Climate Conscious Shoe Brands Innovate with Natural and Recyclable Materials.
Vionic has a hot commodity on its hands with its Beach collection. “These styles are so popular that we just can’t keep them in stock!” piped Marisa Byrne, director of design for the shoe firm during a recent press preview. The pastel palette of slip-on and lace-up canvas sneakers are vegan certified, employ Better Cotton Initiative cotton and have a sustainable 80/20 rubber/soybean-based compound outsole. To boot, each pair is machine washable and has three-zone comfort (stability, arch support and cushioning) in a fresh coastal shoe.
While Vionic “has always used recyclable and natural materials in its offerings, we’ve been increasing our library and working them into more designs,” noted Constantino Fournier, director of innovation with Vionic. In turn, “we’re bringing customers along in our messaging about it.” The brand’s website displays a diagram of each shoe showing its eco-components, along with other pertinent information.
Consumers want to know what natural materials are going into their shoes and how it impacts the greater global well-being. For Spring 2021, Sanuk launched its newest Grateful Dead capsule collection of tie-dye colorways and the band’s iconic lightning bolt logo. Using natural materials like hemp, jute and responsibly-sourced leather saved millions of liters of water in the manufacturing process. “Like the Dead, we love planet earth and we know that every material choice has an impact,” commented Katie Pruitt, product director at Sanuk.
Every material, in each shoe, must be suitable for its intended use. “Hemp and jute have great durability properties,” said Pruitt. Bloom foam, which delivers “cushion, high rebound bounce and support” is made with repurposed algae to lower carbon emissions and clean fresh water sources. The collection’s soft top foam midsoles are made with 20 percent Bloom foam.
Simple also employs Bloom foam in its S1 shoe. “From a performance perspective, it’s incredible as a footwear insole — soft, pliable and resilient day after day,” commented Bruce Moore, director of innovation and sustainability for Simple’s parent company, Kandui Holdings LLC. The S1 is assembled with water-based glue (less toxic for the environment and for workers) and organic cotton (no synthetic chemicals and uses less water than conventional cotton). A regrind rubber outsole and recycled cotton laces reduce waste in the supply chain.
Regeneration and Reinvention
Twisted X CEO Prasad Reddy’s respect for the earth traces back to his childhood. So, in 2012, when he read “Plastic Ocean” by Charles Moore, about plastic being strewn into the ocean, it lit a fuse. “Six years ago, I found this gentleman who was making blankets out or recycled plastic water bottles and donating them to third world countries. I reached out to him and eventually started to do it for Twisted X,” he commented. Each pair of shoes made from its ecoTWX upper material removes about 13 plastic water bottles from landfills and oceans. According to Reddy, ecoTWX is about equal in performance to other textiles traditionally used in footwear. Cotton is added in with the recycled content to provide strength.
An independent interlocking, double-stitching system allows for no glue construction in Twisted X’s new Zero-X collection. Bamboo laces are created from safely harvested bamboo. Rice husk outsoles are created with an agricultural rice husk blend. The new BioSole midsoles are made from biofuels (castor bean oil), sourced from a chemical manufacturer that Reddy has had a longstanding relationship with. While COVID-19 did cause some challenges for Twisted X, as it did for other footwear firms, the brand was never forced to stop production due to lack of materials.
Timberland has essentially built a regenerative leather supply chain from the ground up to source the material for offerings like the GreenStride Solar Wave EK+, which also features GreenStride comfort soles made from sugar cane and natural rubber. “Sourcing traceable leather from regenerative cattle ranches was not a simple task,” Zack Angelini, senior manager of environmental stewardship said. Smaller scale regenerative leather suppliers are very decentralized. The firm leaned on partners including Other Half Processing SBC, Thousand Hills Lifetime Grazed and Savory Institute for guidance. “By working in harmony with nature, regenerative cattle ranching helps draw carbon out of the atmosphere and store it in the soil where it belongs,” the exec noted. By 2030, the brand aims to design 100 percent of its natural materials from regenerative agriculture. In efforts to build the world’s first regenerative rubber supply chain for the footwear industry, Timberland is also partnering with Terra Genesis International. A pilot of Timberland’s first product line with regenerative rubber is slated for 2023.
Using recyclable materials in a running shoe can be a challenge, given that unparalleled performance is mandatory. When Asics launched its limited edition Sunrise Reborn pack (Metaride and Gel-Quantum 360 TYO) of running shoes in March 2021, the firm crafted uppers from recycled clothing collected in Japan “to communicate the brand’s mission of circularity,” according to Robert Fay, merchandising manager at Asics America. The soft, lightweight engineered mesh is designed to improve airflow and keep feet comfortable. The recently launched MetaSpeed Sky and Edge racing shoes each are built with 100 percent recycled polyester uppers “showing we can deliver performance and make steps toward sustainability all in one package,” the exec said.