Part of the students’ work has been the opportunity to respond to a project challenge posed by an industry partner. For the most recent workshop, footwear and apparel manufacturer New Balance—also a member of the AFFOA network—set the specifications for the design and materials challenge. Typically, these challenges began on the MIT campus and AFFOA headquarters in Cambridge, with students learning new technologies to incorporate into the designs, to be developed and prototyped at FIT. The 2020–21 workshop, in response to travel and in-person restrictions, was conducted virtually, with group work and presentations completed in virtual, collaborative digital environments.

woman holding shoe design with students at the Advanced Functional Fabrics Workshop Collaboration
shoe design sample using alternative materials
students working with fabrics during an Advanced Fibers and Fabrics workshop


Both MIT and FIT found that their work was so synergistic that they wrote an instruction manual about their multi-year partnership so that other organizations could replicate their process and benefit from their work. Transdisciplinary Innovation Playbook: How to build a virtual workshop that collapses walls between design and engineering and kick-starts collaboration to solve real-world problems codifies the partnership among MIT, FIT, and AFFOA into a template that other institutions can follow in order to develop their own innovative programs.

Over the years, teams of students have developed forward-thinking projects that have moved the needle on design and technology. A few examples of the teams are:

  • TeamNatural Futurism presented a concept to develop a biodegradable lifestyle shoe using natural material alternatives, including bacterial cellulose and mycelium, and advanced fiber concepts to avoid the use of chemical dyes.
  • Team Peacock prototyped athletic apparel with color-changing material to highlight an athlete’s movement and quickly analyze motion through an app.
  • Team Ecollab designed apparel and footwear using PE (polyethylene) and a color-changing material that is multifaceted and environmentally conscious.  
  • Team Laboratory 56 created footwear with enhanced longevity and reduced waste using PE while connecting with the community through a recycling app program.

If you are interested in learning more about the manual or receiving information about the webinar, please email [email protected]. The next iteration of the MIT and FIT workshop will take place virtually in January 2022.

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