ARTICLE BY Sneaker Freaker

Five New Year’s Resolutions to be a More Responsible Sneakerhead

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It’s an existential time to be a sneakerhead, and navigating sneaker culture has never been more challenging. NFT sneakers are on the rise, the market is more saturated with collaborations than ever, new technologies are emerging, Crocs are somehow popular, and all the while, the world is burning.

To wrap up the year, we address four key themes to answer the question: What does it mean to be a sneakerhead these days?

For part three, Alec Leach, author of The World Is On Fire But We’re Still Buying Shoes, shares five actionable steps to be a more responsible sneakerhead.

When it comes to sustainability, most headlines focus on clothing – things like organic cotton tees, recycled polyester sportswear and new technology for washing jeans. Consumers’ awareness of fashion’s impact on the planet has never been greater – and that’s a very good thing – but when it comes to the footwear we buy, we’re much less clued up. As outlined by Tansy Hoskins, author of Foot Work, an exposé on the environmental impact of the footwear industry, it’s estimated that around 90 per cent of our shoes end up in landfill, where parts of them can last up to 1000 years. And when you factor in just how many shoes we buy per year, especially in the sneakerhead scene, you can see how this is a huge problem for the planet.

The difficult truth is that the sneaker industry will never truly be sustainable until governments finally step in and regulate brands so that environmental responsibility and fair wages are a requirement, not an option. But despite that, what we do as consumers really matters, and with the year drawing to a close, there’s never been a better moment to rethink our shoe-shopping habits.

Here are five New Year’s resolutions for how to be a more responsible sneakerhead.

Just Buy Less

The sneaker market has exploded in recent years, which is great for the sheer amount of cool stuff out there (always dreamed of a Reebok that was sliced up with a surgeon’s scalpel? Say no more). The downside is that there’s so much to choose from that if you’re not careful, you end up amassing a huge collection of kicks that don’t get worn as much as they deserve to be – and it goes without saying, that’s no good for mother nature.

The golden rule of shopping more responsibly is to just buy less stuff. And while that seems like an impossible thing to ask in our era of Instagram Stories, non-stop colabs, and daily product drops, changing your shopping habits for the better is also an opportunity to reconnect with what you really love about style (this is a big message in my debut book, The World Is On Fire But We’re Still Buying Shoes).

Here’s the thing: knowing what you’re into (and what you’re not) isn’t just about buying less; it’s also dynamite for your personal style. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t experiment with new things. It’s just that a limited palette of kicks that really works for you is a super easy way of developing a signature style. And everything else? Well, some things are better admired from afar.

Veja x Rick Owens (via Veja)

Embrace Innovation

While the sneaker industry is in dire need of cleaning up its act, there’s tons of innovation happening behind the scenes that could, in theory, go a long way in reducing the industry’s impact on the planet.

ASICS’ Gel-Lyte III CM 1.95, which was produced in partnership with researchers and developers at MIT, was an experiment with soles made from a bio-based sugarcane polymer and a manufacturing process powered by renewable energy. The brand claims the CM 1.95 to be the world’s lowest carbon shoe.

Nike’s Air Zoom Alphafly Next Nature, meanwhile, was made from a bevy of recycled materials, while adidas have made a bold move into fully recyclable shoe design with the Futurecraft Loop and PUMA’s RE:SUEDE concept looks to answer the question of whether sneakers can ever be fully biodegradable.

Then there are brands like Veja and Thousand Fell, who have built sustainability and innovation into the very core of their business models. Veja, through natural materials, responsible sourcing and fair wages, and Thousand Fell, through a unique circular model that promises to recycle every component of their sneakers. And if you prefer to experiment with more out-there methods of shoe construction, then Helen Kirkum's upcycled Frankenstein creations are a concept well worth supporting.

It’s important to point out that the vast majority of sneakers out there are still made in the same unsustainable way. And all the talk of innovation and new technology is a drop in the bucket compared to the millions of Air Force 1s, Stan Smiths and 990s sold yearly. If the sneaker game is to become more sustainable, the innovation we’re seeing needs to be scaled up across the entire industry.

Wear Them Until They’re Dead

One of the true joys of fashion is the journey you go on with your wardrobe – witnessing your possessions gracefully (and sometimes not so gracefully) age as they’re worn. So when it comes to your sneakers, the best way to honour the resources and creativity that’s gone into making them is to wear them until you can’t wear them anymore – and if that means the sole crumbles into dust, then that’s all part of the fun. My Margiela Replicas, which I bought after my first ever pay rise in 2014, are so beaten up that I may as well be barefoot, but I still find a moment of pleasure in wearing them while I take out the trash.

A Resoled Nike Air Force 1 (via Goods & Services)

Get Them Resoled (You Can Do This at Veja and Vibram)

By far and away, the biggest problem with the sneaker industry is that shoes have a very short lifespan compared to, say, a t-shirt or jacket. Unlike old-school, bench-made shoes, like penny loafers, brogued derbies and the like, resoling kicks isn’t easy. And if it is, it’s extremely expensive and often requires removing the sole from a donor pair, which defeats the entire point of replacing the sole; unless you just want to bring some old Jordans back to life.

Thankfully, brands are finally waking up to the urgent need for resoling services. Vibram recently rolled out a ‘Repair If You Care’ campaign, allowing shoppers to resole worn-out shoes with a new Vibram outsole. Meanwhile, Veja has been experimenting with cobbler services in its Berlin and Bordeaux stores.

While this isn’t exactly a scalable solution right now (it’s not like you can drop your Air Force 1s off anywhere to get them fixed up), it’s a fantastic idea with huge potential to upend the way we consume footwear. And if you can get to a place offering a resoling service, you should totally support it.

Dress Them Up

Remember what I said about buying fewer shoes? Well, here’s the fun part – tightly curating the kicks in your rotation opens up the opportunity to do way more with them. Wearing sneakers with a suit has always been a strong move, and with party season in full swing, what better time to rock it? The best thing about menswear in the 2020s is there are no rules anymore – now is truly the time for doing whatever the hell you want, and if you wanna wear kicks with your chicest party outfit, who are we to stop you?

Now, check out part one on how Teddy Santis, Kiko Kostadinov, and Salehe Bembury are changing the state of sneaker collaborations, and part two on how 'anti-sneaker' styles ruled 2022.

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