Material Matters: adidas and Parley Reinvent Recycling
Every minute of every day, the world consumes one million plastic bags. When you consider it can take up to 1000 years for a shopping bag to decompose – and the fact that only 0.5 per cent of those bags are recycled – the scale of the waste problem seems overwhelming*. But there are glimmers of hope. Thanks to organisations such as Parley for the Oceans, attitudes in the corporate world are slowly evolving. Since partnering with adidas in 2015, Parley have pioneered the next wave of sustainable manufacturing. Now the NMD_CS1 is setting a new high-water mark for environmentally conscious footwear production.
While many local governments and small companies are making moves to phase out plastic bags altogether, adidas is taking the movement one step further. The strategic aim behind their Parley collaboration is to drive eco-innovation and sustainability through product design and manufacturing for a global audience. Where traditional recycling relies on the consumer’s responsible disposal of plastics to keep the process moving, Parley’s approach ups the ante, rescuing and revitalising trash that has already slipped through storm water drains and spilled into the ocean.
The first fruits of the initiative arrived in 2015 when the Parley UltraBOOST concept was unveiled with full-length BOOST cushioning and Primeknit construction. Each shoe used synthetic yarn made from 11 recycled plastic bottles scooped out of the Indian Ocean. The principal objective was to reclaim materials that were polluting oceans and return them to active duty as an innovation statement. However, before the project could be considered a commercially viable proposition, adidas had to invest some serious time and resources into the cause. Fully committed, the R&D team has continued to push the boundaries of manufacturing using repurposed ocean plastics.
Stage two for Parley was to address another scourge of the sea. In many places around the world it’s illegal to own gillnets – not only are they indiscriminate killers of all kinds of fish, they’re just as lethal when cut adrift. The follow-up Parley shoe offered redemption to wayward netting in the form of 3D-printed sole units that were produced inside the adidas Futurecraft laboratory.
Just one year after the first reclaimed ocean plastic yarn was woven into adidas Primeknit, the first commerical-scale Parley shoe went into production. Some 7000 pairs of UltraBOOST Uncaged dropped, with a mission statement declaring that one million pairs of recycled ocean plastic shoes would be made. Parley then released their own versions of the NMD_R1, UltraBOOST, adiZero Prime and EQT utilising uppers made from 95 per cent ocean plastic. Momentum was building and units were growing.
The latest adidas x Parley colab is the NMD_CS1. Sitting above bubbly white BOOST, calming sea-foam Primeknit is interspersed with black stripes across the stretch-fit upper. Zoom in on the stripey textile and it’s hard to imagine that just a few months ago, those tidily spun yarns were plastic bags bobbing around in the ocean. With its striking mid-cut construction, the City Sock uses more recycled yarn per shoe than any previous Parley production.
With tried and tested comfort, not to mention the performance credentials of BOOST, the new Parley NMD not only looks tight, it’s also a positive for the future of our planet. Diverting ocean waste is one small step, but stoking conversations around sustainability is something all companies should be incorporating into their product matrix. Thankfully, adidas is way ahead of the curve on this issue. Expect to see plenty more recycled ocean plastic being introduced into their product lineup, starting with a range of eco-swimwear.
The ultimate end game for adidas and Parley is that one day they will simply run out of waste materials; however, with the current global greed for plastic bags, it seems an impossible aim. In the meantime, at least we have the NMD_CS1 as proof that small steps can come in worthy packages.
The Parley for the Ocean x adidas NMD_CS1 will be available March 31 from adidas stores and online.
Material Matters is our weekly tech section where we peek behind the mesh curtain and examine the building blocks of the industry. Recently, we’ve looked at The Archival Inspiration Behind adidas x DBZ, adidas BOOST Technology and a Brief Technological History of Yeezy Shoes.