Rik Olthuis

In Conversation With: Rik Olthuis

May 1, 2021

 Global Footwear Awards Category winner Rik Olthuis discussed Voroni Runners, GFA 2020 winning design.

Making its debut on the international design stage, Global Footwear Awards (GFA) has begun its global search to identify the most innovative design in footwear. Voroni Runners was awarded the best in sustainable category for student level.

Voroni Runners are sneakers made using only 100% biodegradable materials, constructed without the use of any adhesives so material can be seperated and composted individually. Biodegradable alternatives accommodate proactive waste management targeting the source of the issue as opposed to dealing with materials after production. Implementing the latest in 3D printing and scanning technologies, combining additive manufacturing with injection molding for a specialized outcome to ensure a comfortable fit, prompting healthy exercise.


GFA talks with Rik about his background and his winning project.


What is your background?

Industrial Design graduate from Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand. Completed a Bachelor of Design with Honours in Industrial Design and a minor in Marketing. I have a passion for designing products that improve environmental, social and experiential factors. Within footwear I look to examine the product lifecycle and use innovative materials and constructions, employing developing technologies such as scanning and 3D printing to offer environmentally focused designs.


What does this award mean to you personally? 

To me the Global Footwear Awards provides validation, not just as a designer but in footwear specifically. Footwear is a huge market and it’s difficult to know where you stand. The Global Footwear Awards have helped ground my work and see that this exploration is seen and valued. 


What was most important for you when working on this project and what were the biggest challenges you faced? 

Most important to me was ensuring that the work I produced I was proud of and to a high enough standard. I wanted to push and challenge myself when developing the project brief. I had been told developing a pair of shoes would be difficult and to make sure its achievable by cutting back in areas that would be too difficult. This made me want to showcase my skills to have a resolved functional pair of shoes that will reflect my work and abilities. The biggest challenges came around learning completely new areas, as an industrial designer I had a lot to learn around soft fabrics, these have a completely different form and movement. 


How/when did you discover that you wanted to work in design? 

Throughout my studies I tended to find that industrial design blended my range of skill rather perfectly, I was able to showcase my problem solving, creativity, craftsmanship, ingenuity, mathematics even physics. These were all subjects I enjoyed, being able to bring together all these skills together made me love design even more. Footwear specifically was something I had always had an interest in. With a wide background in sports, it became a clear link between being active and healthy and my developing design passion.  


How do you think your own culture and environment has shaped your personal and professional creative vision? 

I think I come from a unique background, born in New Zealand with a full Dutch heritage I have a connection with natural and lush green backyards along with the experience of the European lifestyle. I understand well that innovation and technological advancements help build great communities while also valueing sustainability appreciating how the natural experience can really enrich health and wellbeing. 


How do you feel footwear design has evolved over the past years and how do you see it evolving in the future? 

Over the past decades footwear has become incredibly specialized employing new and unseen technologies, resulting in the average consumer owning many pairs of shoes. This has ramped up production and demand for more niche footwear. I think the future holds potential for a more streamlined production where products are able to be made specialized without large production expenses. A unified manufacturing means where energy consumption and biproducts can be evaluated and managed more effectively. 


What do you think are the biggest challenges and opportunities in your career and the industry now? 

Manufacturing means have been established and set in their ways, if it’s not broken don’t fix it. Our behavior around product use and consumption has set a standard. Environmental threat is asking for alternatives, this is a big change and one to be done over time. Finding and introducing these alternative methods will be a challenging and exciting process to improve our consumption culture. 

Design has become so accessible, more people are able to express their thoughts working towards an overall improvement of the products we build relationships with, I see this as the opportunity. However it remains difficult to separate your ideas from the many others. The already competitive industry is flooded with designs and when evaluated are most often reduced down to just aesthetic and price. 


What’s your creative process and what creative software do you use? 

I always start with the bare stripped-down mediums. Theres a rawness to sketching and an ability to separate cognitive thought to the lines and marks that are made resulting in a real freeness of design, this is where I also tend to mix mediums built up from my experience with pencils, pastels, pens and paint. In the next stages I work towards digital refinement using the adobe creative cloud suite. When moving down the process I always think 3D modelling is invaluable and provides endless detail that is lost in imagery alone. A lecturer of mine used to say a picture is worth a thousand words, and a model is worth a thousand pictures. Once experimented with model making and testing I move to 3D modelling where my strengths lay with Rhinoceroses and Solidworks. From here I am able to present ideas through rendering software’s such as Solidworks Visualize and Keyshot. With a set of plans and research and testing behind me I can begin crafting and machining the final work that best represents the development process, proposing a strong solution to the initial problem. 


What kind of questions do you ask before beginning a shoe design?  What piece of information is of utmost value? 

I think its most important to know what or who are you designing for and to not lose sight of this. Keep referencing back to your original issue and ask yourself if this will help improve the situation and overall way of life. 


How do you feel about the topic of sustainability in regards to footwear design in general? 

I think sustainability is definitely on the rise in terms of awareness and even execution in the footwear industry but it can be a difficult concept in design. We design products and footwear to meet consumer needs which are largely driven by wants, resulting in a fast fashion mindset. I think importance has been placed on sustainability but we don’t have a clear answer yet, the more exploration the better. It’s the most exciting part of designing as it is the way of the future and has the potential to solve all problems, they just need to be valued and explored to be able to meet and even surpass more traditional production methods. 


What do you wish to see more of in the footwear industries? 

I wish to see more young minds so passionate about advancing and improving these design sectors. I do think it’s happening but I wish I could just see more of it as well as the outcome right now.