ReStep - Flat Pack Sandals for the 3rd World

As part of a Project this year geared towards helping those in need I have chosen to design a shoe for the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This is mainly geared towards those in need that are both IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) and Refugees.

The deadline is March 24th and I would like to design and make a prototype pair of shoes. I have begun the research phase and hope to be updating the thread to seek guidance and suggestions from those who have experience in both missionary work and the footwear industry.

The goal of the project is to create a light weight, durable, possibly adjustable, closed toed shoe for the refugees utilizing eco-materials as well as keeping packaging and shipping in consideration (possibly flat pack (as flat as possible))

Any suggestions of Material choice or where to get the necessary goods for prototyping (EVA foam, not in huge sheets) would be greatly appreciated.

James Kershaw

I’d look at what materials are locally available, then go from there. If you look at blogs like Afrigadget, most people are quite handy, so that could be a thing to play with as well. having people be able to reproduce and repair the shoes (they will repair the shoes).

I am leaning towards using recycled tires for soles and possibly a canvas or hemp for the upper.

Any suggestions or information on Glues to use? I would like to stick with a H2O based Glue to keep this as eco friendly as possible.

I have a feeling the shoe is going to have to be very primitive…

maybe go glueless.

Solid suggestion, I have tried researching glueless methods of shoe making and various cobbler sites but no inside information on how it is done.

Is it just sewn?

check out the nike considered line, they have many shoes on there that are cement free… or at leaast could be in theory. using a woven and interlocking outsole to attach to the upper.

Great post, mad inspiration

Have you checked out TOMS shoes?

Yeah I’ve checked TOMs shoes… actually have been doing quite a bit of research lately since the research phase of the project is due Tuesday… Im not very fond of the style of TOMs I think I want to go with something more universal

If you haven’t, go to the Congo first before you design something you think they need from the perspective of a Westerner. I know it is well intentioned. I know you’re trying to make the world a better place. But the people I met in Africa can’t afford your shoes. They make shoes that resemble this:

The people I have met don’t want you to make them more shoes, they want jobs. They want food. They want freedom. They want to be able to get to a place where they don’t need you to design them a “special pair of Congo shoes”.

If you give someone in the DRC, or anywhere else in most of Africa, a nice pair of shoes, they will have them stolen. They will get beaten for resiting, or worse killed for their nice shoes you’ve created for them.

The people of African Nations don’t need charity. They need human rights and functioning economies. They need Industries that provide decent paying jobs as opposed to exploitation.

It’s great that you care, truly. But it is misdirected.

I understand where everyone is coming from, I truly do. I feel the same when it comes to “designing” something for people who disagree with their living situation they are in, and can do nothing about it. However, this is a studio assignment that has to be done, one way or the other. A friend of mine I went to school with is from the DRC and lived there for 15 years, he has been the only eye I have had into the DRC. He has been helping me out with this project providing me information on the DRC and what his people need. As it will be virtually impossible to visit within the next few months.

I’m not here to change the world and I’m not here to create some nice fancy “designer” shoe that will fix these peoples problems, its not going to happen.

I’m here to get feedback and insight for a school project that is required of me from professionals and those with more experience. This was an assigned project not a selected one. The goal with the shoes I am going to design is to make them easily manufactured to help create jobs for the IDP’s and Refugees of the DRC, so they can look at the shoe, take local materials, and make one themselves by sewing the pieces together.

I agree that without visiting I will no be able to truly understand what these people need.

I am simply asking for advice in shoe making and construction.

This project is not going to change so I have to make due with what I have got.

So if anyone feels they can help provide me with contacts, information or insights on creating, not designing a shoe I am all ears and look forward to your response.

Kershaw, I get it. I realize that it is your professors that I have a beef with, not you.

My intention wasn’t to knock you down without providing insight. I think I did provide some insight, but in a destructive manner. My apologies for that.

I am glad you seem to have some grounding in this and definitely like that you have someone who can give you direct feedback. It will help you tremendously. I would suggest you rely on the boards for technical support and rely soley on your friend as the user feedback.

Great, great points Jon! I didn’t think about it that way either.

I understood your intentions and I know it was not a personal attack. I suppose I am going about this the wrong way…

I would like to ask the board, those experienced or who have relative knowledge for some pointers on constructing a shoe…

Stitching styles, information on lasts (I found one company for $185 for a pair, a bit pricey for me), also materials… I would like to keep this glueless so a woven sole would be ideal…

any suggestions on the process of creating a shoe would rock…

Thanks for everyones input so far


There are several ways to make a “last”, you can find a shoe you love, put a plastic bag in it, and fill the bag with plaster. From there you can smooth the plaster out and, BOOM, you got a last.

In terms of design approach, this thing should be about function, manufacturing, and blending in (as to IP’s points). The sandal IP posted is a great example. As little material (a tire and straps), very little hand processing (the straps are just cut, unlike a sewn upper), and not a beauty pageant winner (though I like that sandal a lot more than your average Tevas)

Big question-

what do they wear now? what REALLY is the need? I’d imagine that most people either go barefoot (and have from being a kid) or have something made locally…how is anything “new” going to really help?

Finding the REAL problem here I think is key. If there is no problem all, you’ve got is mental masturbation (sorry to be blunt).


Yeah RK is right. What do they have now? Is there are real need?

Also maybe you’re designing the process for them to make shoes (or whatever) and then they have a method to build a job on. Selling shoes, so they would be cobblers. You might look at the process for making shoes when they were nailed together, or how sails use to be made, and the equipment people used for that (pads on their palms so they could pierce the canvas).

its an interesting project, though the guys are probably right - it does sound like a 1st world effort to save Africans from a problem they don’t have with some kind of “solution”

So since your faced with this challenge and have been researching low cost methods of constructing shoes… what else have you found out about the problem? what knowledge can you share about what they are using now for shoes? What are the problems with the current shoes they have? what are the most common materials they have available - are car tires really available there?

Maybe there are some good reasons for them to have shoes, like parasites on the ground where they walk barefoot for example. Through the research about the user I bet you can find something relevant that could be addressed. What has your friend been telling you about shoes in Africa?

is there a real need for half the crap we all design??

If i think back to my college classes half the kids in there wouldnt have spent 5 minutes of their life giving a darn about anyone in the congo so to me this is not that bad of a learning opportunity for students. Im kind of confused why this project is getting bashed, i can see some good constructive criticism in this thread but some other not so constructive stuff as well.

I don’t think anyone is bashing the project. Surely that was not my intent with my comments. I was only saying to make the project stronger, it should be approached the most objectively as possible. Put yourself in the situation (as much as possible via research, I don’t think anyone expect you to go to DRC, though that would be great!) and get to the real problem, not a designer’s perspective of it.

I’ve seen many projects over the years in students portfolios that suffer from a “designer’s viewpoint”, and not one of reality. I’m not saying this is how the OP is approaching it, but just giving my words of caution. The classic example of this is the thousands of fancy touchscreen devices designed in classrooms every year targeting some sort of “medical care for the elderly”. The majority are complete BS.