The Shanghai technology-driven footwear start-up The UT.LAB is halfway through a Kickstarter campaign to fund its Light Wing Limited Edition Pencil shoe, which weighs in at just 150 grams.

Twenty-one hours after launching its Kickstarter campaign on 17 June, The UT.LAB had hit 100% funding of its $15,000 goal. In just two days, the Pencil shoe was 175% funded. It’s obvious that the product has caught the attention of backers, most of whom want to own one of the 2013 limited-edition pairs that will be produced.

The design of the Light Wing Pencil shoe began 15 months ago when The UT.LAB co-founder and head designer, Chinese-born Token Hu, a man with years of experience at the product design consultancy frog design and Microsoft, began experimenting with Tyvek paper by Du Pont. He was intrigued because although this material looked and felt like paper, it’s actually made of high-density polyethylene fibres. In fact, this synthetic material is most commonly used in the home for insulation. But being lightweight, waterproof and highly breathable, it is ideal for many other applications, including footwear, as Hu discovered.

In his mission to create the lightest possible shoe, Hu also incorporated other lightweight materials into the design, including an URT foam rubber sole and a Poliyou advanced foam insole. These three elements result in an ultra-minimal design and low-profile shoe. He also experimented with inks and coatings to ensure that the colour would be preserved when printed.

Hu then undertook a relentless process of testing and prototyping to achieve a perfect weight-to-strength ratio. Based in Shanghai, his company was ideally situated to research various factories before selecting the ones they’d like to partner with. The UT.LAB also created an onsite laboratory to enable them to perform real-time prototyping at lean costs. This allowed them to rapidly create over 200 prototypes in a process of constant improvement.

Although Hu and his small team had tested many prototypes in the lab and with users, they chose to launch a Kickstarter campaign to help them launch their first non-prototype shoe – the Pencil – onto the market. The money from the campaign would help fund the next round of design specs and bulk material purchasing, finalise 3D modelling for the production moulds and pay for the production of a maximum limit of 2013 pairs of the shoe.

However, The UT.LAB have a bigger goal and claim that their passion is to “make science cool again” by inspiring future innovators and designers to produce something that one day will make an impact of their own. They have partnered with Teach for America and are committed to being mentors to children themselves. “When I design something I do it because I believe that my creations can have an impact above and beyond the product itself,” Hu says.

The Light Wing Kickstarter campaign runs until 1 August 2013 and backers can fund it by visiting the campaign page.

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