Converse may be an American classic, but the heritage brand is proving itself averse to stagnation.
The Boston-based Nike subsidiary is leaning into sustainability this spring with a roster of material innovations designed with environmental impact in mind. The Converse Renew sustainability program will debut new versions of well-loved silhouettes this season, each designed with one of five inventive solutions that address the issue of waste.
“Through Renew we are re-imagining our production methods and materials to minimize the environmental impact of our products,” Jessica L’Abbe, the company’s senior design director for colors, materials and graphics, told Sourcing Journal. “We have the unique opportunity to create meaningful positive environmental impact at scale through innovating our classics while also exploring new forms through progressive design.”
The Converse Renew Chuck 70 and Jack Purcell Rally silhouettes, for example, have been reimagined with Morphlon’s upcycled polyester fibers, which are made from textile production waste. According to the recycled textiles group, more than 100 million tons of textile refuse is generated each year, and less than 10 percent is reused. Instead, it languishes on warehouse floors or is diverted to landfills.
The company uses a mechanical shredding process to return fabrics to a fibrous state, and then spins new polyester fibers from the old materials. The water-free process requires no dyeing, as fabrics are pre-sorted by color before they’re processed.
L’Abbe said the material lends a “modern yet emotional pull-through” to its original cotton canvas. A speckled twill and knit are complemented by decorative overlock stitching, as well as a triple-lace rigging system also made from recycled polyester.
“We first used Morphlon with our Chuck Taylor All Star Crater, which drew from Nike’s pioneering Space Hippie efforts,” L’Abbe added, noting that the material features recycled polyester from plastic bottles and recycled post-industrial textile waste scraps. “It differs from other recycled polys and has a unique aesthetic because of the two different waste sources, ultimately giving it a ‘tweed’ look.”
The styles, available now on Converse.com, retail for $100-$110.
Shoppers can also spring for unconventional new versions of the Chuck 70 and the Jack Purcell Rally made from repurposed shipping materials. In partnership with Dupont’s Tyvek, known for its durable mailers and other industrial-grade products, the brand has created two limited-edition silhouettes that harness the lightweight material’s strength, as well as its tear-resistant and water-repellant properties.
“Our first Tyvek experiment happened more than four years ago when we were exploring all of the things a Chuck could be made of,” L’Abbe said. “Our vice president of innovation grabbed a Tyvek mailer off his desk and we sent it to our development team,” she added, and the team loved the “crinkled, papery” quality of the material for the shoe’s upper. The moment helped prove a longstanding company theory: “Because of its construction, the upper can be made out of nearly anything,” L’Abbe said, noting the tactile interest that the execution created. The limited-run styles, which retail for $110 each, feature Tyvek’s signature blue and red markings and logo.
A tastefully remixed version of the Chuck 70, made with a nylon woven called Onibegie by Japanese manufacturer Komatsu, will drop on Earth Day on April 22. The shoe’s delicate mustard and wine-hued color ways are made through a process that uses 50 percent natural dye derived from onion and grape skins, as well as other plant-based substances and materials like bamboo charcoal, rice and olives. The resulting shades are vivid yet organic, calling to mind plant life in the natural world.
“As a brand that’s known for color—the Chuck has been available in more than 250 different color iterations at this point—we’ve be exploring new dye methods to continue to consciously enable expression via our canvas,” L’Abbe said, noting Converse’s focus on creating a natural palette. “This is the latest experiment, and a fun one.”
The shoe is designed with a patchwork gradient effect, featuring sewn-together squares in varying shades of yellow and maroon. Converse Plant Color, as the shoe has been dubbed, will retail for $120.
Converse has been upcycling textiles, like denim, for use on its Chuck Taylor silhouette for some time, and has developed processes by which pre-worn fabrics of all kinds can be cleaned, cut and crafted into new material for its shoes.
This season, it’s releasing a collection of bold, bright and cheerful Chucks that call to mind the vacation many consumers are likely craving. A collaboration with U.K.-based vintage retailer Beyond Retro upcycled about 7,000 vintage Hawaiian shirts, diverting them from landfill and creating an array of one-of-a-kind sneakers in the process. “Because Tropical Shirts are as unique as they are fun, no two pairs in this limited-edition collection are exactly alike,” it said.
Converse previously collaborated with Beyond Retro on a line of Chucks made with discarded chinos and old plaid button-downs, currently available on its U.K. site. The Tropical styles will be available beginning April 22, and will retail for $90-$95.
Also dropping the same day—and at the same price point—is the Renew Chuck, a reimagined, futuristic version of the Chuck 70 made from 85 percent recycled polyester. Like some of the industry’s most popular athletic footwear, the shoe’s uppers are crafted with an engineered stretch knit that offers flexibility and comfort.
“Whereas Morphlon incorporates two waste sources, our Engineered Knit Chuck 70 incorporates rPET from recycled bottles—a more mindful method of make,” L’Abbe said. “The knit is constructed by precisely engineering the upper pattern, using only the yarn that you need and nothing more.”
Meanwhile, the style’s outsoles incorporate ground rubber scraps from the footwear manufacturing process, allowing Converse to upcycle some of its unused content while providing a colorful, granite-like effect on its normally staid soles.
According to L’Abbe, Converse Renew’s experimentations and advancements are “not predicated on a singular material or process.” Instead, the products under the Renew umbrella represent the brand’s “most innovative, sustainable creations to date, which serve to drive Converse forward and shape the future of our business.”
“Today, we transform new solutions into limited-edition Converse concept collections seasonally,” she added, noting that the “most effective and scalable” sustainability innovations, like recycled PET from plastic bottles, for example, are integrated into the brand’s larger product development ecosystem. “And then we start again.”