The/Constructive Sneakers

What if you deconstruct shoes into modular components? Components from recycled materials, from a local area? Custom Territory blurs the lines between making shoes, designing and wearing. A new last for circular shoes.

As a research and design studio, Custom Territory Studio aims to keep the linear shoe industry under review and, above all, more sustainable. The research started with circular design researcher Ben Hagenaars and some PhD students at LUCA School of Arts in Genk. They started from fashion in the street to develop a new sneaker model.

What would hip shoes look like if you only worked with recycled or recovered materials?

Custom Territory prototype combines traditional Ambiorix shoes with locally sourced industrial waste (Rubber and PVC).

What would hip shoes look like if you only worked with recycled or recovered materials? And, if additional raw materials were needed, then only extracted from the immediate vicinity. This search yielded many intriguing ‘terroir trainers’, but at the same time Custom Territory tinkered with a new last to shoehorn in a new circular thinking model.


What role does the shoe industry and the shoemaker play today and in the future? It’s more than the trick question of the Custom Territory shoes. Before the industrial revolution, the cobbler still represented the role of a craftsman. Someone who makes footwear with natural materials such as leather and wood, held together by laces and glue. A professional especially, but at the same time also designer and producer. His production process is time-consuming, but the suits are invariably qualitative and unique. In our rapid economy, there seems to be little room for this kind of service.

Industrialization has standardized the manufacturing process and in that role also decoupled the shoe design and making from each other. The craftsman focuses on repairing and extending the life of the shoe, or adapts it to the physical and personal preference of the wearer. Optimizing production processes – think synthetic materials and injection molding – has an exponential in the globalised sneaker industry and has in a sense also fed a throwaway culture. In this street culture, the pollution, depletion of raw materials and inhumane working conditions of the linear system of sneaker production is even ignored. There is no room for individual shoemakers or repairers, you just buy new sneakers and throw the old one away.

Custom Territory works very closely with Ambiorix,a leading Belgian shoe manufacturer. For example, for the Custom Territory prototypes, they combined traditional Ambiorix shoes with locally produced industrial waste such as rubber and PVC. “They have a lot of experience in making shoes and we linked that to the knowledge of the shoemakers to create modular sneaker components”, says Ben Hagenaars. The interest in this kind of deconstructed sneakers is not even far-fetched, just look at the fashion image that Maison Margiela and Raf Simons have provided. The recovery of materials, parts and components could thus shed new light on the concepts of ‘vintage’ or ‘aged’ sneakers.

For the Custom Territory prototypes, traditional Ambiorix shoes are combined with locally produced industrial waste such as rubber and PVC.

Custom Territory workshop @ Mooi Festival 2018, video by Senne Van Der Ven