Client Interview: 3D Printing Pumps Up Footwear Maker

Lauren Kaufman

Here at PAN, we love to work with clients on the forefront of technology, and just recently launched Fuel3D’s SCANIFY product at CES. With the global 3D printing market predicted to reach $8.6 billion by 2020, we’re always curious what new innovation will take off (Allied Market Research). As 3D printing expands across new verticals, advocates say it promises to revolutionize manufacturing and that the fashion industry in particular needs to adapt (Entrepreneur). 

PAN sat down with Michele Levy, CEO and co-founder of Ilhabela Holdings, Inc., which has exclusive distribution of Melissa Shoes in the United States and the Caribbean, to talk 3D printing, footwear and what’s to come. Melissa is an innovative and forward thinking a fashion entrepreneur whose extensive career and experience includes bringing a fashion forward Brazilian shoe brand to the United States to become an icon in the domestic accessories industry, earning design collaborations with the likes of Vivian Westwood and Jason Wu. A French-Brazilian national, Michele has a degree in Economics from the Universidade de São Paulo (FEA) and an MBA from Harvard Business School.  313545096500

Melissa Magda + Jason Wu

Can you tell us a little bit about how Melissa started 3D Printing Shoes?

We have been studying 3D printing for many years, even before it became a popular item. Melissa has always been pushing and leading the technology for the manufacture of plastic shoes, so it is in our DNA to test, develop and try innovative technologies. In 2013, we did an experiment with artist Sebastian Errazuriz in a show in our pop-up store in Miami called “12 Shoes For 12 Lovers.” The [3D printing] technology is still not 100% there to make fully wearable shoes, but this vernissage was a showcase of the direction the technology can take us

What do you predict for the future of 3D printing in the footwear industry?

I predict much more individually in the design of shoes. An item that truly reflects ones personality, desires, ideas and dreams.

We know Melissa prioritizes sustainability- do you think 3D printing promotes sustainable design?

Absolutely. But responsibility is a big part of this. Not all plastics are created equal. We use a type of PVC that we know the origin of, and that can be recycled and used again. So hopefully, users and technology will go in [the sustainable] direction.

As technology and fashion converge, how do you think this will impact trends and forecasting?

We design for consumers, not for us. So it always shocked me that the industry still designs before consumers can have a say. At Melissa, we test most of our products in our own stores before fully bringing [a style] to market. [This] is still a small test and concentrated on the geographies where our stores are located. However, it is an indication of where fashion is going. Many start-ups are popping up where consumers can have a say in future designs and collections and we are adopting those technologies in an important way. The flip side of this [consumer-driven approach] takes me back to something Henry Ford said, “If you had asked people in my time what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” And he invented the mass produced cars. So we still have a responsibility to push the envelope and innovate, so the industry will never be a pure science since there is so much art associated with [design].

Melissa offers unique retail experiences- do you plan to integrate technology into your retail experience in the future?

Our stores have an unique DNA of design, art and inclusion. We want the customer to experience the brand, more than anything else. Smell the shoes, touch them, see them and feel their comfort. Technology cannot replace that. However, technology can help us further enhance those experiences by bringing customer closer to [our brand] through our e-commerce site, for example. By allowing them to virtually experience the look of shoes and fashion shows on screens, we incorporate those elements into the [consumer] experience. I strongly believe in technology, but nothing in retail replaces the human touch. 

How do you communicate your innovative use of 3D printing to your customers?

So far we have not mass-produced [3D printed products] to actually sell to customers. What we have done through shows and expositions is to show where the technology is going, what we are capable of doing and dreaming for the future, which has helped to strengthen our brand.


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