A Step Change
Material Innovation Ushers in Performance with a Purpose.
Footwear brands are on the move this season leveling up product with the latest material developments. There are two main drivers influencing the direction forward in the footwear market. There’s the ongoing race for performance on one side of the track and an up-and-coming race for sustainability on the other. Sometimes these two trends overlap to create today’s buzzy “eco-performance” description, but not always. Finding just the right functionality and eco elements fit for purpose is the challenge.
The foam category is an area to watch.
“Our aim is to end non-sustainable goods for good,” said Gerald Alvoet, VP sales & marketing for evoco. To that aim, the Toronto-based company leverages its plant-based chemistry to replace petroleum in everyday life. Evoco’s branded insole product, called FATES, is an eco foam with between 70-80 percent plant based content. “To manufacture one pair of running shoes takes 30 pounds of carbon,” explains Alvoet, who was a speaker and exhibitor at the October Functional Fabric Fair in Portland, OR – the first time an area of the convention floor was dedicated to footwear. He adds, “A standard insole has a carbon footprint of 12.8 kgCO2 whereas FATES has 3.85 kgCO2 – 87 percent less CO2 than conventional EVA and 73 percent less CO2 than PU.
The five year-old Canadian company will launch with Vans in 2023 building on established partnerships with Timberland, Kodiak, OluKai and many others. Alvoet notes that evoco can deliver at scale and the accelerator for growth is education and collaboration. He states, ”Biomaterials are here and people need to understand this.”
Vimazi uses traditional foams but in an extraordinary way. The company’s technology has the ability to engineer the amount of compression that force exhibits to create footwear that is “pace tuned.” The forces are different when running a 10-minute mile compared to a 5-minute mile, and traditional midsoles aren’t capable of responding optimally to that range of forces. “Think of it as a 3D problem that we are trying to work out,” states Vimazi founder and industry veteran Scott Tucker. “We needed more precision than the standard ‘hardness’ rating offered. That required testing and evaluating foam more accurately.”
Six specially-developed foams, from the same polymer, are customized with different compression characteristics according to the runner’s mile speed. The science and the physics behind the design and development results in running shoes that work in concert with pace, and as such the result is better cushioning more energy and less fatigue. “A more efficient shoe will waste less energy,” Tucker explains.
Following five years in development, Vimazi is launching six shoe models, from the Z20, designed and tuned for the fastest elite marathoners (4:30 - 5:30 Mins Per Mi.), to the Z70, which are tuned for more casual runners (10:00 - 12:30 Mins Per Mi.) Five additional shoe models are in development for 2023, according to the Portland, OR company.
Active/athletic as well as casual/comfort footwear brands are innovating materials that elevate eco content and enhance performance. Here are a few standouts:
EVOCO eco foam insoles are based on the Canadian company’s proprietary plant-based chemistry that reduces carbon emissions without compromising performance. The branded insoles, called FATES, will feature in VANS footwear for Spring 2023.
VIMAZI Z30 is specifically tuned and designed for elite and sub-elite distance runners. With hi-tech cushioning optimized for agility, speed, and max energy efficiency ideal for fast tempo runs, intervals and racing a 10k between 32:30-42:00 or a 2:18-2:55 marathon.
ASICS GEL-LYTE III CM 1.95 features a carbon negative foam, made from a fusion of bio-based polymers partly derived from sugarcane, and recycled and solution dyed polyester in the main upper and sock liner. The shoe emits just 1.95kg CO2e across its life cycle, nearly an entire kilogram less than competitor brands, according to the company. Asics’ corporate goal is to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
PUMA: The company’s limited edition Future Z 1.2 is a laceless lightweight shoe that features an adaptive upper band made with 100 percent Sorona fiber, a 37 percent plant-based polymer, for technical compression and enhanced fit.
SAUCONY JAZZ COURT RFG features Piñatex overlays fused with recycled fabric. A natural fabric sourced from the waste products of cultivating pineapples, often used as a leather alternative, Piñatex pairs with hemp laces and partially plant-based mesh for additional eco content.