Shoe manufacturers have employed all kinds of tactics to cut weight, making shoes that are lighter, quicker and smoother for training, sports and everyday living. Try as they might, there are only so many ounces to be lost when building a piece of gear from foam, rubber and leather. That's why Unbelievable Test Laboratory (UT.LAB) looks to an unconventional material called Tyvek paper in building its barely there Light Wing shoes.
A paper shoe sounds like something that would fall apart before you made it to your car in the shoe store parking lot. That would probably be true of a shoe that you origamied out of construction paper, but the Light Wing uses a stronger type of paper.
In fact, DuPont's Tyvek isn't technically paper at all, but a proprietary spunbonded fabric made from high density polyethylene fibers. It has a look and feel similar to paper, and is created in sheets, but it offers many advantages over paper, including rugged tear resistance, a higher strength to weight ratio and moisture resistance. The combination of properties have made it a popular choice for a variety of applications that includes envelopes, industrial packaging and vehicle covers.
UT.LAB founder Token Hu began experimenting with Tyvek two years ago, and UT.LAB has gone through 500 shoe prototypes, experimenting with various materials and eventually readying a version that it feels is suitable for buyers. It believes Tyvek is a natural choice for shoes because of its light weight, breathability, paper-like printing capabilities and rugged durability.
While Tyvek is durable, it would probably wear out pretty quickly if used on high-contact parts of the shoe like the outsole. Like any other shoe, the Light Wing uses a combination of materials designed to provide the best mix of low weight, durability and function. The upper is made from Tyvek, the outsole is made from a lightweight URT foam-rubber, the laces are waxed cotton, and the insole is made from POLIYOU foam. UT.LAB says that the POLIYOU foam offers superior ventilation, moisture absorption and anti-odor properties while giving cushioning similar to a performance cross trainer. Thanks to specially chosen inks and printing processes the shoes can be washed without losing their color.
Using this combination of materials, UT.LAB has created a shoe that weighs just 150 grams (5.3 oz) for single shoe of size US men's 11. Compare that to pretty much any other shoe, including such lightweight milestones as the 160-g (5.6-oz) Nike Flyknit and 165-g (5.8-oz) adidas adizero f50, and you'll see that UT.LAB has created an ultralight piece of footwear that few can compete with. Assuming the shoe is comparable to other shoes in comfort, performance and durability, it might really be onto something with its Tyvek design. Other manufacturers also offer Tyvek shoes.
UT.LAB plans to produce a limited run of 2,013 pairs of Light Wing Pencil shoes. All of the initial 1 through 109 numbered editions have sold out on Kickstarter, but a pledge of as little as US$65 will get you a pair of Light Wing Pencils. That price is below the $68 retail price and includes a Tyvek wallet. UT.LAB has already raised nearly double its initial goal of $15,000, so it appears that it's on its way toward its estimated August delivery date.
By C.C. Weiss