This story is a part of MOLD’s reader-submitted project series. Submit your projects here for consideration.

What would it mean to grow your own materials in the future?

Images and text by Stella Harry Lee.


The Microgreen Shoe is a prototype designed by New York-based material designer, Stella Harry Lee. By contemplating how individuals can re-evaluate the function of the materials they surround themselves with, Lee created a sneaker which grows organic materials through the use of bacterial-grown synthetic material. Through everyday use and exposure to the elements, plants such as micro-greens and radish can be grown on the shoe’s uppers.


Although many fashion brands have reoriented their goals to become more “sustainable,” not many have tackled the main problem of creating the world’s largest form of waste: mass production. Slow to move away from creating less waste, brands solely focus on increasing their annual target revenue, leading to producing more “stuff.” There is still a clear lack of responsibility from fashion brands when truly fighting against climate change, because that often (and ultimately) means a financial loss in the business. By growing the material and the product itself, this project challenges the supply chain that brands continue to build to support their financial growth. This project also poses a hypothetical situation of a world with governments closing down factories due to the severity of global warming—where we are left alone to survive without factories making products for us, and the only alternative solution is to make the products ourselves.


The general approach to making any shoe starts with determining the material and color. The next step is choosing the silhouette that would support the material. For this project, Lee wanted to focus on the growth aspect of the material; a new start, a young energy to fuel the future of materials for an everyday staple, the sneaker. After a few trials and sampling, Lee successfully grew radish and lettuce seeds on two different crocheted shoe uppers.


Through different iterations of this project, Lee hopes that growing your own ingredients and materials will become a demystified concept, especially for our future’s problem-solving. In fact, this is not a new concept. Our ancestors singularly depended on their natural resources for food, shelter, and clothing. Lee wants us to remember how far removed we’ve become from the origins of the ingredients we eat, let alone the products that we clothe ourselves in. This project is not a complete solution to the problem, nor is it encouraging us to fixate on the possibility of a dystopian world. However, Lee chooses to believe there is a reason why modern humanity has such a strong desire always to turn back to nature and how it never fails to recharge us in return. Lee believes that this very desire and spirit we have for nature will ultimately be the solution.


Stella Harry Lee studied fiber as an undergraduate but pivoted into textile design which opened doors for her to becoming a footwear material designer at Under Armour and Nike. Although familiar with footwear through past experiences, her focus is on the materials that make the product, not the product itself. This makes Stella Lee an independent material designer who uses footwear as a medium to communicate thoughts and pose hypotheses.