We are so inspired by changes in traditional manufacturing. Designbox in Raleigh, NC is an incubator for companies and brands that are changing the way we think about the products we use. They offer space, services, and opportunities for collaboration (including a Creative Collisions Lunch Series where Spoonflower will speak this coming May 13th!) amongst creatives and entrepreneurs in our area and abroad, fostering the growth of thoughtful and sustainable products and experiences. Today, Aly Khalifa, Designbox owner and entrepreneur behind Lyf Shoes, shares his thoughts about creating a truly sustainable approach to making shoes. Read on to learn more about a unique approach to putting our best feet forward and treading lightly for generations to come.

Lyf Shoes

How did Lyf Shoes come to be?

Having designed shoes for numerous clients, I’ve been determined to change the way shoes are made and avoid participating in the global footwear industry which currently defaults to manufacturing with toxic glues, factory labor and generic design.

In the beginning, I was inspired by Shinto temples and Japanese joinery, which are constructed with no screws or glue, just clever design, and they actually get stronger over time. So I began to think, “how do we apply this to footwear? What if we came up with a system of interlocking components that use no adhesives and can be assembled without tools?” This way of thinking opened up solutions to a lot of other problems and ultimately led to the realization of the Digital Cobbler and the invention of Lyf Shoes.

Lyf Shoes are constructed for sustainability

Aly Khalifa speaks about sustainable brands

Who makes up your team?

My wife, Beth, and I are the founders, and we currently have a team of seven (eight if you include Lulu, our office dog).  Joey is our project manager and operations guru. Oami is our bookkeeper who happens to be an amazing seamstress and now leads shoe assembly. Kaci is our director of sales and also manages community engagement. We have two incredible product designers, Robert and Jennafer, and are hoping to acquire a third by the end of the month.

The Lyf Shoes team

Oami stitches Lyf Shoes
What is your mission?

The mission of LYF shoes is to create custom-fit, custom-fashion shoes! LYF disrupts the industry by using local assembly, avoiding toxic glues, and 100% recyclable materials.

We are driven by fit. With expertise in athletic biomechanics and a keen grasp on additive manufacturing, we are able to fully customize your shoes to fit you. Most people don’t know their shoe width. We obsess on it. Our fit kits actually measure ball and heel width to optimize the proper fitting shoe. And if you’re like most people, your feet are not mirrors of each other. Need to split a half-size? No problem.

We are integral with the creative community. As pioneers in the Raleigh art scene, we have filled our gallery spaces with thousands of artists and patrons over the past 15 years. Add to that our experience in founding SPARKcon, a creative festival that now attracts 60,000 enthusiastic people, and it is no surprise, that we have more artists who want to design prints for our shoes than we can service.

We use our SCHEMA Rating as our vision for sustainability.

S=Salvage – the amount of the product that can be salvaged and upcycled or recycled

C=Citizenship – the societal impacts of the materials, processes, shipping and selling of our shoes

H=Health – impacts on factory workers, supply chain and consumers

E=Energy – the net energy used to make, distribute and re-utilize our shoes. Currently we use LCA Calculator.

M=Mass – the utilization efficiency of each material used

A=Animal – addressing vegan concerns

Ultimately we hope for this to be an Open Source Standard and welcome any collaborators.

Making Lyf Shoes

What guides your decisions for sourcing materials?

We are committed to using sustainable sources and hope to achieve full Cradle 2 Cradle certification across the line. Our first line is focused on all natural fiber uppers (biological nutrient, which can go back to fiber or else to soil), and 3D printed elastomer (technical nutrient, which is fully recyclable). We steward the reutilization of these materials through a closed-loop take back program: customers get a 15% discount on their net pair, and this echoes through our supply chain.

How do you see Lyf Shoes developing and growing? What’s next?

Although we have been developing Lyf Shoes technologies and methodologies for more than a decade, we are just getting started with consumers. With the rapid change of 3D printing and our own inventive work in this space, we have been through several generations of product. We are now in the midst of our Lyf Pioneers Program to capture fit data amongst a select group to make sure we roll these out with a high level of quality and service.

Our plans for growth utilize a distributed manufacturing model called the Lyf Partner Program where local entrepreneurs can be certified to make shoes on-site. Of course, once a customer has their Lyf Fit profile saved with us, they can utilize the convenience of e-commerce with full confidence in a great, personalized shoe.

Though we haven’t officially announced this, we are planning to open the first Lyf Shoe store this summer in downtown Raleigh.

Can you tell us a bit more about Designbox and your new showroom?

Designbox began as a collective space for independent creative professionals to work, share ideas, motivate and inspire each other. Designbox is home to our product and graphic design firm, and is now the headquarters for Lyf Shoes. This past month, we began converting our gallery space into a showroom for Lyf Shoes, and look forward to opening our shoe store this summer. We currently have a display of Spoonflower products in our gallery.


How can folks buy a pair of shoes or be involved?

Lyf Shoes will be available to buy late summer / early fall via our e-commerce website as well as our retail shop in downtown Raleigh.

We are currently seeking beta testers through our “Lyf Pioneer” program, where folks can get a pair of our first run of shoes which they would wear and return. We will then analyze this first pair of Beta shoes and use the data to make a second pair of Better shoes. We are looking for a range of shoes sizes in both men’s and women’s.