Ecoalf’s upcoming shoe is literally garbage, but that’s a feature, not a flaw. The Spanish minimalist streetwear brand—think Uniqlo but for the conscious crowd—is launching a shoe made from ocean waste and algae.
Set to drop in September, each “Shao” will comprise two-and-a-half plastic bottles that were fished out from the Mediterranean Sea, then spun into a black knitted upper that hugs the foot like a sock.
For the outer sole, Ecoalf transformed algal biomass from ponds and lakes, particularly those at risk of toxic bloom, into the closed-cell foam known as ethylene-vinyl acetate, or EVA. It’s the same tack Vivobarefoot employed last year when it created the world’s first molded shoe derived from the green stuff.
“Algae gives us the most flexible-performing foam,” Ecoalf told design blog Dezeen last month. “Also, removing it allows clean water to circulate properly, supports plant and animal life and eliminates the need for non-renewable oils.”
The sneaker’s simple design—the upper and outsole are all there is—allows Ecoalf to manufacture it efficiently sans waste.
“We only use two materials, and construct the upper sole in a way that reduces the number of steps in the supply chain to just one,” the brand said. “There are no laces, no insole, and we’ve printed our label to avoid using any extra fabric, without compromising on the design.”
Ecoalf works with fishing vessels off the coast of Levante in Spain to harvest plastic waste as part of its Upcycling for the Oceans initiative, which is currently being replicated in Thailand, where a whale recently died after swallowing some 17 pounds of plastic.
Similar initiatives—Parley for the Oceans, for one—might hone in on shoreline plastic and ghost nets, but Ecoalf trawls the ocean depths for its catch. This approach has its own challenges: Seabed plastic has borne the brunt of buffeting waves, salt and sun for far longer, leaving it in various stages of disintegration.
“A bottle at the bottom of the ocean is very different to one floating along the coast,” the company noted.
Then again, Ecoalf is no stranger to making waste work. Since its inception in 2010, it has has recycled everything from blown-out tires to discarded coffee grounds into jackets, shoes and bags.
Ocean plastic in fashion is quickly attaining mainstream status. It’s appeared in shoes by Adidas and Stella McCartney, swimwear by Volcom and Mara Hoffman, denim by G-Star Raw, shirts by Gant, even a gown from H&M.