ARTICLE BY Boon Mark Souphanh

Sustainable Sneakers: Which Brands are Leading the Way?

space hippie close up

Sure, those might be some dope creps you’re wearing – but what about the carbon footprint you’re leaving? As sneakerheads become more aware of the importance of eco-friendly footwear, there’s never been a more exciting time to innovate and adapt. 

Sneaker brands – old and new – are constantly refining their approaches, introducing sustainability initiatives, and changing their manufacturing processes to help minimise any potentially detrimental impacts on the environment.

The shift in sustainability may be reducing the impacts of global warming, but there’s still plenty of heat available for those looking to lend the planet a helping hand (or foot!).

Space Hippie pack
Space Hippie
adidas x Parley for the Oceans
adidas x Parley for the Oceans,
converse renew hero

The Big Players

When it comes to concious footwear, the Three Stripes have really put their efforts at the forefront. Partnering with Parley for the Oceans, adidas have pioneered a new wave of sustainable sneaker manufacturing. As many local governments and small companies work to reduce and remove plastic bag usage, the adidas x Parley collaboration dials efforts up a notch. Traditional recycling relies on the consumer’s responsible disposal of plastics to keep the process moving, but Parley take a modern approach, rescuing and revitalising trash that has already slipped through stormwater drains and into the oceans.

Started in 2015, the collaboration between adi and Parley coincided with, arguably, the peak of the BOOST phenomenon, propelling the message of recycling to the masses via popular silhouettes like the UltraBOOST and NMD. They’re not done, either – Parley have now tapped into adidas’ performance market, with collaborations on golf, football, and trail running footwear.

Also championing the post-consumer/post-industrial waste mantra is the Converse Renew initiative. Introducing distinctive Chuck Taylor All Stars and Chuck 70s made with recycled waste, Converse have provided a game-changing material solution for their iconic silhouettes. Constructing the classics with upcycled denim lifted from landfill, repurposed canvas waste, and 100 per cent recycled polyester from plastic bottles, Renew proves Converse are sustainability All Stars in their own right.

According to Brandon Avery, Converse’s Vice President of Innovation, ‘When you open the aperture a bit, you realise that the discarded materials around us are not waste at all – they’re the new source material for what we make next’.

‘We’ve been working on this concept of Renew as a commercial product collection. It’s our ongoing initiative to develop new, innovative, and more sustainable ways to create our product… Every day, we’re going to come in and find new ways to innovate and move forward. How can we create a sneaker in new and sustainable ways? It’s going to be a journey for all of us.’

Where adidas make use of their modern marvels, and Converse call on their classics, Team Swoosh’s latest eco-friendly exploits have introduced an exciting new lineup of silhouettes altogether – and they’re straight trash! The Nike Space Hippie collection is inspired by the notion of life on Mars (because who’d want to live on a planet with extreme global warming, right?). Four all-new designs make up the collection, created with radical design principles that meet Nike’s leading sustainability practices. At least 85 per cent of each shoe is made from reassembled ‘space junk’ – i.e. scraps sourced from yarn waste, t-shirts, and recycled plastic water bottles.

‘Our goal is to always make athletes better, but also make the world better for athletes,’ explains Seana Hannah, Nike’s Vice President of Sustainable Innovation.

‘Nike is a big company, and we have a responsibility to do everything we can to combat climate change… There’s no doubt designers can have a huge impact by reducing our total carbon footprint and the level of waste we produce.’

Nike spearheaded the sustainable sneaker movement 15 years ago with Considered Design, and the Space Hippie project is bound to launch their offering into a whole new galaxy.

Check out the latest issue of Sneaker Freaker magazine for a deep dive into this collection.

filling pieces court 683
Filling Pieces Court 683
Tread by Everlane
Tread by Everlane
Veja on foot
Cariuma blue

The Up-and-Comers

Simply put, the role of independents can’t be understated as the world transitions to more sustainable manufacturing. While it’s encouraging to see the world’s biggest brands make eco-friendly moves, there’s also plenty of emerging sneaker makers out there with sustainability at their core.

Amsterdam-based Filling Pieces have always made efforts to assess their supply chain and processes to reduce their environmental footprint, and all the hard work has culminated in their most sustainable sneaker to date: ,the Court 683. Named after the additional production cost of €6.83, the shoe kicks off a new conscious line of products, aiming to pave the way for the entire Filling Pieces collection to be more responsible. Each Court 683 is made from fully-traceable Dutch organic leather hides, coloured using metal-free tanning. Meanwhile, the traditional rubber soles are substituted for a sugarcane EVA equivalent, eliminating the use of petroleum from the production process.

True sustainability savants, French label VEJA has grown to became arguably the most recognised eco-friendly sneaker brand going around. Since 2003, they’ve championed their ‘one foot in design, and the other in social responsibility’ mantra, cooperating with organic cotton farms in Brazil to ensure the most responsibly sourced materials are used on their stylish, fashion-forward silhouettes. More recently, they’ve expanded their offering to include 100 per cent vegan styles, which has garnered them the admiration of none other than Rick Owens, who recently collaborated with them.

The Brazilian influence also comes through strong with CARIUMA, a company founded by former sneaker industry executives in Rio. Their old-school skate vibes are juxtaposed with a progressive outlook on manufacturing, as each sneaker is made from organic cotton and ethically-sourced rubber. Additionally, they only use leather from suppliers that adhere to strict environmental protocol to reuse 100 per cent of water that goes into the production. It’s practices such as this that allow the brand to flaunt a 100 per cent carbon-neutral footprint – and it appears more and more are now heading in a similar direction.

Yatay hero shot

Emerging in 2018 and 2019, respectively, Yatay and Tread by Everlane are two of the freshest faces on the eco-friendly footwear scene. The former is known for their classy low-tops packed with Italian styling – 100 per cent vegan, of course. And, while their approach may not be entirely ground-breaking, it’s their promise to plant a tree for every pair sold that’s been the seed for their rapid come-up.

Similarly, American label Everlane has some lofty aspirations for their new Tread line. The mission is simple: make the world’s lowest-impact sneakers. Acknowledging that their goal is a constant work in progress, Everlane have put some key steps in place. They claim that their soles are 94.2 per cent free of virgin plastic, while their recycled and natural rubber cuts their greenhouse gas emissions by 54 per cent.

‘We’re continuing our work to further reduce our impact – from cutting out all virgin plastic to closing our production loop,’ says Everlane. ‘It won’t be easy. But things worth doing rarely are.’

It’s certainly encouraging to see sneaker brands stride towards sustainability. Perhaps the ‘closed-loop economy’ is closer than we think? Nevertheless, the efforts will contribute to sneakerheads treading more carefully when it comes to how their sneakers are produced, and that can only be a good thing.

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