The concept of designing and personalizing footwear is nothing new – search “customizable shoes” on Google and more than four million results pop up, targeting everyone from cattle ranchers to vegan dancers. But peel back the linguistic layers of advertising, and what most companies offer are similar options from which customers can pick and choose: size, material, style, color. There may be thousands of combinations for any given shoe – but, in the end, each is simply one variation on a theme.
But what if there was a way to create a truly customized shoe, unique from all others? What if the product differed not merely by color or style, but in its molecular composition?
What if the material for your new sneakers was grown from genetically engineered animals with attributes chosen and personalized by you?
Sound far-fetched? It’s not. Enter RayFish Footwear, which allows customers to “harnesses the beauty and variety of nature to create the world’s first truly custom sneakers” – by designing their very own stingray, the leather of which is harvested and turned into a pair of literally one-of-a-kind shoes. No, seriously.
Using a “patented process of bio-customization,” RayFish’s genetic engineers have created a library of skin patterns and coloration from dozens of different stingray species. Utilizing an online design tool, customers can mix and match the designs to create a synthetic “supergene” cluster that, if implanted into a fetal stingray’s DNA before birth, will be expressed on the ray’s skin as it grows and matures. When the ray reaches adulthood, the leather, called shagreen, is harvested and manufactured into footwear. “One fish, one shoe” is the company’s motto.
Kinks in the development and design process are still being worked out; for the time being, RayFish is honing its product while soft launching the line with a series of online design contests. Winners receive a free pair of shoes, which will be worth approximately $1,800 once the online store opens to the public (currently, pricing of a pair of RayFish sneakers ranges from $14,800 to $16,200). You can see the entrants and winners here and submit your own design for consideration.
Is the RayFish model the next step in product personalization, or has the company taken the idea of customization too far? Fast Company’s Mark Wilson asks, “While I can conveniently forget that the leather in my shoes was once the skin of a cow, is there something different in knowing that the cow had been bred and slaughtered just for me? [Or] is this a farm-to-table situation, where it’s more ethical to name the pig that you’ll eventually eat?”
Or is it, in the end, simply an exercise in vanity — extending the concept of haute couture to its logical, but extreme, end?
Would you wear a pair of customized, genetically engineered sneakers? Why or why not? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.