How the Nike-Veteran-Backed Hilos Aims to Solve Footwear Waste

A Portland-Oregon based company is looking to solve one of footwear’s biggest sustainability challenges. And it just got the funding to make even more progress.

Hilos, which uses 3D printed technology to avoid overproduction waste in footwear, recently closed a $3 million funding round to fuel product creation and partnerships with other brands. The funding round included investors such as former Nike chief operating officer Eric Sprunk, Nike’s retired VP of global footwear sourcing and manufacturing Greg Bui, XRC Labs, Better Ventures and Builders VC and brings the company’s total funding to date to $5 million.

Founded in 2019, Hilos creates and ships a 3D printed shoe to a customer within 72 hours of an order placement. This responsive model allows the company to avoid excess production — and the 3D printing system helps avoid manufacturing waste that is common in the months-long cycle it typically takes to produce a pair of shoes overseas.

“It reinvents the way shoes are made,” Hilos CEO and co-founder Elias Stahl. “So it can be built on a completely new zero waste supply chain made only after a customer buys locally in market.”

Balancing speed with sustainability is an age-old problem for the fashion and footwear industries.  Hilos sees both of these elements as essential if it is to transform the way it approaches footwear manufacturing.

“Consumers want product when they want it and how they want it,” said Bui, who joined Hilos to oversee technology and supply chain solutions. “And they want it done in a way that’s environmentally sustainable and thoughtful. And that’s really difficult to do leveraging large legacy supply chains.”

The traditional footwear manufacturing model involves multiple steps that can generate waste or carbon emissions at multiple steps, from product design to shipping overseas. For example, scrap foam from the creation on insoles and midsoles generates a significant portion of footwear waste, something startup Blumaka is specifically looking to address.

And after that creation process, which can take several months, excess production often goes to waste. According to Hilos, one out of five shoes ends up in a landfill after they are made. By operating by an order and response model, Hilos can limit excess pairs from being produced. And it can do it faster than a typical supply chain.

“If this is going to replace legacy supply chains, it has to be at a speed comparable to if it was made in advance,” Stahl said.

Scaling up

Hilos began testing its solution with its own concept footwear line that launched in May of 2021 with an open-toe chunky heel called the Georgia. Since then, the technology captured the attention of other sustainably-minded brands looking to utilize the system in their own network.

In October 0f 2021, Hilos partnered with shoe brand Helm to launch a line powered by this technology. When a customer orders pair of shoes from Helm’s website, the order is sent to Hilos, which then makes a pair on-demand and ships it directly to the consumer within 72 hours.


CREDIT: Nicholas Peter Wilson

“We know that in order to disrupt what we’re trying to do here at Hilos, it’s not going to be just Hilos,” Bui said. As such, part of Bui’s job focuses on working with other brands and industry leaders to spread the word about their solution and establish partnerships. Other than Helm, Hilos did not disclose other partners it is working with, but confirmed it is in conversations with leaders in the footwear space.

Hilos is also focusing on end-of-life footwear waste as well, by creating its shoes with less glue and no cement so they can be easily taken apart and recycled after use. The next challenge, which Hilos is still working on, is creating a consumer incentive to have them return used pairs of shoes to be recycled.

“Impact for us is eliminating overproduction in the industry, the entire industry, not just a portion of it,” Stahl said. “And we do that by accelerating the transition from mass manufactured wasteful supply chain, to one that is nimble, agile, local and zero waste.”

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