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Puma Takes a Second Shot at Compostable Sneakers

Nearly a decade after rolling out what it then dubbed its “first closed-loop collection,” Puma is taking another stab at biodegradable footwear.

The German footwear company unveiled what it is calling the Re:Suede Thursday. Made with Zeology-tanned suede, biodegradable TPE and hemp fibers, the sneaker will act as an experiment in circularity, with pairs going out to 500 select participants in Germany in January.

The pilot’s participants will test out the durability of the shoes’ biodegradable materials by wearing them throughout their everyday life. After six months, they will send the shoes back to Puma to be subjected to an industrial biodegradation process in a controlled environment at Valor Compostering B.V., owned by Ortessa Groep B.V., a family-run business of waste specialists in the Netherlands. The goal of this step, Puma added, will be to determine if Grade A compost can be produced for agricultural use. When it wraps up the experiment, the company plans to share the results within the industry.

Though the Re:Suede experiment is the first circular program to emerge under Puma’s new Circular Lab innovation hub, it also follows in the footsteps of the company’s InCycle collection. Launched in 2013, the line encompassed footwear, apparel and accessories—all of which Puma claimed were biodegradable or recyclable. After four seasons, Puma discontinued the endeavor “due to low demand and the need for further research and development,” it said.

Puma will release 500 pairs of the Re:Suede sneaker as an experiment in circularity.

“In 2012, our circular ambition was bold, but the technology wasn’t quite there,” Heiko Desens, Puma’s creative director, said in a statement. “As they say, with every challenge there’s an opportunity—and we’ve continued to push ourselves to do better by applying our strengths as well as acknowledging and improving on our weaknesses.”

In the years since, Puma said its innovation department has worked to address the “technological limitations” of the InCycle collection, applying those learnings to the Re:Suede pilot. These improvements include the use of Zeology suede, a material that it claims is made using a “more sustainable” tanning process and that ensures better comfort for the wearer compared to other biodegradable materials it evaluated. Puma said it also improved on the outsole “to ensure optimal wear.”

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“There is a lot more we can all be doing to help tackle waste management, but taking on that challenge alone can be a difficult task for any brand,” Rob Meulendijks, CEO of Ortessa, said in a statement.  “We are delighted to be working in partnership with Puma on this special project, where we can apply our deep knowledge and insights on waste, use tried and controlled methods, to assess the biodegradability of the future, next-generation Suede.“

Last year, 50 percent of Puma’s products were made from what it has deemed “more sustainable materials,” including 81 percent of apparel, 47 percent of accessories and 24 percent of footwear. It plans to reach 90 percent by 2025. In 2020, 18.7 percent of the polyester used in its apparel was recycled. By 2025, it aims to hit 75 percent. Puma’s other mid-decade goals include rolling out takeback schemes in all major markets, researching biodegradable plastics options and reducing production waste sent to landfills by 50 percent.

In Bangladesh, Puma, alongside the embassies of Denmark and the Netherlands, recently renewed its commitment to a program seeking to decarbonize the country’s garment sector. The brainchild of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the Advisory Partnership for Cleaner Textiles, otherwise known as PaCT, works with brands, suppliers, industry groups, financial institutions and governments to help mills and factories identify, finance and implement water, energy and chemical-saving improvements. Veronique Rochet, senior head of sustainability at Puma, said the sportswear brand will tap PaCT’s advisory services to accelerate its efforts cut fossil-fuel-derived carbon emissions in its Bangladeshi supply chain.