A Movement Afoot
Eco-Responsible Textile Tech Strides onto Shoe Scene.
Shoes are a relatively new category to feature in the Performance Forum, a prime section of the Functional Fabric Fair, where the latest, must-see fabrications are displayed. But based on attendee interest and textile innovation during the New York City trade event this summer, footwear looks to be on the move within this space. Designer and textile expert Alexa Duhmel singled out the robust selection of sustainable product in today’s footwear sector highlighting how the season’s new eco-materials can stand up to miles of wear and harsh weather conditions.
This bodes well as consumers and brands (and governments) are advocating for more sustainable developments to reduce environmental impacts. Within the footwear sector, responsible products and practices are gaining traction. Recycled polyester, recycled nylon, recycled wool and recycled rubber, along with waterless dyeing methods and eco performance membranes are all in the pipeline.
Complexity in footwear production has hindered growth of eco-responsible performance fibers and fabrics in footwear. However, that’s changing now that textile ingredient makers increasingly view shoes as an arena ripe for sustainability. An anti-wicking, PFAS-free treatment from Green Theme Technologies, recycled nylon 66 by Cordura and collaborative advances in wool for footwear end-use from Woolmark and Suedwolle are ushering in a new era of environmentally minded footwear textiles.
Better for the Environment and for Product Performance
“Footwear is the next place where we’ll see forward movement in terms of a sustainability trajectory,” states Martin Flora, VP business development, and founder of Green Theme Technologies (GTT).
It’s not that the footwear community isn’t interested in, or knowledgeable about, sustainability, but rather that when it comes to adopting a new technology for footwear, especially one that is high-performing and PFAS-free, it is really difficult to do. Flora explains, “With footwear, the manufacturing process is detailed and complicated and lead times are long. In addition to engineering expertise and talented creative design, advancing footwear innovation requires sophistication about fabric.”
That’s where GTT comes in. The application process is key. “We apply directly to the surface and use pressure to encapsulate each fiber, so all the wicking points are blocked,” Flora explains. Driving the chemistry into the fabric increases performance and durability.
GTT’s high-performance anti-wicking PFAS-free finish is 10 times the industry standard. According to Flora, “we easily go 24 hours in a wicking bath whereas the routine time period is two hours.”
Anti-wicking in footwear is an important functional element as it focuses on moisture pickup in the fabric and moisture going through the fabric, criteria that goes beyond surface tension to keep the shoe dry and comfortable.
GTT is in the process of signing a license with Taiwanese company Golden Long John, a leading footwear supplier globally, to install GTT tech in its factories. In addition, Green Theme is currently working with several global footwear brands in the sport and outdoor markets. Shoes featuring the EMPEL anti-wicking PFAS-free tech are slated to be commercially available in 2023.
Foray into Footwear
Cordura’s re/cor Recycled Nylon 66 fabric makes its debut in the footwear category with qualities from mill partner Tiong Liong Corporation. Recently Cordura announced that Material ConneXion has accepted the Cordura re/cor RN66 onto its platform; the 10-piece collection, which features two new footwear styles, will be showcased through both online and physical Material ConneXion libraries globally.
Material ConneXion is a leading material insights company with headquarters in New York City and libraries located in Bangkok, Daegu, Milan, Skövde, and Tokyo.
The expansion of Cordura re/cor RN66 fabric adoption into the footwear space, in tandem with this latest addition to the Material ConneXion library compliments the ISPO Textrends 2022 and Performance Days / Functional Fabric Fair award wins for the new Cordura re/cor RN66 platform.
Tiong Liong Industrial Company, LLC., has been developing functional and environmentally friendly composite footwear materials for over four decades. Flora Tang, Tiong Liong Corporation project manager commented that Cordura re/cor RN66 provides “the ultimate combination of sustainability and strength.” The company developed two versions of Cordura re/cor RN66 rip-stop wovens: 4-way stretch and non-stretch. Fabric styles include CFINT001 100 percent RN66; and CFLNT001 85 percent RN66 / 15 percent spandex.
Cordura re/cor RN66 launched at Outdoor Retailer Snow Show in January of this year. The production of Cordura re/cor RN66 produces 83 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions, consumes 82 percent less energy, and uses 57 percent less water when compared with virgin nylon 6,6.
Approximately two years in the making, Cordura re/cor RN66 targets products with high denier needs with a 100 percent pre-consumer fiber that is Global Recycled Standard (GRS) certified.
When first introduced to the market, Cindy McNaull, Cordura brand business development director remarked, “For Cordura, re/cor is one of the most exciting and largest innovations we’ve done.”
Treading Lightly with Wool, Environmentally
Advances in yarn technology in recent years have elevated wool’s place in the footwear sphere far above its long-established profile as a cozy slipper. Suppliers have done a good job of educating industry and individuals alike about why wool works in footwear, highlighting performance features, ranging from breathability and temperature regulation to odor and stain resistance. Increasingly, however, wool’s eco attributes are garnering attention. A recent webinar hosted by The Woolmark Company with participants from Südwolle Group, STOLL by Karl Mayer and Kiefer von Zoe at D-house laboratorio urbano made a case for why wool works in today’s footwear when it comes to sustainability.
The webinar posted these fast facts:
• The Footwear Industry produces 23.5 billion pairs of shoes annually
• Footwear alone represents about 1.4 percent of global climate impacts
• It can take 25-40 years for shoes to decompose
“Designing for circularity are today’s three main words,” stated Alexander Behm, business development manager at STOLL by Karl Mayer, a leading flat knit machine maker, and specialist in the footwear sector. “Nowadays you have to look into the design from the material side and from the application side according to how we develop the machine to bring out the fabric,” he added.
Behm believes sneakers were just the starting point. “Because wool is a hybrid of functionality, it works in ballerina flats, sport shoes and high-end fashion styles. The big advantage is that you can combine the hybrid nature of wool with also the hybrid option of knitting capability, giving you a lens for focusing on the best of both worlds,” Behm explained. “Wool is the future material; it has the advantage of designing for circularity.”