These brands and designers are part of the wave of socially conscious kicks.
Dutch designer Roderick Pieters was studying shoemaking in product design school when he realized the process had some lingering effects. “After each shoemaking day, I left class high on glue,” Pieters tells The Venture. “Imagine if you work in a shoe factory every day.”
Adhesives used in traditional shoemaking often contain toxic chemicals that can be hazardous to workers’ health. Studies monitoring shoe manufacturing laborers have shown that prolonged exposure to such chemicals elevates the risk of respiratory diseases, leukemia and other health problems over time.
Pieters sought a greener solution. The result: Loper, a shoe that uses a strong, thick cord to connect the leather upper to a custom rubber sole. Because it’s glueless, when the soles wear out you can simply replace them rather than tossing the shoes out entirely, thereby reducing the environmental impact too.
Together with Japanese label Proef, Pieters plans to relaunch Loper later this year or early next year with a second crowdfunding campaign. The upgraded shoe will offer additional styles, replace leather with sustainable microfibers, and add extra connections between the uppers and the soles. He also teamed up recently with another startup, Bill Ringa, which makes 100% woolen slippers, constructed using stitching and non-toxic glue.
Goodbye, Shoe Glue
These days, sustainability’s in style, and young designers are leading the march toward reducing the fashion industry’s environmental footprint and embracing ethical practices. Footwear designers, especially, are recognizing the negative impact traditional shoe production can have on the earth and on conditions for workers.
“Because the industry is huge, little improvements can mean a lot,” says Pieters, whoseSneakerKitalso allows people to make their own shoes. “There are enough beautiful shoes, but not enough responsibly made shoes. It’s very challenging to try to do both…but it is a nice challenge.”
According to the Centre for Sustainable Manufacturing and Reuse/Recycling Technologies (SMART) at Loughborough University in the U.K., global consumption of footwear is estimated at more than20 billionpairs of shoes a year. Less than 5% of end-of-life shoes are actually recycled, and most end up in landfills. The complex mix of fabrics, metals, glues and rubbers used in modern shoemaking makes it difficult to completely separate the materials in an economically sustainable way, the center reports.
Other designers have also taken aim at simplifying the shoemaking process and eliminating the need for harmful adhesives. Dutch designer Anna Korshun’s line of sustainable shoes requires zero glue, zero stitching and less labor. Her footwear is instead constructed by “clicking” together the insole and the upper. Liquid rubber is then applied to the bottom of the shoe to form the outsole.
North Carolina-based designer Aly Khalifa, founder and CEO of Lyf Shoes (Love Your Footprint), also avoids toxic glues in his footwear line. The shoes are assembled on demand using 100% recyclable materials to meet customers’ needs. In addition, the brand offers a buy-back program that disassembles the product and sends individual components back to original equipment manufacturers, creating a “closed loop” shoe.
Greening Big Business
Even big brands are recognizing the weight of corporate social responsibility as they take their brands into the future. In May, Nike’s annual sustainability report revealed several ways the company is working to grow its business through sustainable innovation. Strategies include: partnerships to help revolutionize manufacturing and create eco-friendly materials; investments in green, equitable workplaces; and a steady focus on decreasing waste.
The latter goal is one the activewear giant has been working toward for more than two decades. Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe program, established in the early 1990s, collects old trainers and recycles them into pellets called Nike Grind, which are used to pave playgrounds and running tracks. In the annual report, president and CEO Mark Parker revealed that Nike Grind is used in 71% of the brand’s footwear and athletic apparel today.
“This work is challenging and we don’t have all of the answers,” Parker writes. “But, it starts with focusing on where we can drive change.”
It’s a sentiment competitor Adidas can agree with. The shoemaker made a splash in June after announcing an Instagram giveaway of 50 pairs of its limited-edition sneakers made almost entirely from recycled ocean garbage. Designed in partnership with Parley for the Oceans, a nonprofit fighting ocean waste, the innovative running shoes comprise uppers spun from deep-sea gill nets and plastic debris collected in coastal areas in the Maldives.
“It's a shoe for game changers,” said Eric Liedtke, Adidas Group executive board member responsible for Global Brands, in a press release. In addition to another footwear line this fall, Adidas plans to continue its utilization of ocean plastic in products such as jerseys and other apparel in the future.
Follow @TheVenture on Twitter for all the highlights from the competition, and the latest stories, ideas and individuals that are helping to shape our future.
No endorsement or connection is meant between those featured in this article and Chivas.