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Saucony’s Zero-Plastic Sneaker Is Made With Gardenias and Beet Juice

Saucony introduced its “most eco-friendly shoe ever” Tuesday.

Made with zero plastic, the Jazz Court RFG represents one step in a larger sustainability journey at Saucony. The Wolverine Worldwide brand expects to incorporate recycled content into every new performance footwear style by this fall. Come next spring, it aims to begin using 100 percent recycled uppers. By 2024, it plans to move entirely away from virgin plastic.

For now, though, the Jazz Court RFG is the latest in sustainability at Saucony. The shoe employs seven natural materials, each “targeted for its intrinsic strength and functionality,” according to Andrea Paulson, director of product engineering.

For the base fabric, the running brand selected a natural cotton and jute weave for its “excellent durability and comfort,” Paulson said. Renewable lyocell fibers were used for the laces and stitching threads. The brand turned to wool to create a breathable, odor-resistant and thermo-reactive footbed. An all-natural dye made from the gardenia plant gives the collar lining its deep blue color. Food-grade beet juice acts as the ink on the sneaker’s size label.

The hardest part was the bottom, Paulson said. Many performance shoes today rely on strong and durable plastics. “These materials are astounding and have created endless breakthroughs and innovations in both the running industry and the world,” Paulson wrote in an essay on the Jazz Court RFG.

“But the truth is that not all of our footwear is meant for running or the high-impact nature of it,” Paulson said. “Not all product needs to use these plastics. And where plastic isn’t needed, shouldn’t we find something better?”

Instead, Saucony used 100 percent natural rubber, a material that does not require the curing agents nor chemical additives of modern synthetic rubber molding. “It might not last thousands of years like its synthetic competitor, but that is exactly why we picked it,” Paulson said.

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To minimize energy and chemical use, the footwear brand rethought the manufacturing process. Rather than rely on hot tunnels—the long rows of ovens and conveyor belts that activate primers and cements for attaching soles—it “cool” processed the Jazz Court RFG to save energy. Instead of adhesives and glues, a sidewall stitch attaches the upper to the latex sole.

“We removed parts and procedures, the workers needed to do them, and the energy and heat needed to complete,” Paulson said. “We built the shoe one step at a time and cut out anything that wasn’t absolutely necessary.”

Finally, Saucony chose to package the sneaker unstuffed in a newly designed ink-free, shippable, 100 percent recycled cardboard shoe box. Even the ink on the label is soy-based.

“The Jazz Court RFG represents the next step in our journey to further accelerate our sustainability strategy,” Anne Cavassa, Saucony’s president, said. “As a global business, we feel an immense responsibility to do good by the Earth and the millions of runners who run on it. That’s why we are building on our existing work to set bold goals that will make a real difference, driving transformational change and empowering our consumers to live a more sustainable life.”

Introduced in 1981, Saucony’s Jazz franchise turns 40 this year. The brand plans to celebrate the milestone with a series of retro releases, such as the color-changing Jazz ’81 UV. Dropped earlier this month, the sneaker replicates the original’s look and feel, while adding a few upgrades, namely nylon underlays that react to heat and light. The shoe came in three colorways: a purple pair that shifts to light pink, an orange pair that turns to yellow and a blue pair the changes to teal.

Saucony has been a bright spot for Wolverine throughout the pandemic. In the fourth quarter, the brand’s revenue grew in the mid-single digits, as sales climbed 65 percent. In the first quarter, it expects sales to jump 50 percent year over year.