Design Student Makes Shoes from His 944\u2019s Interior Fabric\u2014and You Can, Too!

“Before you criticize a man, walk a mile in his shoes made from the upholstery of his 1987 Porsche 944.”

Transportation Design student Matt Zheng is a self-described “Porsche nerd,” the owner of both a Boxster and a 1987 944. He is a full-time student at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena. This semester, in addition to drawing cars for his other classes, he is taking a new class called ECOMADEinLA. He and seven other students have designed and manufactured “wearables and furniture” while working with six Los Angeles businesses. The students have repurposed what in the carpet business is referred to as “remnants” but in this case it is called “locally upcycled materials such as dead stock leather, dead stock denim, and upcycled air bag fabric.”

“They transformed these materials through smart design and ethical manufacturing to create surf bags, footwear, puff jackets, bracelets, and race jackets,” ArtCenter says.

We’re looking specifically at a pair of shoes Zheng made from the leftover fabric of his 944 when he reupholstered it.

“I am a designer, I design cars,” said Zheng. “This is my side passion. I love cars, obviously, so these shoes are made from the material from my own car.”

Zheng was reupholstering his car at about the same time he was taking the class. So, after removing the old seat material and the padding that was glued to the backside of it, he designed a shoe that would include the leftover material. One of the companies the class is working with is an L.A. firm called COMMUNITYmade. COMMUNITYmade specializes in making shoes and can make all kinds of custom shoes in any number you want made and can even use “locally upscaled materials” like Porsche 944 seats.

Zheng took that seat material, added some houndstooth fabric that was locally sourced from L.A. garment district leftovers, and COMMUNITYmade did the rest.

“The idea is that we can prep everything here, we’ve got boutique studio capabilities, we can do custom versions, we can actually make any shoe from scratch,” said COMMUNITYmade co-owner Shannon Scott. “So it’s not just our models, we’ve had a lot of other creators that have come in.”

So somebody could come in with their own material…

“…and a sketch and we bring it to life and bring them into production if they need to.”

Zheng and fellow student Preston Sanchez made shoes for their class projects. Other students made backpacks, totes, and even a surfboard bag out of the material used to make air bags. The class itself was made possible in part by a grant from VentureWell, a non-profit dedicated to “cultivate inventors, innovators, and entrepreneurs driven to solve the world’s biggest challenges and create lasting impact.”

One student, Jess Ziman, made a very comfortable couch from air bag material. Another, surfer Anna Joy Lee, made a carrying bag for her surfboard, along with several other totes and backpacks. All products were made from material that would otherwise be thrown out and clog up a landfill somewhere. The shoes in particular lend themselves to manufacture from salvaged material since a shoe doesn’t require much donor fabric or leather to make—COMMUNITYmade adds the soles and sews everything together.

The only problem is that all this is just in the design concept phase, at least as far as the ArtCenter students’ projects you see here. Much as you may want a pair of Zheng’s Porsche shoes, it’s tough to get him to commit to a business deal. Such a deal may come through and may even be helped by instructor and entrepreneur Mateo Neri.

“If someone said, ‘Hey, I want 100,’ or, ‘I want a pair and I’ll provide the leather,’ yeah, we could make ‘em,” said Neri. “That’s the beauty of COMMUNITYmade, it’s an actual shoe brand that manufactures the shoes here in Los Angeles. They have the capacity to do one pair or 1000 pairs.”

So at the very least you could send your own seat fabric to COMMUNITYmade and they’d be happy to make your shoes, or to go into business with you making a thousand shoes. COMMUNITYmade will make any shoe you want, starting at $400 a pair if you’re just having one pair made. If you set up a deal to make 1000 pairs of shoes, the price goes down. Whether Zheng would design your Porsche shoe has yet to be sorted out. He’s still a full-time student, remember.

Just looking at these things, though, it really seems like there’d be a demand for them.

As they say, “Shut up and take my money!”

Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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