3D-printed shoe startup steps into $3M to help reduce carbon footprints, localize manufacturing

Hilos CEO and co-founder Elias Stahl. (Hilos Photo)

Portland-based 3D-printed footwear startup Hilos has landed $3 million to boost its efforts in reducing the carbon footprint linked to shoe production.

The company developed an internal method of manufacturing modular footwear parts using 3D printers and thermoplastic polyurethane powder. The footwear assemblies are post-processed with AMT technology. The company said that the process incorporates patented new shoemaking techniques and digital tool chains for product creation.

Hilos is led by its CEO and co-founder Elias Stahl, who previously worked as the VP of product at business management consulting firm Handshake Partners. He is joined by co-founder and chief creative officer Gaia Giladi, a former associate designer at Hybrid Apparel.

The startup pitches a “click-to-ship” supply chain to shoe brands, where customers can order their shoes and have them made on-demand by one of Hilos’ 3D printers.

The startup points to multiple benefits for the model: faster turnaround times for customers, smaller inventory requirements, and reduced carbon emissions from foreign manufacturing. Most shoe manufacturing is currently done in Southeast Asia.

Hilo said revenue is already being generated and its customers include footwear brands like Helm Boots. The company also sells its own branded line of clogs, heels, loafers and sandals, with prices ranging from $225 to $375.

(Hilos Video)

The timing of Hilos’ funding announcement coincides with two factors: an increasing political push toward localizing supply chains and a rising consciousness among consumers regarding the environmental consequences of the fashion industry, Stahl told GeekWire in an email.

A host of startups stepped up between 2014 to 2017 seeking to 3D print footwear, Stahl said. Among the flock of new companies were Sols, which reportedly shuttered in 2017, and Feetz, which was acquired in 2019 by Casca. There are also modern competitors such as Carbon, which partners with Adidas and raised more than $680 million.

“The irony is that the investment large brands like Nike and Adidas made in additive manufacturing in that period was what incentivized the hardware, software, and material providers (like HP and BASF) to invest enough R&D into the systems that would eventually be able to support end-use digital manufacturing for footwear,” Stahl said.

There have also been a number of innovations around the design aspect of 3D printing. For instance, Seattle’s Glowforge debuted a new AI tool that lets users create artwork based on a written prompt that is optimized for 3D printing.

Hilos has set up shop in Portland, regarded as the capital of American shoemaking. The region is home to athletic juggernauts like Nike, Adidas, Columbia and Keen, and is also at the forefront of 3D printing tech, with companies like HP, 3D Systems and Autodesk based there.

“There are few places better for developing innovative products the traditional way, or to rethink the future of those supply chains,” Stahl said.

The funding round included participation from former Nike COO Eric Sprunk, and former Nike VP of global footwear sourcing and manufacturing Greg Bui. Venture firms Better Ventures, Builders VC and XRC Labs also participated.

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