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Nike Scales Up Recycled Materials Across Performance Styles

When Nike released the Cosmic Unity last February, the basketball shoe represented a significant milestone for the company: its first performance footwear made of at least 25 percent recycled content by weight.

Seven months later, it doubled that record with the Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next Nature, a performance running shoe made with at least 50 percent recycled content by weight. At the time, the company referred to it as its “boldest move yet in merging sustainability and performance.”

Nike revealed two more performance styles this week that will match the Alphafly Next Nature in recycled content: the Nike Pegasus Turbo Next Nature running shoe and the Nike Mercurial Vapor Next Nature football boot.

The Pegasus Turbo Next Nature relied directly on learnings from last year’s Alphafly. Its midsole is made with at least 55 percent ZoomX foam scrap—less than the 70 percent used in the Alphafly Next Nature. Where its predecessor used a recycled Flyknit-Flyprint hybrid for the upper, the Pegasus Turbo Next Nature employed a material that is 70 percent post-consumer recycled polyester and 30 percent excess Flyknit yarn. The company also employed a special dyeing process that it claims saved 70 liters of water per kilogram of yarn produced.

On Wednesday, Nike unveiled the Mercurial Vapor Next Nature. The boot features a four-layer upper that combines Nike Flyprint, recycled polyester, recycled TPU and skin manufacturing scrap. Its chassis, heel counter, midsole plate and upper are all made with 100 percent recycled materials from manufacturing waste.

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The shoe marks the first time the company has used Nike Flyprint—a 3D-printed textile technology that it introduced in 2018—on a non-running silhouette. By using Flyprint, designers can 3D print the exact amount of material required, it said. It also lowered the boot’s weight and improved breathability compared to traditional knitted or woven textiles, Nike added.

Norwegian striker Ada Hegerberg praised Nike's new Mercurial Vapor Next Nature football boot
Norwegian striker Ada Hegerberg praised Nike’s new Mercurial Vapor Next Nature football boot. Nike

“The Mercurial Vapor Next Nature brings me what I require from the Mercurial design: tightness, speed and the ability to make quick turns, along with this new way of making the product we need that has a lesser impact on the planet we love,” Norwegian striker Ada Hegerberg said in a statement.

Learnings from the Mercurial Vapor Next Nature are currently being scaled throughout the Mercurial lineup, with a majority of Mercurial boots coming to market this fall being made with at least 20 percent recycled content, Nike said.

The footwear giant has set out to use “environmentally preferred materials” for 50 percent of all key materials—polyester, cotton, leather and rubber—by 2025. According to the impact report it released last month, it reached 32 percent in the fiscal year ended May 31, 2021. Though Nike acknowledged it was tracking behind its footwear goals in both leather and rubber, it said it had “strategies in place that should allow us to make up the gap.” In fiscal 2021, recycled materials accounted for 33 percent of the polyester Nike used, but less than 1 percent of rubber and cotton. Recycled cotton, Nike said, “will become more of a strategic focus in FY22.”

New Balance expands ‘green leaf standard’

Last week, New Balance announced it would expand its product assortment under its “green leaf standard” to include certain footwear. The company, which recently opened a new factory in Massachusetts, said it will focus on high-volume models, including select colorways of two of its largest franchises, the 574 and Fresh Foam 1080v12.

For apparel, a product meets New Balance’s green leaf standard when it is made from at least 50 percent “environmentally preferred” materials. For footwear, at least 50 percent of the materials in the upper must be environmentally preferred and at least one material in the midsole or outsole must use approximately 3 percent bio-based or 5 percent recycled content.

Of New Balance’s spring 2022 collection, 19 percent of its footwear volume from new introductions—as well as more than 60 percent of inline apparel volume—will meet its green leaf standard, it said.

“New Balance is pleased to be highlighting environmentally preferred materials through the green leaf standard across footwear and apparel,” Laura Wittman, New Balance vice president of responsible leadership and corporate compliance, said in a statement. “It’s important for us to provide consumers with intuitive tools, like New Balance’s green leaf standard, that will help them choose products that align with their values, with the goal of creating systemic change and positive impacts within the fashion industry.”

New Balance has set a goal of sourcing 50 percent recycled polyester and 100 percent preferred leather by 2025. By that same year, it intends to send zero waste to the landfill from its footwear factories, and to use 100 percent renewable electricity across its global operations.