Princeton University Library Catalog

Unconventional Sneaker Design: The Design and Exploration of a Bamboo Spring-Actuated Running Shoe

Xu, Kingston [Browse]
Senior thesis
Lidow, Derek [Browse]
Princeton University. Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering [Browse]
Class year:
84 pages
Summary note:
The impetus for this thesis was to engineer, design, and fabricate a running shoe whose primary mechanism of shock absorption in the sole was a cantilever spring made of wood and/or a woody material. While modern sneakers boast an impressive breadth of shapes, colors, and well-marketed sole technologies across different models and brands, they are manufactured using a rather rigidly-defined arsenal of synthetic plastic-based fabrics and foams. With that said, the author wanted to explore how the design of a sneaker would change if it were instead made of wood and other naturally-derived materials. The primary investigation was to see if a sneaker comprised of sustainable and environmentally-friendly components would be able to match or even exceed the performance of plastics-based running shoes that have become the standard. Aesthetics were also an important consideration for the final product. Through research and analysis of the material properties belonging to different types of wood, it was decided that bamboo would be used for the sole due to its high strength-to-weight ratio, sustainability (fast growth rate), and unique appearance. Other materials included cork, hemp fabric, and hemp twine for the various other parts of the shoe. Two iterations of design were completed, with issues and complications from the first improved upon in the second. It was determined that a durable and comfortable shoe made from bamboo is highly feasible, and that the cantilever spring sole is both mechanically effective and aesthetically unique. Due to natural variability in organic materials like bamboo, production consistent with design intent was difficult to achieve and manufacturing defects that affected the characteristics of the heel spring were present. Therefore, results may not reflect the potential of the design and materials under more ideal conditions. Remedies and future improvements are proposed. Ultimately, much insight was gained into finding a new way of manipulating one of mankind’s most ubiquitously-used materials.