Secret of the silk shoe

Have you ever imagined you might wear a silk shoe? Two designers based in China have developed a procedure that is making this fairy tale come true.

Extremely thin silk threads are spun into fibres and then used as the shoe upper, that has silk’s recognisable shiny, soft grey-beige hue.

The designers, Christoph John and Nicole Goymann, bought silkworm cocoons from farmers near the Chinese city of Hangzhou. They boiled the cocoons to soften and liquidise the worms’ natural glue, and then reeled the silk themselves, using a traditional reel.

This soft silk is then wound onto a foot-shaped mould, creating the shape of the upper part of the shoe. The winding silk is actually woven into place. Weaving increases the textile’s strength. Leaving the upper to dry causes it to become tough, because sericin, the natural glue in silk, hardens when it comes into contact with air. When finished, the fabric is surprisingly stiff and tough, say the designers.

As an experiment, the designers tried shaping the silk into different shapes. That led them to create dishes and even vases made of silk. This shows that silk is a far tougher material than we commonly think. Applying the material in shoes was a process of discovery, rather than design, but the principle works well.

Interestingly, the shoes are an uncommon materials’ mix, with the soles made of mulberry bark and the clear heels from acrylic. Mulberry is also the source of silk worm food, closing an interesting material loop in this very stylish shoe.


Photos by Christoph John. Information via the designers.