Troy Nachtigall, Fashion Design ’04, is a shoe visionary

Someday soon, if Troy Nachtigall has his way, designers will create customized shoes for every person’s feet, reflecting our particular distribution of weight and the way we move. Someday, our shoes will be made so sustainably that when they wear out, we can eat them (after washing, of course). And someday we’ll wear edible grass shirts that grow by feeding on our sweat and cells, so that we eat the garment while the garment “eats” us. Nachtigall dreamed up—and in some cases, actually made—all of these, and much more. He is that rare person—a visionary—and in the interest of creating a greener, smarter, more streamlined future, he’s conceived a spectrum of ideas, from ordinary to outlandish. In 2015, he was accepted into the ArcInTex European Training Network (ETN), a consortium of universities in the European Union that organizes research into sustainable design concepts at the intersection of architecture, fashion design, and interactive design. Supported by a Marie Curie Research Fellowship (worth approximately $268,000), he’s working on a PhD in Ultra Personalized Product Systems at the Technical University of Eindhoven in the Netherlands.

Nachtigall began developing ideas about customization over a decade ago. “I loved computer patternmaking at FIT and saw the future of individual things for everyone,” he says. He continued his studies at Polimoda in Florence, Italy, then worked on “clothing that adapted to the body and movement of the user” for Italian designer Emilio Cavallini. While working on a fashion line by Dan Ward, Nachtigall studied footwear. He gained experience creating wearable technology for shoes while working with students in the master’s degree program at the SLEM (Shoes Leather Education Museum), an innovation center for shoes in the Netherlands. His application for the ETN grew out of these experiences.

Nachtigall is married to Annaluisa Franco, Fashion Design ’04, and it’s a match made in footwear heaven: Franco is the head of training and professional development at SLEM. The couple have two sons.

Hue asked Nachtigall about five of his favorite projects.


Heading a team of 12, Nachtigall created Solemaker, a system for making customized shoes using foot scans. “Each shoe is created with code that dynamically programs the sole material to the shape and weight distribution of the foot,” he says. The team launched the program at the 2016 Dutch and Dubai design weeks, where they scanned visitors’ feet and 3D-printed 350 unique pairs. The designers are developing a process by which owners can return worn-outshoes to be analyzed for how they were worn, so the next pair can be improved. “The shoes gather your data and become an expression of you at that moment,” he says. “What do you do? How do you move? How careful are you? How active are you? Each shoe tells the next shoe who you are.” Solemaker is “a step towards a future where data is used to make things for us,” he says.



The shortcomings of existing 3D-printed shoes inspired Nachtigall to create these, a collaboration with SLEM, the Autodesk Footwear Company in Britain, and Recreus, a manufacturer of 3D products in Spain. “I’d seen a lot of 3D shoes that were beautiful but complete blister makers—hard plastic messes,” he says. “I wanted to change that.” Working in Filoflex, a soft material, he and the Recreus engineers manipulated the density of the material to create “flexible geometries that bend and stretch like tree branches. We designed for walking, not standing.” Dinosaur fossils inspired the spikes, and Nachtigall prefers the all-white version, though they added rainbow color to the left shoe “to show what we could do.” The shoes are 100 percent recyclable.




Nachtigall co-created ONEDAY, a design-your-own sneaker kit, as part of a class for Rhode Island School of Design students studying abroad at SLEM. Anyone who purchased ONEDAY received a pattern for four different styles of sneakers ranging from “super low” to “super high tops” with suggestions on how to modify them and assembly instructions. Materials were sourced from around the world, Nachtigall says. “We found an Italian leather supplier, a German tool supplier, and a Portuguese sole manufacturer. We were really excited to be using the same sole that Hugo Boss and Lanvin use.” Funded by a Kickstarter campaign, they eventually sold more than 300 pairs of shoes to people on six continents. Feedback from users led to some hard truths, however: “Designers are still needed,” he says. “Many people love to see how things are made, but very few actually want to make them.”


The Dutch minister of education, innovation and science, Jet Bussemaker, left, sought out Nachtigall and his ETN colleagues to create a futuristic outfit for a political event in 2015. Nachtigall focused on the shoes, and others on the dress. Collaborating with an industrial designer, he scanned the minister’s feet with the goal of making footwear entirely adapted to her frame, style of movement, and active schedule. The shoes were formed out of a polyurethane resin called Filoflex, using off-the-shelf software (for Solemaker, they created their own); printing them took over 100 hours. Inspired by force fields, the soft, wavy lines move, allowing greater flexibility. They also matched her garment, with lines that traced the body’s contours in a way similar to a CAD patternmaking program. “We wanted to reflect the generative algorithmic parametric nature of the dress,” Nachtigall says. In theory, the shoes were supposed to improve the minister’s gait. Bussemaker called the outfit “surprisingly wearable.” The Telstra Perth Fashion Festival in Australia and the Cube Museum in California have both exhibited the shoes.