Did you know that sneakers are one of the most wasteful retail items to produce and one of the longest to (30 to 40 years) to decompose? I had no idea. I love me some cool kicks, and like most people, I own more than one pair. How do we cater to our fashion needs while saving our planet? Consumers all over the world are becoming more environmentally-conscious, giving sneaker brands the incentive they need to offer sustainable alternatives to everyone’s favourite shoe.
According to footwear giant Adidas, more than 23 billion pairs of sneakers are made every year, while sustainable sneaker brand Nothing New reports that 300 million pairs are thrown out annually. Sitting in a landfill, each pair of kicks takes 30 to 40 years to fully decompose.
While we let those shocking stats sink in, let’s reflect on the fact that despite being one of the most wasteful retail items to manufacture, the sneaker industry isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
A wave of environmental consciousness is making its way around the world as more and more consumers are choosing products that are sustainable and earth-friendly.
Footwear and clothing brands have risen to the challenge by adopting more sustainable methods of creating fashion items using innovative, recyclable materials.
From high-performance sneakers made by footwear giants like such as Adidas to trendy trainers from eager startups like Nothing New, check out these five brands looking to make a difference and set a new standard in sustainable (yet fashionable!) footwear:
Everyone knows this shoe—it’s the Chuck Taylor All-Star, a timeless sneaker whose place in fashion will never, ever die. It may very well be the most famous famous sneaker on the planet. While the design of their shoes does not need to be improved upon, Converse has shown that it’s able to cater to more earth-friendly needs by adjusting its process.
The Converse Renew Collection, which uses 100 percent recycled plastic bottles to make its canvas upper, is the latest example of the footwear brand’s commitment to eco-conscious production.
The shoes in the Renew Collection are fully-customisable and are designed for sneaker lovers of all ages.
Converse Renew Collection offers sneakers for kids, men and women from US$35-US$85 (S$49-S$117).
A new sneaker start-up founded just this year, Nothing New’s goal is to positively impact the planet and educate earth-dwellers on sustainability.
Nothing New sneakers are made with, you guessed it, nothing new. They use only recycled materials to make their sneakers—the upper (the part the covers the foot) is made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled plastic, while its other components are made from recycled cotton, rubber, cork and fishing nets.
If their mission and their classic designs aren’t enough to get you interested, Nothing New also offers US$20 (S$28) discounts on purchasing new pairs to customers who donate back their used kicks. Depending on the condition of the sneakers, Nothing New will clean and donate them or break them down into raw materials to be reused as part of its recycled supply chain.
Nothing New offers sneakers for men and women from US$95-US$110 (S$132-S$152).
New Zealand footwear brand Allbirds is all about comfort and sustainability. The brainchild of Kiwi Tim Brown and San Francisco-based renewables expert Joey Zwillinger, Allbirds has been wildly successful, with a S$77.5 million valuation in four years.
Allbirds’ sneakers, which are unmatched in comfort, are made with merino wool or eucalyptus trees for the uppers and sugar cane for the SweetFoam soles. Allbirds made their patent on SweetFoam material public just so that other show brands could it make use of it as a sustainable alternative.
Allbirds goes all the way when it comes to using recycled materials—castor bean oil and recycled plastic are used in the inner-workings of the shoes. Their clever packaging, which is a shoe box, shopping bag and mailer all rolled into one, uses 90 percent post-consumer recycled cardboard.
Allbirds offers sneakers for kids, men and women from US$55-US$110 (S$77-S$152).
One of the giants of the footwear industry, Adidas is a mainstream shoe brand that is extremely passionate about its sustainability efforts.
Adidas is collaborating with environmental organisation Parley for the Oceans to create sneakers using yarn made from recycled ocean plastic and confiscated illegal deep-sea gill nets. The sustainable shoes hit the market first in 2016.
Adidas sold one million and five million pairs of sneakers (in 2017 and 2018 respectively) made with Parley’s recycled ocean plastic, and they aren’t stopping there, with a goal of 11 million pairs this year.
Adidas x Parley offers sneakers for men and women from US$60-US$180 (S$84-S$250).
Known for their iconic outdoor boots, Timberland has been working on sustainable footwear options for more than a decade. Timberland launched its Earthkeepers (EK) collection in 2007, which featured boots with Green Rubber soles made from recycled tires, and lining and laces made from recycled plastic bottles.
To date, Timberland has used the equivalent of more than 345 million plastic bottles to make kicks from recyclable materials, and they are ramping up their game with new sustainability efforts with the new Brooklyn EK+ collection.
The new collection features lace-up and slip-on sneakers made from 100 percent recycled plastic “ReBotl” uppers and outsoles made with 34 percent recycled rubber.
Timberland Brooklyn EK+ offers sneakers for men at US$120 (S$167).
Besides the above-mentioned brands, other footwear companies such as Nike, Everlane and Reebok are turning their efforts toward sustainability, using recycled materials in the production of their sneakers.
Consumers who care about the earth don’t have to sacrifice fashion when making purchases based on their beliefs. -/TISG