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Nike Lines Up Eco-Friendly Shoes in Time for Earth Day

Nike is embracing a more natural look.

The sportswear giant provided a sneak peek last week at its upcoming Plant Color collection, a line of Air Max 95 and Blazer Low sneakers clad in plant-based dyes.

Though details are scant, Nike said in a press release that it was “inspired by alternative ways to make color.” The pastel-hued kicks, which will include a fabric tag proclaiming their botanical provenance, are expected to launch sometime this summer.

The move is a significant one because the mainstream fashion industry usually gives natural dyes a wide berth. The process of coaxing color from plants can be more akin to alchemy than chemistry, which means dyes tend to be inconsistent from one batch to another. They’re also not as colorfast as their synthetic cousins and therefore less saturated. In addition, the Day-Go colors that athletic wear favor are next to impossible to distill from nature.

Still, synthetic dyeing is inarguably a toxic, messy business. The World Bank estimates that 17 percent to 20 percent of industrial water pollution stems from textile dyeing and finishing. Greenpeace says dyeing is the second largest polluter of clean water globally after agriculture. Indeed, in the Zhejiang province of eastern China, where textile facilities have clustered, a popular saying goes that you can tell the colors that will be in fashion next season by looking at the Qiantang River.

This isn’t news to Nike. In 2011, Greenpeace pilloried the “Just Do It” firm for sourcing from Chinese factories that have dumped heavy metals and hormone-disrupting substances in the Yangtze and Pearl River Deltas. The furor prompted Nike to sign up with the environmental group’s Detox program and commit to the eradication of hazardous chemicals from its supply chain by 2020.

Fast-forward a few years and the Plant Color collection will be joined by a Flyleather Earth Day Pack that combines its recycled-leather composite with artist Steven Harrington’s psychedelic cartoons, and the VaporMax 2 Random, which Nike calls its “big sustainability stand.” The latter features an Air Sole derived from 75 percent recycled material and excess Flyknit yarn that would otherwise have gone to the landfill. It’s a “double-win” that resonates with its female consumers, it added.

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In other earth-friendly news, Nike recently announced its partnership with Spanish utility provider Iberdrola to begin sourcing 100 percent renewable energy in Europe. Complementing existing agreements between the company and Avangrid in North America, this new purchase contract will allow Nike to achieve 75 percent renewable energy globally, it said.