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HM Spotlight: Jon Rushton

You’re right, we don’t do these spotlights so often. But then comes along a story that asks to be shared. Introducing Jon Rushton, product designer @ Trillium Technologies and founder of Made In….Shoes.

Caption: You can make Made In Shoes with everything you see in this image.

I “met” Jon via an e-introduction by Bram Geenen at Wevolver. Both supported our pilot with Humanitarian Item Testing this past fall/winter. Since then we’ve talked on Skype a couple times. I learned more about his work and he also shared further testing feedback on Field Ready’s otoscope.

Jon’s 3D Printed Shoe Manufacture System, Made In…Shoes, spun out of a university final project. In his research phase, he learned that more than 1 billion people are at risk for soil borne diseases such as Tetanus, Hookworm and Jiggers and this gave his shoe project direction. His final project paper notes that “The prevalence of hookworm is highest in Angola and Liberia with a staggering 80-100% of the populations of each country affected. When researching the wealth of both of the areas, it became apparent that one of these nation’s situations was worse than the other. Angola has a: GDP per capita of £3749.53, with 40% of the population living below the poverty line and a physician density of 0.08 per 1000 people. Comparatively, Liberia has a: GDP per capita of £312.46 with 80% of the population living below the poverty line and a physician density of 0.014 per 1000 people (Indexmundi, 2012).” Interestingly, having designed for the Liberia market, he factored in locally available materials to enable local production. The key material in Jon’s case is Latex. Latex from rubber trees commonly found in equatorial regions.

Caption: early prototype, iteration #12

By reaching out to his network he eventually was connected with Philip Donkor, founder of Life Liberia, who provided helpful field testing of the late-stage prototypes. A few youth gave the shoes a hard go on the soccer fields.

Caption: Tested the shoes on dirt soccer fields, Liberia.

His shoe design went through 17 iterations until he settled on a viable result.

Caption: J.Rushton’s final shoe for his graduate project. Formed on a wood model.

After talking to a number of charities about his shoes, and getting nowhere with them, he did what the best of us do. He got a paying job. Yet his new employer, Trilllium Technologies, championed his efforts and he was able to advance the design to utilize customizable 3D molds and to package it into a manufacturing system that an entrepreneur could download online and get started. Here’s an excerpt from Jon’s Wevolver page on the potential economics:

One day they are introduced to the MIS system and download the files to get started, gain access to a 3D printer and a small loan/grant of £150(equivalent). With this they buy enough materials to make 100 pairs of shoes. The making process is simple and doesn't require electricity or machinery while offering a high degree of user customisation and a high quality product finish. If sold at the guide price of £6.50 per pair. They would make £3.67 profit per pair based on bootstrapping the business from a residence.

It is predicted that one shoemaker could make on average four pairs of shoes per day yielding 1,136 pairs per year. If all the shoes they make are sold the yearly profit of a shoe manufacturer serving a community of up to 1000 people in need is: £4,253 this is approximately 32 times the national average salary!

Caption: Current design

Pretty cool. But is there demand? Will people buy the shoes? Jon’s currently in discussions with Samwel Kimani, Director of the Tumaini Innovation Center in Eldoret, Kenya to explore local production and sale there. The cool thing is though, anyone can help answer this question by making the molds (download the files from Wevolver), then making a couple of shoes and giving them to friends to try. What does the market look like in your region for this kind of shoe? What crazy, fun designs would you make?

Note, an important factor in Jon’s design is his incorporation of environmental friendly production. His Made In Shoes are carbon negative (positive impact) with -0.18 Kg CO2e for non-organically derived latex and -2.63 Kg CO2e respectively for organically derived latex (see his page for further info on this).

If you venture into this project, there are a couple of challenges to keep in mind – ones that Jon identified. One, as an open source hardware design that leverages 3D printing, the 3D printer that you have or utilize may differ from the one Jon tested with. This may or may not require some tweaking on your end to achieve a quality outcome. Jon stated that he uses a hobbyist printer and that it has worked fine. He also designs his items to allow for high tolerance to accommodate different machines. Two, the latex rubber shoes can be hot. Jon has addressed this so far by lining the shoes with felt (latex is a binding agent) and designing ventilation into the rubber. There may be other modifications or materials that may be more appropriate for your environment. See a short video of the making process here.

Specific asks from Jon for the Humanitarian Making community:

  • Makers to create unique shoe designs for different purposes.

  • Adapt the existing design to make shoes that you’d want to see and share the design back to the community.

  • Introductions to makerspaces along the equator and connections made with latex farmers or people who have that material in those areas.

  • Systemic help: learning who are the main actors and players in this ecosystem.

  • Funding (£20k) to pilot the project in a location in need. This system will train a local partner, create 1000 pairs of shoes and equip the partner with a 3D printer – all with the goals of shoe manufacture sustainability, environmental care and improved well-being.

Contact Jon directly at

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