Sneakers in 2020 were all about refinement rather than reinvention. There was a marked prevalence in brands opting for unconventional materials or methods to manufacture more while wasting less. And despite the many logistic hurdles and R&D roadblocks presented this year, there was still an intriguing and notable assortment across brands big and small. Here are the most notable materials that mattered in 2020.
Huffing on Hemp
Green thumbs have been pushing for widespread hemp textile use for decades, and while the 420-friendly material has featured on sneakers before, 2020 saw some high-profile drops that weren’t themed around the unofficial holiday that happens in late April. Stussy were major proponents of Cannabis sativa – sans THC, of course – on their collaborative sneakers with Nike this year. The Air Zoom Spiridon Cage ‘Fossil’ used the natural fibre across its uppers, and the recent Air Force 1 two-pack greened out with 100 per cent woven hemp in place of leather.
A couple of the big players made even larger moves in the environmental sneaker game this year. Nike’s Space Hippie collection is literally trash! Each pair of shoes created under this program is made from at least 85 per cent reclaimed materials, using common waste including textiles and recyclable plastic. A next-gen version of their Regrind ethos, the Space Hippies back up their eco ethos with some serious performance tech such as ZoomX Eco.
Meanwhile, adidas and Parley For the Oceans celebrated their fifth anniversary of producing ocean-saving sneakers. What began as running shoes and street sneakers made using Parley Ocean Plastic, which is directly sourced from congested ocean bodies, has grown to genres like lightweight performance hikers, and even golf cleats! Over in Wyoming, Kanye was busy growing algae for his cosmic Yeezy Foam Runner.
Reebok first announced the plant-based Forever Floatride GROW right at the end of 2019, but it wasn’t until October of this year that they were finally available. However, odds are there’ll be more ‘homegrown’ sneakers from the Vector brand come 2021. Elsewhere, Swiss brand On launched the Cyclon, a running shoe available only via subscription service, which aims to constantly recycle and refresh the bean-based product. Check out some other sustainable sneakers here.
Ensconced in Velvet
Sneakers have not seen this much velvet since Juicy Couture was the zeitgeist of street fashion. So, given tracksuits returned as 2020’s default dress code, it’s no surprise its adjacent fuzzy fabric found its way onto footwear. Namely the StrangeLove x Nike SB Dunk Low, which went full Killa Cam (Google it if you were born after 2000) inside and out. This Sean Cliver–designed made-for-skate shoe has a spiritual sibling in the ‘Holiday Special’ edition that reprises the fluffy stuff inside its lining and behind the tongue. Diadora also wanted in on the tactile material, specifying it on their three-way colab with SBTG and 24 Kilates on the N9000 ‘Vino Veritas’.
A brief mention must be given to the Civilist x Nike SB Dunk Low because of its thermochromic uppers. Previously seen on mood rings, Hypercolor shirts, and plenty of Stone Island garments, the decision to use heat-sensitive uppers on a skate shoe was questioned by some griptape purists. Regardless of public opinion, the lit-up effect was rather dazzling. As were the Swarovski-studded CPFM Dunks.
The Return of Luxury Leather?
For consumers who appreciate the finer things in life, it seems some high-quality hides found their way onto some seriously supple sneakers this year. The notorious ‘Air Dior’ was crafted in Italy using the same leather the fashion house reserves for their heirloom luggage. While the Prada x adidas Superstar appeared pretty plain, its uppers were made using the finest full-grain. And, generally speaking, most brands appeared to bump up the material quality for their retro offerings – at least for the premium-tier options. Look at the New Balance 1300JP Made in Japan editions: they were more than twice the already-expensive $300 RRP of the ‘regular’ Made in USA retro, but superlative leather and small-scale production made it entirely worthwhile.