July 2021

Back to nature: Flocus™ kapok is the zero impact alternative to the existing material applications in footwear

Deoshree Bendre is a material designer committed to designing and developing innovative products and sustainable design systems.

For her graduation project in Design for Fashion Systems at Politecnico di Milano she experimented new uses of kapok in partnership with Flocus™.

Let’s discover more about her project.

1 – Hello Deoshree, can you briefly describe your project?

The project focuses on introducing zero impact bio-based material alternatives to the existing material applications in the footwear industry. The theme of this thesis revolves around the notion of “back to nature” by exploring and detecting natural material possibilities and re-introducing plant-based materials in the industry.

2- How did you come across kapok and Flocus™?

I came across kapok in India while researching about plant based fibers. When I started to study kapok fiber I came across Flocus™ and contacted the company in order to understand the already existing materials developed by them and if there was a possibility to create new material blends with them. Jeroen Muijsers and Sara Cicognani, the founders of Flocus, were very interested in supporting the application of kapok material in the footwear industry. They offered me an internship opportunity at Flocus™ Italian office in order to work together on the development of this project.

3- What types of materials of kapok you incorporated in the shoe?

The shoes consist of both woven and non-woven materials for the insoles. A blended kapok yarn was used with circular and 3d knitting technologies to create the upper part of the shoes. Kapok and PLA blended Maliwatt and Malivlies nonwovens made by Flocus™ were used with heat press for the insoles of the shoe.

4 – What were the challenges you came across while using Flocus™ kapok?

In order to achieve a high-performance product, in-depth research and material tests were performed. Various types of blends with kapok were incorporated for the prototype to understand the functional advantaged of the material in the product. Since the material has a variety of natural properties, I wanted to incorporate most of them in the final shoe without compromising on the high-performance factor. For this rapid prototyping was considered.

5- Which is the added value that a 100% natural and zero footprint material like Flocus™ kapok can give to a sneaker?

Currently in a sneaker over 40 different materials are used and mostly all of them are plastic based. Many types of chemical coatings are applied to these materials in order to gain properties like Waterproof, Antibacterial, Anti Odor etc. By incorporating Flocus™ kapok as a material, the need of chemical coatings is not required due to kapok natural properties like hydrophobic and antibacterial.

The manufacturing of one sneaker produces about 30 tones or carbon-di-oxide. The application of plant-based materials like Flocus™ kapok in the footwear industry can eliminate the toxic production process reducing the environmental impacts. By introducing Flocus™ kapok, we can also replace the plastic applications in the industry targeting the waste problems caused by plastics.

6 – How much did Flocus' technical skills influence the success of the project?

Flocus™ opened a world of possibilities for my project and showed me the flexibility and resilience of kapok fiber. Jeroen Muijsers, Flocus CEO and technical director, introduced me to Maliwatt, a nonwoven textile material achieved by combining kapok fiber with PLA fiber, and he showed me various experiments and processing's he had conducted with Maliwatt. This helped me to determine how to apply this material to my project.

Jeroen has a thorough understanding of the kapok application, and he explained how to apply the properties of this material in different products. For the initial prototyping, Jeroen gave me an insight into using thermo-pressing on the Maliwatt in order to strengthen the material. We investigated the possibility of layering the kapok with other materials, including cotton hydroentanglement and wool batting non-wovens.

To ensure a comfortable fit for the wearer, Jeroen suggested layering the kapok in different sizes and material combinations, each with its own function to achieve a sweat free foot. Thanks to his experience, expertise  and guidance, we were able to create a fully functional final prototype.