Sustainability in footwear

Everyone wants to save the planet, and in 2019 it seems like it is no longer acceptable to be an inactive bystander in the fight against climate change, and it appears the fashion industry, which has previously been put on blast by the eco-warriors of the world, have since shifted towards a more sustainable model, most notably with the big dogs of the trainer world Nike and Adidas pouring considerable resource in developing products that not only wave the flag for a more sustainable world but also put their money where their mouth is championing recycled material constructs and energy saving methods. Plastic, in general, is on the decline, and with single-use plastic items like straws for example being replaced with more eco-friendly alternatives, it appears everyone is getting the message, and big brands are following suit. For Nike and Adidas, this isn’t an empty PR stunt to appease protestors, it is a genuine shift in attitude which will ultimately change the way their products are produced for good, and they are already proving that this shift will by no means compromise quality.

Earth Day x Nike

Nike is getting artistic for Earth Day teaming up with Los Angeles based painter Steve Harrington to create a capsule designed to inspire a love for the planet, and how could anyone be mad at that? Harrington is best known for his colourful California-inspired psychedelic pop works that often include dog and palm tree characters, an aesthetic he has transferred onto three of Nike’s most classic silhouettes, the Nike Cortez, Air Force 1 and Nike Blazer. This three piece collection deploys a full Nike Flyleather construction – a proprietary sustainable material that uses at least 50 per cent recycled leather. While also featuring various vibrant modifications by the LA-based artist, most notably an accompanying Harrington-esque mosaic on each of the shoes’ uppers to represent Earth Day in one form or another.

The iconic Air Force 1 silhouette portrays a toon-like character holding the planet a la Atlas the titan, an image akin to a ‘Steam Boat Willie’ style scene, something that has become a signature of Harrington. While the Nike Cortez features the same humanoid hugging the orbital body in protective paranoia, the Nike Blazer iteration takes things in a slightly different direction, the Blazer Low personifies the globe as it walks gleefully with its swinging arms and legs. Each cartoon exists as much more than just a pleasing aesthetic, the stills are meant to garner a more profound significance, to protect our planet.

Nike ‘Plant Colour’ Pack

This green initiative is part of a broader programme spearheaded by Nike to try and refine some of the brand’s design processing to decrease their carbon footprint, and steps like switching out traditional materials with Earth-friendly alternatives like Flyleather is a step in the right direction. Alongside Steve Harrington’s involvement in the Earth Day celebrations, Nike is also releasing a ‘Plant Colour’ pack for both the Nike Blazer and Air Max 95 also championing sustainability, both of which have been reworked using canvas uppers and rich plant-based dye treatments. Each model is set to receive two colourways that utilise an earthy palette of off-white, terracotta, pink, blue, and light brown and I think they look great. This all began off the back of Nike’s decision to not release any shoes specifically for Air Max Day. Instead to use their platform to highlight the new Give Fresh Air initiative which gave Nike fans the opportunity to donate new and lightly worn trainers to community projects all around the United States in an attempt to give back to the community, and promote their recyclable, sustainable model, and the Earth Day work is an extension of that stellar work. Long may it continue.

Nike’s recycled shoes

Aside from Nike’s Earth Day offerings the Swoosh has also been working on pushing the rest of their product line towards a more sustainable model, most notably with the Air Max 720 which is made from 75% recycled production waste. As well as taking the bold step of using the platform of their Air Max Day celebrations to draw attention to their new Give Fresh Air initiative design as an attempt to give back to the community by teaming up with a number of the country’s top retailers. Aiming to ignite sneaker culture, this campaign was designed to spark change and help the community through a common love for sneakers and the desire to make a difference.  Sounds good, right? What this entailed was asking fans to donate new and gently worn trainers to selected stores, which in itself helped to promote a message of recycling which is THE hot topic in the trainer world currently, and one the big brands want to be seen to be acting upon.

Adidas FutureCraft.Loop

As recently as last week Adidas unveiled their latest response to the sustainability buzzword, and it’s a good one. The Three Stripes experimentation with 3-D printed trainers under their FutureCraft ranges banner has been ongoing for quite some time now, and the results have been overwhelmingly positive, but the newest addition to the FutureCraft family the FutureCraft.Loop looks set to be a game-changer for Adidas going forward in the search for a more eco-friendly model. What makes it so special, is unlike traditional trainers which are constructed from diverse materials, the Futurecraft.Loop is made entirely from TPU, from the sole to the laces, and its various elements are fused together with heat, so there’s no glue or stitching required, either. What this means is that once the shoe is worn out or otherwise discarded it can be broken down into pellets which can be recycled and used to create another Adidas FutureCraft.Loop. This announcement came just before Adidas was named one of the worlds most transparent brands by the newly released 2019 Fashion Transparency Index, and we can see why.

This innovative push towards a waste-minimising model is primarily inspired by a desire to create a circular economy in the fashion industry, one that in turn will help tackle the monumental waste problem that plagues the fashion industry. Right now, we live in an era of linear ownership meaning that brands buy raw materials, create their products, sell them to a consumer and say goodbye to them forever. The instant problem with this is that there is no way currently of connecting the two ends of the material’s journey in order to save on both materials and restrict levels of wastage. Trainers have a built-in life span naturally, so ultimately there will be a point where they are no longer wanted and therefore discarded. According to the Global Fashion Agenda, 73% of the world’s clothing eventually ends up in a landfill or is incinerated. Less than 15% of garments are collected for recycling, and only 1% of the materials used in clothing production are actually recycled into new clothes. In a circular system, the choice of material allows for them to be recycled and reused again and again with minimal compromise to their initial value as materials. The problem with shoes at the moment is that they are usually made from a vast array of materials making the process of recycling them incredibly challenging, what the FutureCraft.Loop does so well is to be made of just one material, and therefore can be easily broken down and reformed in incredibly simple terms.

How Adidas plans to ensure that their new poster boy for a cleaner world is returned to them for proper recycling is yet to be adequately outlined. By 2021 when this shoe is touted for release, we might genuinely be seeing a world where shoes are either leased to the consumer with an expectation of them being returned to them, or we need to see a drastic change in attitudes in the trainer world towards recycling. One suggestion circulating the internet is the idea of having a brand subscription – a monthly payment just like you do for music and films – which will allow you access to a wide array of products and once you’ve worn out a pair, you simply trade them in for something new. This might be a long way off and would only work with the correct recovery systems in place. Not to mention how this would sit with collectors and ‘sneakerheads’ might be something worth considering. The fact that these conversations are already being had, however, shows a tremendous amount of progress in broader terms for the trainer world as here at Laced we don’t think anyone can deny something needs to be done, and it is refreshing to see the big brands taking the initiative and not burying their heads in the sand.