How much faster can you build a sneaker, exactly? A lot, it turns out. Wired UK has paid a visit to Adidas, which is hauling shoe manufacturing from labor-intensive Chinese plants into the aptly named Speed Factories in America and Germany.
Using tricks like robotic knitting, advanced plastic forming, and 3-D printing (which is provided by Carbon, one of our 50 Smartest Companies of 2017), Adidas plans to make even custom sneakers 90 times faster than it can right now. It plans to crank out a million pairs of shoes a year from two Speed Factories—one in Atlanta, Georgia, the other in Bavaria, Germany—by the end of 2017.
Such innovation, it hopes, will allow it to remain competitive with Nike and Under Armor, which currently dominate the sportswear world.
Adidas isn’t alone in giving fashion a high-tech overhaul, though. Nike is using static electricity robots to assemble sneakers, Sewbo is trying to build machines that can stitch together clothes, and Ministry of Supply is using automated looms to knit sweaters on demand.
All of which could take some of the ethical quandary out of wearing cheap clothes made in Asia—though it could also introduce newfound guilt as production of those threads ends up eroding jobs.