Starting this summer, Converse will enter into the world of sustainable footwear with a brand new collection, Converse Renew, which will showcase the versatility—and climate-friendly possibilities—of the brand’s iconic footwear.
Composed of Chuck Taylor All Star and Chuck 70 silhouettes, the collection combines many of the trendiest sustainable sneaker concepts into one line. For the first release in July, Converse will unveil the Renew Canvas, a style with uppers made from PET plastic collected from the world’s oceans with the assistance of First Mile. In August, Converse will release the Renew Denim, which incorporates recovered denim by using an in-house upcycling process, keeping the original color of the fabric and making each shoe unique.
Then, in Spring ’20, Converse will release the Renew Cotton, produced by transforming the waste created from its traditional canvas styles into a composite fabric composed of recycled cotton and polyester.
“A lot of people say sustainability ‘trend.’ And I think the word ‘sustainable’ and sustainability, in of itself, can’t be a trend,” Brandon Avery, Converse’s VP of Global Innovation told Sourcing Journal. “We have to think about new, innovative and sustainable ways to make products and to innovate the way we make those products. So, for us, this was always a part of how we create at Converse.”
Instead of simply reacting to the industry, Avery said, the brand actually came to the idea naturally once it began to explore the limits of what the Chuck Taylor silhouette was capable of in terms of both functional and emotional utility. To put those capabilities into imagery, Converse decided to create a pair of its Chuck Taylor’s using an unlikely material—an envelope sent to the brand’s former location in nearby North Andover.
Avery sent the envelope to product development, not sure what to expect. When they came back with a fully functional (albeit fragile) shoe composed of USPS-quality envelope paper—the Renew collection was born.
“The Chuck Taylor itself is extremely forgiving with each material,” Avery said. “And the uniform language and iconography of that sneaker really embraced each disparate material to create new and unique forms of self-expression but in a standard that we all know and love.”
From that point on, Avery said, the possibilities appeared endless when it came to the way the upper was both fashioned and produced.
The challenge then became to create something that hadn’t been done before with a silhouette that was growing more versatile with every passing decade. It was that challenge, and its many solutions, that led the brand to realize that the same qualities could set its footwear apart in terms of sustainability, too.
The unlocking of this potential began when Converse had its employees in Boston bring their favorite, near-useless article of clothing to the office in order to be renewed into the upper of a custom shoe. The success of that program, in both visual and sustainable terms, led Converse to examine its own recycling practices. The question became: ‘If we can make something out of this old sweater, why can’t we make footwear from our own fabric waste?’
“I actually think its really fun to look at something that stands up as a sneaker,” Avery said regarding materials Converse has used in the past. “You have some designers and innovators that can get that without something on the table, but if you put that in front of an executive in the company—it’s real. So, before we had real chucks on the table this concept couldn’t move forward.”
If Avery’s team could convince Converse executives of the viability of a design simply by putting it in front of them, they felt consumers would eventually react similarly.
Converse will continue to work on the Renew line going forward, and Avery said the brand has pledged to improve its own processes in order to push sustainable manufacturing like this into the mainstream.
“In certain areas, we can’t get the scale that we might want. So, we continue to look for ways to innovate the process to deliver the scale,” Avery said. “We do know that there are a lot of materials around us and the more that we can push the boundaries and open our ways of thought I think the higher we can contribute to scale.”
Converse will launch the first style from the Renew collection, the Converse Renew Canvas, on July 5.