Material Matters: 2021 Recap
2021 in the sneaker mainstream didn’t see sweeping changes on the material front as innovation was arguably stifled by some bigger picture challenges. This isn’t to say the needle wasn’t pushed forward, but the focus appeared to be more on making good things better. This is an admirable thing, particularly as the sneakersphere finds the delicate balance between developing new products for consumers to buy and manufacturing things that actually go the distance. As such, a majority of brands this year leaned on some familiar fabrics and proven textiles. Here are five that featured prominently.
Don’t Be Stepping on My Suede Shoes
Suede is a material that brands have historically tried to cut corners on, to the point that some offerings were closer to sandpaper than velvet. To rectify this, some took matters into their own hands, such as ECCO, who have long maintained complete quality control via their own leather tanneries. Meanwhile, PUMA continued making a premium version of the appropriately named Suede over in Japan, which meant the finest hides were sourced. Similarly, New Balance models made in USA and England are still using some of the best suede on the market.
The Never-Ending Yarn
Knitted shoe uppers reached ubiquity in the early- to mid-2010s, but a decade on, it feels like traditional materials are an exception rather than the norm. Nike’s Flyknit still features prominently across the running range, and the tech has trickled down to subsidiary brand Converse with their Crater Knit fabric. Over at adidas, Yeezy haven’t stopped dropping Yeezy BOOST 350 V2s, whereby almost all releases feature Primeknit, plus the brand has a new model literally called the Knit Runner. This material won’t be leaving any time soon either, as the Big Two are fighting again over who did it first.
2005 called; they want their shoes back. Patent leather sneakers were the official footwear of anyone from the Bling Era of the mid 2000s, a movement ushered in by many a rapper wearing BAPE. The Japanese streetwear brand, now long under the control of a larger conglomerate, decided to run the clock faster and advance the fashion cycle back to that time. In doing so, the patent BAPE STA returned. And metallic ROAD STAs are also on the way. Plus, Nike brought back patent leather options for Air Force 1s on the Nike By You program; not to mention the Air Jordan 1 'Bred Patent' also.
Sometimes the old stuff works the best. CORDURA, the durable nylon textile, has been in use for over 50 years, and has increasingly popped up in sneakers the past couple of years. If anything, Nike in particular doubled down on CORDURA releases in 2021, using it on a number of their classics including the Air Force 1, Air Max Plus and Air Huarache. Reebok got in on the action too, appropriately using it on the outdoorsy Beatnik mule, and PLEASURES added it to their Club C colab.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Plastics are, for the time being, an inevitable and seemingly indelible part of sneakers. As the industry hopefully begins to transition away from its use, some brands are making the most of what they already have by turning recycled and recovered plastics into useful sneaker parts, as opposed to using virgin material. The ‘Made To Be Remade’ series by adidas is demonstrating the advanced state of recycled TPU, while Nike’s ‘Next Nature’ remakes prove reconstituted materials don’t have to look like something straight outta a meat grinder.