As the existential threat of climate change has become increasingly apparent to executives and consumers alike, the push for sustainability has become a central focus of footwear brands big and small.
In fact, when the Portuguese Footwear, Components and Leather Goods Manufacturers’ Association surveyed manufacturers, distributors and other industry insiders last month, sustainability concerns had outpaced fashion trends as the more relevant factor they believed determined the evolution of footwear sales. This represented a more than 20-point shift from the organization’s first semi-annual report, issued in the latter half of 2019.
Sustainable startup Kengos makes its debut
Founded in 2018, Kengos finally debuted its first shoe, the Lace-Up, on Earth Day. The plant-based footwear is made from corn, cork, cotton, eucalyptus and Kengos’ proprietary Pure Flex natural rubber. Adhesive-free, the shoes instead rely on the brand’s 1Knot technology, a construction it said creates increases flexibility during wear and allows for simplified deconstruction.
Kengos also said it is aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions during manufacturing by minimizing the number of components needed to make the shoe. Its Lace-Up features five hand-crafted pieces: the outsole, footbed, upper, corn webbing and laces.
The brand’s debut shoe is 87 percent plant-based and 98 percent “earth-based”—Kengos explained that the difference comes from a natural sand material used in the outsole. A synthetic material mainly used to cure and protect the rubber against wear accounts for the final 2 percent. Kengos said its goal is to become 100 percent plant-based by the end of next year.
“The ultimate goal is a reduction in [greenhouse gas] emissions and a cleaner future,” Dave Costello, Kengos’ CEO and founder, said in a statement. “The apparel industry is severely lagging behind in the world’s efforts to be more green, and footwear specifically needs to take a huge step forward. Kengos is proud to offer a plant-based shoe that’s comfortable, durable, recraftable and lets wearers make a statement in support of protecting our planet and improving our environment.”
Once the Lace-Up reaches the end of its lifecycle, Kengos said the upper and laces can be composted, while the rubber outsole—as durable as a work boot, according to the brand—and cork footbed can be incorporated back into its supply chain.
Asics’ Earth Day collection cuts across categories
Created using around 5 tons of textile waste, the equivalent of 25,000 T-shirts, Asics’ Earth Day Pack marks its “most planet-friendly cross-category collection to date,” the brand said.
The line features footwear styles across Asics’ running, court and sportstyle ranges, including the Gel-Nimbus 23, Glideride 2, Gel-Resolution 8 and Tarther Blast, as well as a wide selection of clothing. The percentage of recycled materials in each product varies: for running, at least 30 percent of the shoe’s upper polyester derives from recycled materials; for sportstyle, at least 40 percent of the primary material of the shoe’s upper; and for tennis, at least 40 percent of the base mesh of the shoe’s upper.
However, the Earth Day Pack’s smaller environmental footprint comes not just from the materials used. Asics also employed a resource-saving technology called solution dying to develop the shoes’ socklining. The process, it said, reduces CO2 emissions by around 45 percent and cuts water use by around 33 percent compared to conventional dyeing processes.
Asics’ Earth Day Pack debuted in stores globally Friday.
Sanuk partners with nonprofit on hemp slippers
Sanuk teamed up with the ocean conservation nonprofit Surfrider Foundation to release a limited-edition footwear collection Tuesday.
A variation of the brand’s You Got My Back outdoor slipper, the Sanuk x Surfrider We Got Your Back features a 100 percent hemp upper, cotton Baja blanket trim, jute lay in the outsole and “responsibly sourced” leather from the Leather Working Group. The Deckers Brands-owned footwear label is offering the shoe in tan and dark grey colorways at $55 per pair.
Sanuk said it has donated $25,000 to the Surfrider Foundation, a longtime partner of the brand, this year. It plans to donate an additional $3 per pair sold, with a minimum guaranteed total donation of $44,000.
“After working closely with the incredible team at Surfrider since 2017, it’s awesome to see our partnership culminate with a footwear collaboration,” Seth Pulford, director of marketing at Sanuk, said in a statement. “We have immense respect for this organization, and we believe this collection will drive consumer awareness for the cause, while giving our audience a way to give back and support Surfrider’s efforts to protect our happy places.”
The We Got Your Back collection comes about five months after the debut of Sanuk’s second SustainaSole collection. The slip-on styles, Sanuk said, were comprised of 55 percent total recycled material by weight. The new line also introduced undyed uppers, a feature it said saved more than 200,000 total gallons of water.
Ugg outlines plan to ‘restore our Earth’
Sanuk’s sister brand Ugg marked Earth Day by unveiling a new set of sustainable pledges Thursday. Named “Restore Our Earth,” the program includes commitments to regenerate land, introduce a brand-first repair program, source from responsible forests and maintain transparency.
Ugg plans to regenerate 200,000 acres of land this year and 1,000,000 acres by 2025. The brand also said it will establish a grant that will provide “holistic solutions” to promote soil health and biodiversity, with a goal of transitioning the Australian sheepskin industry to regenerative.
In order to incentivize consumers to buy less, Ugg expects to introduce its first-ever repair program this year. The California-based lifestyle brand said the initiative will restore shoes to a “like-new condition.”
When Ugg introduced its Plant Power Collection last month, it highlighted the plant-based lyocell fibers it used, saying they were derived from the wood pulp of trees grown in forest certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification. On Thursday, Ugg said it would be working with Canopy, an organization dedicated to responsible sourcing, to ensure 100 of its wood-based products came from responsible forests.
Finally, Ugg noted that it has joined the Transparency Pledge. Numerous other footwear brands have aligned or committed to the pledge, including Adidas, Asics, New Balance, Nike and VF Corp.
With its longtime partner Parley for the Oceans, Adidas has been on a mission to put a dent in ocean plastic pollution, turning discarded bottles, fishing nets and more into stylish, best-selling sneakers. Last week, however, it broadened the scope of its strategy, recruiting brand ambassador Timothy Olson to “raise awareness” of the planet’s omnipresent plastic pollution problem. The ultramarathoner and “climate activist” will attempt to break the current 53 days, 6 hours, and 37 minute record for running the scenic 2,653-mile Pacific Crest Trail.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize how bad the problem has gotten,” Olson said. “My training takes me to some seriously remote places, and I’m always shocked to find plastic waste even in the smallest corners.”
The athlete added that an even more alarming concern is “how plastic is now being found in glacier water at the tops of mountains thanks to microplastics which are carried there from the ocean via rainwater.” Olson said he hopes to “use my PCT record attempt as a platform to help educate people about this new problem and inspire them to start making small steps towards the solution which can make a big difference—if we all work together.”
Other debuts from sustainable brands
Another Deckers Brands subsidiary, Teva, announced the launch of its TevaForever Recycling Program earlier this month. Created in partnership with the recycling-focused waste management company TerraCycle, the initiative allows for customers to return all Teva shoes—at no extra cost—to be used to make playgrounds, athletic fields and track ground cover.
The initiative comes a year after the brand transitioned its straps to recycled plastic yarn. Since then, it said, it has diverted more than 40.2 million plastic bottles, equal to 755 tons of post-consumer plastic.
Teva recently launched the Hurricane Verge. Featuring the same “robust and rugged” EVA footbed as the classic Hurricane XLT2, the new silhouette introduces a cross-strap upper, several points of adjustability and an updated buckle.
Meanwhile, the vegan sneaker brand Loci is celebrating Earth Day by releasing a footwear collection with the actress and designer Nikki Reed.
Handmade in Portugal, the sneakers incorporate recycled ocean plastic, rubber and foam, as well as bamboo and natural cork. In addition to sourcing vegan materials, Loci plans to donate 10 percent of proceeds from each pair sold to preserving ocean and sea life.