repurposed them into timeless, durable flats.

Engineering

When the 3D knitting machine is programmed and properly set, an engineer runs the machine, adjusting all the little details. These 3D knitted uppers come off the machine in one piece, unlike typical shoe construction that stitches pieces together, and can simply be attached to a recycled rubber sole.

Rothy's shoe, China factory
Figure 1: A worker in Rothy’s factory in China. Courtesy: Rothy’s

Manpower

It takes three people. The communication between designer, programmer, and engineer is crucial to the 3D knitting process, and getting it right takes time.

Technical process

A 3D knitting machine has thousands of tiny needles that, once programmed, race back and forth to create a perfectly-made flat knit shoe.

3D knitting gives Rothy’s the ability to use technical fibers, organic fibers–literally anything–to create knitted shoes with extremely low waste. And shaping to exact size with no seams, precision and efficiency.

Roth Martin, Co-Founder, Rothy's
Figure 2: Roth Martin, Co-Founder, Rothy’s visiting the factory in China. Courtesy: Rothy’s

Their product range includes round-toe and point-toe flats, loafers and sneakers in a variety of colors and patterns, plus kids’ loafers and sneakers.

In three years Rothy’s saw sales of more than $140 million and expects $280 million in sales this year, but Roth Martin, Co-Founder, Rothy’s is careful about expansion. He said, “We could open 70 stores this year if we wanted to, but we will open four or five. We want to do it right.”

Rothy’s will open stores in a handful of cities, including Washington, DC, New York and Los Angeles this fall. It soft-launched sales in Shanghai earlier this year with a shop within the WeChat messaging app, a popular way to sell in China.

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