Barefoot Cobblers Do You Want Your Feet Back? Barefoot Cobblers. Do You Want Your Feet Back? Barefoot

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  • D o Y

    ou W ant Y

    our Feet B ack?

    B arefoot C


  • Do You Want Your Feet Back?

    Barefoot Cobblers

  • 2 3

    Table of Contents

  • 3 Foot, photographed during fieldwork as part of a biomechanical analysis, Nhoma, Namibia, 2018. © Thomas Nolf

    The Ju|’hoansi of Nyae Nyae, Namibia: A Historical and Anthropological Perspective

    Robert K. Hitchcock

    The Atelier Flora Blommaert


    04 – 09

    26 – 51

    108 – 123

    70 – 79

    132 – 141

    142 – 145

    84 – 105

    Foreword – Future Footprint

    Christine De Baan

    Feet and How to Shoe Them

    Catherine Willems

    How Humans Walk and Why Footwear Matters

    Kristiaan D’Août

    Interviews with Ju|’hoan Cobblers

  • 54 100% personalized 3D-printed footwear based on features of indigenous Indian footwear. Ghent, Belgium, 2018. © Thomas Nolf

    Foreword – Future Footprint

    Christine De Baan

  • 5 100% personalized 3D-printed footwear based on features of indigenous Indian footwear. Ghent, Belgium, 2018. © Thomas Nolf

    the switch, these villages become more techno­ logically advanced in their energy sourcing than their counterparts in the West, circumventing the need for coal, oil, or nuclear energy.

    From pre­industrial to post­industrial with the smallest possible footprint: these are great leaps, and necessary ones. We are currently using up our planet at the irrespon­ sible rate of 1.7 times its capacity, and the pace is increasing. Every year, Earth Over­ shoot Day—when we have taken more from nature than our planet can renew in the entire year—falls on an earlier date. This year it was August 1, meaning that we are living on borrowed time for the last five months of 2018.²

    2 The “we” here should be qualified, however: coun- tries like Qatar and Luxembourg already reached this date in February, whereas some African and Asian countries will not reach it at all this year ( shoot-days).

    It is also becoming clear that “green growth” is not enough: growth itself has become  un sustainable. “Degrowth” is the only way for ward. We need to radically rethink the way we live, produce, and consume.

    What makes Catherine Willems’ work¹ on “Future Footwear” so appealing is its promise to leapfrog more than 150 years of industrialization, with all its attendant afflictions—environmental destruction, depletion of natural resources, extreme global inequality—and bring us straight into a cleaner and fairer future, while taking cues from ancient knowledge and craft.

    1 Catherine Willems (KASK / School of Arts, Ghent, Belgium) founded Future Footwear Foundation to scale-up concepts that she developed for her doc- toral research at KASK to global activities and sus- tain the convergence beyond term-limited research.

    There are other examples of such leapfrogging, though not rooted in craft. Most famous is the arrival in recent decades of satellite dishes in remote rural villages across the Global South, many of which had been unreached by physical telephone lines, sparking new economies, net­ works, and knowledge building—particularly after the advent of what has become a most efficient tiny computer, the smartphone. Or the rise of high voltage direct­current systems connected to solar panels, bringing clean, cheap, and renewable energy to previously non­electrified communities. With a flick of

  • 7 Cobblers checking the quality of newly arrived eland antelope skins, Jaq’na, Namibia, 2018. © Thomas Nolf


    The rise of fast fashion is very recent. Only in the last two decades have people in the affluent world gone from having fairly limited wardrobes, with some variation for winter and summer, to the current almost daily glut of buying cheap, hardly­to­be­worn, soon­ to­be­discarded items of clothing. Fashion has quickly become the second largest polluting industry in the world, using up precious re­ sources and spreading toxic waste, creating an appalling record in income equality, and employing people in dismal working conditions. The fashion industry is realizing much too slowly that it urgently needs to change. It will not “degrow” by itself—there is too much money at stake. Legislation on an international level is needed to decrease the environmental pressure of the industry and raise the living standards of fashion workers. Meanwhile, consumer awareness is growing and people are looking for alternatives.

    As the recent exhibition State of Fashion 2018 | searching for the new luxury 3 showed, some of the larger companies are now researching and developing cleaner alternatives—halving the amount of water needed to produce a pair of jeans, for example—and have started monitoring

    Seen from the perspective of the earth’s existence (4.5 billion years), the presence of its current destroyer, Homo sapiens, is but a mere flash in time (200,000 years). Even within this limited timeframe of our existence as a species, the industrial era is just a blip. From the tentative perspective of some further millennia of human existence, we should be able to step back and see around it, into a more sensible future. To my mind, that is what Willems does when she looks closely at well­honed, traditional ways of making footwear, perfectly adapted to the natural environment and perfectly suited to the wearer’s feet, with the aim of recreating these qualities in a contemporary, future­oriented way, using materials and techniques with the lightest possible footprint and realizing the highest form of made­to­measure. Her work reminds us that not so long ago all of us wore handmade clothes and shoes, using the materials that came to hand, re­using what we already had, adapting, fitting—naturally bespoke. And we kept and used these few essentials for a long time. Just the other day, my father proudly pointed out that his newly polished, handsome­looking black shoes were more than forty years old.

  • 7 |Aice cutting backstraps, Jaq’na, Namibia, 2018. © Thomas Nolf

    The Future Footwear Foundation (FFF) can play an important part in this. The research by Willems and her team, also presented in State of Fashion, is unique in bringing three disparate fields together: traditional footwear in three very different indigenous cultures, the biomechanics of the human foot, and advanced technology for 3D measuring and printing. What makes this so interesting is the depth and seriousness of the exploration in each field, resulting in a richness of data and infor­ mation which has only just started to yield its first outcomes.

    This intense dedication to research and attention to detail might be a typically feminine trait. I am reminded of the deep long­term research into color by Dutch designer Hella Jongerius which, though it finds its applied use in the furniture (Vitra) and aviation industries (KLM), springs from her personal fascination with all aspects and properties of color, and her committed quest to changing our understanding of it and its use in our daily environment. Even without industry partners, her research would continue: first it exists, then comes the demand.

    and ameliorating working conditions in clothes factories.

    3 Arnhem, the Netherlands, 1 June – 22 July 2018, curated by Jose Teunissen (

    H&M (Sweden), the original fast fashion culprit and still in no ways perfect, is currently making some of the largest strides, while G­star RAW (Holland) recently produced their first “Cradle­to­Cradle Gold Level certified denim,” while publicly sharing the process and technology involved. Designers such as Stella McCartney (UK), Oskar Metsavaht (Osklen, Brazil), Amaka Osakwe (Maki Oh, Nigeria), and Mia Morikawa and Shani Himanshu (11.11/eleven eleven, India), are trailblazers in creating and advocating for fairer, cleaner fashion. And increasingly research is being done at universities and fashion schools into alternative sources, materials (algae, fungi, fruit waste), pro­ duction methods, and distribution systems (self­assembly, personalized adjustment, leasing, and borrowing). This research, coupled with the vision of designers and artists, is essential to understanding and imagining the way forward.

  • 9 Barefoot temple caretaker, Hampi, Karnataka, India, 2010. © Kristiaan D’Août

    We learn from FFF how these traditional types of footwear actually represent a “new luxury”: hand­made, bespoke, eco­friendly, equitable. And how this essentialist approach can be translated into a contemporary context, using the latest 3D­scanning technology and 3D printing to create the perfect made­to­ measure shoe with minimal material loss. This resonates with a renewed interest in Stewart Brand’s magazine Whole Earth Catalog, founded in 1968: it was the California bible for a minimalist, autarchic, ecologically sound lifestyle combining the tools and products of nomadic culture with new technology, with usefulness and easy accessibility as key re­ quirements for inclusion.

    Our feet are our primary means for standing on and moving about this earth. They anchor and propel us forward.4

    4 Kristiaan D’Août further explores this idea in his text in this book.

    Through modernization and industrialization, most of us have l