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Nike’s Giving Sneaker Resale Giants a Run for Their Money

Nike is making good on its promise to slash supply chain waste with the launch of a new program that spruces up and resells pre-owned sneakers.

Nike Refurbished arrived Monday in eight outlet stores nationwide after nearly two years of “extensive research” investigating how best to collect, process and restore men’s and women’s sneakers that consumers would otherwise cast into the landfill. Through the circular program, Nike has an “opportunity to give millions of pairs of shoes a second life,” a spokesperson told Sourcing Journal, noting that the newly restored kicks will be shoppable in 15 locations by the end of the month.

The program will contribute to a goal Nike outlined in its March impact report; over the next five years, the company has targeted a tenfold increase in the amount of finished product it can repair, recycle or re-home.

Operating out of a dedicated space in Nike’s Indiana reverse logistics facility, the circular program’s staff of existing employees and new hires leverage “special training” when cleaning, restoring and sanitizing each sneaker by hand. Every pair is assigned a grade before being shipped out to the retail floor. “Like new” means sneakers are virtually indistinguishable from never-worn product, while “gently worn” items might show minor signs of wear. “Cosmetically flawed” indicates shoes that bear a small defect versus wear and tear. These items, Nike says, could include products shoppers returned for a full refund.

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Though Nike’s goal is to renew as much product as possible, sneakers not suitable for resale are donated through community partners or funneled into Nike Grind, the nearly 30-year-old program churning well-worn sneakers into material for creating playgrounds, buildings and sustainable soles.

While startups like Trove have carved out a niche helping brands own their slice of the growing recommerce pie, Nike’s deep pockets greased the wheels of the Refurbished program it built from the ground up. “Operating in-house has allowed us to learn and pivot quickly, leverage existing infrastructure and skilled teammates and deliver Nike Refurbished product into our stores as fast as possible,” a spokesperson said, adding that the supply chain team “saw an opportunity to reduce waste, build a new capability and take a systems approach to product.”

The Earth Month launch comes as investors are closely monitoring fashion’s ESG postures, and the sector is being urged to hasten its sustainable makeover with a priority of whittling away at waste. Michelle Russell, apparel correspondent for London consultancy GlobalData, pressed players to end “this throwaway culture we have adopted,” which can only happen when there’s “more education directed at consumers on the environmental impact of fashion disposal.”

The launch of Nike's circular Refurbished program gives consumers secondhand access to previously worn Air Max and React sneakers and more.
Consumers can shop popular silhouettes like restored Air Max, Vapormax and React sneakers sold through the Refurbished program in select outlet stores.

Russell further believes “[i]ncentivising recycling and encouraging innovation in design will all help on this journey, but industry collaboration is crucial if the fashion industry is to clean up its image of being a major polluter.”

Indeed, regardless of whether companies build in house or partner with third parties, takeback and resale schemes are proliferating across fashion. Levi’s SecondHand debut last fall encourages consumers to hand over their previously worn denim by rewarding them with credit toward future purchases. Guess bowed a vintage program offering carefully sourced and authenticated archival product. Scores of Gen Zers are notably interested in acquiring secondhand product, Piper Sandler found in its most recent read on the teen market (though some question thrifting’s ethics). Still, marketplaces like ThredUp, Poshmark, The RealReal, StockX, eBay and Goat command a good chunk of the resale market, hosting a broad array of products for consumers to peruse.

Still, many see resale programs as a lucrative customer acquisition vehicle, opening the door to consumers who may aspire to products that might out of reach at first-market prices. The Vapormax, Air Max, React and other popular silhouettes sold through Nike Refurbished at “value-driven prices” are likely to court cost-conscious consumers hoping to score sneakers that often originally cost hundreds of dollars.

The launch of Nike's circular Refurbished program gives consumers secondhand access to previously worn Air Max and React sneakers and more.
In-store signage educates consumers on the three tiers of Refurbished sneakers. Courtesy

Nike declined to address whether Refurbished incorporates any technology like blockchain-based tags that can track a product’s life cycle and crucially, how long it remains in circulation.

Nike also demurred when asked if Refurbished will be available through digital channels at some point, though it says it plans to “expand…globally” in the future. Refurbished is now available at select outlet stores in California, Florida, Nebraska, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennesse and Wisconsin. It’s slated to launch in additional outlet stores in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Ohio—plus the community store in East Los Angeles—by the end of April, with more stores joining in throughout the year.