Designers always seem to be on a constant quest for the next big material innovation. From the the first application of steam bending in the Thonet chair to things like Glass Snowboards, material exploration is forever married to object design. One of the materials making a minor resurgence in design projects is Tyvek—you know, the stuff you wrap around houses.
Made from polyethylene fibers, the synthetic sheet material is surprisingly strong and waterproof with a paper-like appearance. It would seem there are endless possibilities for what essentially acts like waterproof paper (such as Jiwon Choi's Vases), but among an incredible number of wallets and envelopes there are few other notable products on the market that incorporate Tyvek. At risk of inciting a Tyvek revolution, one might question where are all of the great design projects that make use of Tyvek? One of the cooler applications in the last few years is from New Jersey-based Civic Duty Shoes in the form of Tyvek sneakers.
Civic Duty has been around since 2009, headed by Steven Weinreb. The Tyvek uppers are dyed a variety of colors, allowing a bit of visual distance from their close relatives, the FedEx envelope and disposable work suit. While durability of the Tyvek isn't quite on par with traditional canvas or leather, they do offer extreme lightness and recyclability. While perhaps the perfect application would be a Tyvek portyanki—hard to deny that this is bold sneaker-vation.
The design of the shoes include a nod to classic high top, low top and slip-ons sneaker designs, but the material appeal of Tyvek might not extend too far beyond the design geek demographic. Either way, when you decide to invest in a new pair of kicks, remember that Converse high-tops don't employ the same technology as the construction site down the road.
Teshia Treuhaft is a Michigan-born designer. Upon graduating from back-to-back degrees, a BFA from the University of Michigan and MFA of Furniture Design from RISD, she moved to Berlin to pursue a research project considering shifting paradigms in design education. Teshia currently works at the tangible UX startup Senic.