Although the lockdowns implemented by many countries to combat the spread of the pandemic resulted in reduced human activity, this past year was warmer than ever before, registering new peaks in harmful emissions. In the same period, 8 million tons of plastic ended up in the oceans. A negative record, which also saw the contribution of the sneaker industry that represents 50% of the worldwide production of footwear (15 billion pairs). Aware of the environmental impact of their activities, the most responsible sportswear and fashion brands out there have redoubled their efforts, multiplying the projects oriented towards sustainability. The formulas are different and range from the development of innovative materials to bio-based and recycled materials, which fully embrace all the principles of circularity. Here, as follows, are some of the most important examples of this virtuous pathway that fully replies to the increasingly high demand for sustainable products by the market and by consumers.
Recycling discards to clean up the planet
Textile discards and waste account for 5% of worldwide waste: the Japanese brand Asics with the launching of the Sunrise Reborn™ Pack, new running shoes in a limited edition created using recycled clothes collected in Japan, recovers the garments worn by athletes during international sporting events and transforms them, thanks to innovative technology, into new textile designs. The Sunrise Reborn™ Pack includes two top-of-the-range Asics shoe models: Metaride™ and the Gel-Quantum 360™ TYO: “a lighter impact that encourages you to move the body and mind for a brighter tomorrow”.
The French brand of urban-fashion sneakers, ME.LAND, is instead focused on cleaning up the oceans and accordingly launches the new VIVACE sneaker made using animal-free materials, plastic recovered and recycled from the ocean and beaches, and rubber scraps. The project is realised with the support of SEAQUALE©, the organisation that fights against ocean pollution and PETA©, the organisation for the ethical treatment of animals.
Recycling is at the heart of two other projects. The first sees the eco-sustainable evolution of the Lincoln sneaker by Fred Mello, an Italian brand of New York inspiration: icon of the last season, for the FW21-22 collection, it features sustainable materials characterised by a quality that does not compromise. The lining is in 100% recycled mesh, which is resistant, long-lasting, and reusable, while the action leather and suede upper comes from tanneries selected by The Leather Working Group (LWG), an organisation focused on protecting the environment by using green and ethical processes in leather production. The tongue, laces, and labels likewise use recycled materials that are certified by Global Recycle Standard (GRS). Finally, the packaging is 100% made from recycled paper. The other project is that of the Italian company Pantofola d'Oro, which uses new sustainable materials to express the nostalgic-chic aura of its sneakers, and presents B-Golf, the sneaker with a sole made from re-rubber (20% recycled rubber and 80% virgin rubber), an insole in Recycled Foam (20%), and an upper in Bioskin on a polyester base. Timeless, instead, is made from Rebotilia, a material derived from recycled plastic bottles with a Recycled Foam sole.
Giving life to innovative bio-based materials
The Germany company Adidas has developed an innovative fabric from mushroom mycelium in collaboration with Bold Threads, the biotechnology company committed to creating the latest generation of advanced materials, for the new Stan Smith Mylo line. Mylo is characterised by high-performance features: similar to leather, it is soft, elastic, and versatile, since it is compatible with any colour, finish or embossing. The shoes of the line are entirely made from this new material, with the exception of the midsole, which is in natural rubber.
Zero plastic and 100% sustainable is also the new Jazz Court RFG from the American company Saucony, with a focus on natural materials and sustainable processes, which are completely free of plastic and its derivatives. With an upper in cotton, jute, and wool, and the midsole in 100% Lactae Hevea, the Jazz Court RFG colours the lining of the heel collar with gardenia flowers, while beet juice is used to stamp the sizing information on the insole labels. It uses a mixture of water and flour to reinforce stitching, and chalk to mark and align the shoe’s upper and midsole before attaching them together. Finally, the packaging is in paper and 100% recycled cardboard.
Innovation also looks to non-bio-based materials
The American brand U.S. Polo Assn. in embracing an eco-friendly programme focused on a reduced use of water, recyclable plastics, and a use of chemical solvents that pollute less, launched the Vega 141 sneaker on Earth Day (22 April), with the shoe’s upper featuring innovative “wet pu” material obtained from “wetborne” polymers prepared by substituting chemical solvents with water. This special productive process makes the polymers hydrophilic (meaning they can be dissolved in water), with the fabric resembling genuine leather as a result.
Circularity as a best business practice
The American company Vans announces new global goals of sustainability and responsibility that it is committed to achieving by 2030, aiding the United Nations in achieving the organisation’s Sustainable Development Goal number 12 (sustainable consumption and production patterns). The goals include using 100% regenerative materials, responsibly sourced, renewable or recyclable; a 43% reduction of CO2 emissions; and the replacement of single-use plastic packaging with other sustainable and recyclable sources. There will then be 100% renewable energy sources in all owned and operated facilities (in 2017, Vans already obtained LEED Platinum certification, one of the highest standards for sustainable buildings in the world). Plus, there will be ethical initiatives for sustainable work practices.
For the first time in Italy, the Milan start-up ACBC obtains B Corporation certification, thereby reinforcing its leadership in innovation with a focus on sustainability. Since it was first founded in 2017, it has focused on the production of green products with research and development aimed at the composition of animal-free, bio-based, and recycled materials. Its shoes, which can be sent back to the company at the end of their lifecycle, are converted into anti-shock mats for playground floors. This commitment has allowed ACBC to obtain B LAB certification, with the support of Nativa Regenerative Design Company, a reality that accelerates the evolution of companies towards an economic, sustainable, and regenerative goal, thus underlining how the company operates with precise standards and a strong focus on governance, community, people, and the environment.
Transparency reinforces the green orientation
A brand of ethical and sustainable sneakers founded by Umberto De Marco in 2008, YATAY launched the manifesto “How to Make a YATAY” from the CNMI (National Chamber of Italian Fashion) digital platform, as a declaration of sustainability that recounts the preferred pathway of materials, production, and style in its footwear. A communication campaign that has a friendly approach to the digital world that includes direct discussions and dialogue with its public, with whom it shares the same values. In the video, YATAY presents its handmade bio-sneakers featuring an upper made from polymers extracted from cereals and corn, a recycled PET external finish, a cellulose lining from 100% sustainable plantations, and a sole from recycled tires, for shoes that are animal-free and characterised by a slow fashion philosophy.