Carbitex Turning Carbon Fiber In Footwear Into A Dynamic Experience
Carbon fiber is crushing footwear trends. And while the carbon fiber fascination has taken off in running, don’t think it has stopped there as something more dynamic is happening in the carbon fiber footwear world, some of it helped along by Carbitex, a carbon fiber manufacturer focusing on footwear-focused products.
Much like BOA or Gore-Tex, material makers partnering with consumer brands to bring proprietary technology into footwear and apparel, Carbitex follows the same model, working with some of the biggest names in sport. From Adidas to Scott and Speedland to DC to Puma, Carbitex has helped show the footwear world there’s more to carbon fiber than linear running uses.
“I don’t think about our material being carbon fiber, I look at the unique properties of how it performs,” says Junus Khan, Carbitex founder. “Even if you take the carbon fiber out of the picture, those material benefits aren’t found in other materials out there. We enable carbon fiber to be used where it wasn’t before possible.”
Carbon fiber really came into being in the late 1950s and over a decade ago made an appearance in footwear, most noticeably with Mizuno and Jordan Brand. But early uses didn’t integrate well into product. The material recently made a strong push when Nike quite publicly introduced it into the midsole of a marathon racing shoe. Other companies wanted in on the lightweight, rigid material designed to help propel runners.
The Making of Carbitex
Carbitex, though, takes a different approach, really drilling into different properties of carbon fiber to create singular products for each use case. By manipulating the carbon fiber, Carbitex uses the lightweight rigidity of the carbon fiber for everything from speed propulsion (the industry’s common use) to stability on uneven terrain and immediate power transfer to increased efficiency.
“We treat the fibers pretty specifically depending on the application,” Khan says. If Carbitex plates look different, it’s because the use cases are different. The purpose-driven material creation means that when users see Carbitex it is more than just a rigid plate. Engineers have manipulated the material to do certain things, such as inducing the fiber to buckle at certain points for strategized flexibility amidst rigidity.
Launched in 2010 in Kennewick, Washington, out of Khan’s garage, Carbitex was first designed to help create a new era of luggage. After its 2015 product launches, companies were coming to Khan from the automotive, aerospace, oil and gas and consumer electronics industries, all clamoring for the new take on carbon fiber. It was then Khan decided he needed to focus on one industry to build the company.
Khan chose footwear because it was large enough to support the business and adding carbon fiber was a cost footwear makers could justify. Add in the relative quick time to market, the staying power possibilities and ability to both verify the advantages in a lab and have consumers feel the benefits and Khan believed footwear was where to start. Now with eight patents and five more pending, it has gone splendid. Carbitex saw 500% growth in 2020 and is on track for triple-digit growth in 2021.
His backing remains strong, with investors ranging from Michael Marks, known for his involvement in both Crocs
Khan expects footwear will remain a strong home for Carbitex, whether athletics, casual or work. “It is a growing market, and it solves a significant need out there,” he says. Even the casual space opens possibilities for the thin, lightweight product. “We can incorporate our technology into even ballet-style flats where there is no protection or stability and you can’t tell it is there,” Khan says. “Our technology can be very incognito, and you can get a user benefit without sacrificing silhouette design.”
Carbitex has three main products. The CX6 textile offers a product that harnesses carbon fiber’s extreme strength in a lightweight textile for immediate power transfer with maximum control. Seen across road cycling or mountain biking shoes, or on a water skiing, wakeboarding or snowboarding boots, the material across the upper increases the power transfer ability of the user while dropping the weight of the footwear.
Since traditional materials stretch and lose energy transfer, the low-stretch property of carbon fiber allows for an impressive take on power transfer. Instead of using multiple layers of heavy laminate to carry a stiffness load, the carbon fiber offers a lightweight high-tensile strength solution with effectively zero elongation, making it a choice for such products as the DC Boa Shuksan Snowboard Boot or Scott Road RC SL Cycling Shoe.
For underfoot plates, Carbitex has the AFX asymmetrically flexible plate that easily flexes in one direction but stays stiff in the other to provide protection and stability on uneven terrain and allow unrestricted movement while running or hiking. The AFX plate allows the foot plenty of flex when taking a toe-off step, for example, but remains stiff in any other direction.
The AFX product aims to take protection and make it lightweight and maneuverable. “Every time you walk in a highking boot, you have to overcome the stiffness and that uses energy,” Khan says. “With our plate, you get that level of protection and stability as you walk, but it is as flexible as a sneaker.”
The DFX plate, a take-off of the AFX product, offers a dynamically flexible plate where the stiffness increases as it flexes to help with propulsion at speed and balance in other cases, all based on angles and force. When running at a sprint, DFX helps create a stiff lever for propulsion, but that track spike feel doesn’t help you cut, jump or move laterally. “We can control when the material gets stiff and the corresponding angles,” Khan says. “We can create a version of our plate, say in Adidas soccer cleats, where when you’re walking up and down it is really flexible, but when you get to angles correlated to sprinting it acts like a track spike.”
The mixture of Carbitex technology—and its ability to tailor the approach—has the company growing across the footwear industry, all while showing the capabilities of one of footwear’s most fashionable trends: carbon fiber.