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The Footwear Sector Searches for a Greener Footprint at The Materials Show

Momentum for sustainable footwear components is growing as brands from all segments of the industry seek sustainable alternatives and unique eco stories. And exhibitors at The Materials Show last week in Portland supplied brands with components that use renewable resources and upcycled materials.

Doing more with less

Bloom’s algae-derived material technology, for one, continues to gain traction in the market, according to co-founder Mike Van Drunen. Following the launch of the material in Vivobarefoot’s Ultra Bloom in 2017, brands like Toms, Bogs and Adidas—which vetted the technology in its early stages—are incorporating the EVA alternative into their footwear, and Van Drunen hinted to additional product announcements in the near future.

Bloom foams typically contain 25 percent algae biomass, which help offset the use of petroleum. Meanwhile, the material’s harvesting process has significant environmental benefits in water remediation and carbon sequestration. The foams serve as a drop-in replacement for EVA foam, and in some cases, exceed performance characteristics of conventional closed-cell flexible foam.

The company shares its sustainable story in a consumer-friendly fashion with its Eco-Facts label. The label represents how each product made with Bloom foam equates to 62 gallons of filtered water returned to the habitat and 47 balloons-worth of CO2 kept from entering the atmosphere.

Vibram showcased Litebase at The Materials Show, a concept that is 25 percent to 30 percent lighter than its traditional product and requires less rubber. The sole is a combination of a rubber outsole and a durable textile core that provides structure and allows for a lighter product. Litebase’s weight makes it a natural fit for trail and other strenuous outdoor activities. For Spring ’19, global brands will introduce the material in hiking, running and mountaineering footwear.

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Covestro bowed Maezio, its “next generation” footwear solution for performance and athleisure with a sustainable edge. Maezio composites is a continuous fiber-reinforced thermoplastic composite material that makes sneakers stronger, lighter and with better energy return compared to conventional sole materials.

After use, the material can be chopped up and reheating with virgin materials to make recycled Maezio, Yvonne Qian, Covestro marketing communications manager, said.

The material can be used for a variety of applications. It’s strength and low weight make it an optimal alternative for toe caps and outsoles. As a midsole, it returns more energy than conventional midsoles. And as a shank, Maezio provide stability and torsion resistance.

Qian added that Maezio allows a high degree of design freedom, which brands are seeking. It can be made in a spectrum of colors and coated for new effects.

Maezio Angela Velasquez

Covestro’s INSQIN waterborne technology tackles sustainability in PU synthetics. The process eliminates the need for solvents in the material manufacturing process, therefore eliminating the health and safety risks, pollution and harmful waste associated with their use.

By cutting out solvents, the process results in a water savings up to 95 percent and cuts the amount of energy used to make PU-coated fabrics by half.

Microban launched Scentry Revive, a patent-pending odor control technology that decreases the environmental impact of a garment by neutralizing odor for up to 50 home launderings, or in essence, the garment’s entire functional life span.

The company reports that one garment treated with Scentry Revive can save the equivalent of 75-pounds of greenhouse gas, 219 bottles of water and $125 in apparel costs in one year.

Applicable to footwear, activewear, home textiles, bedding and uniforms, Scentry Revive is a treatment that permeates the fabric to form a protective barrier. As odor comes in contact with the Scentry Revive barrier, it neutralizes and dissipates. Even without washing after each use, Microban says the barrier can help prevent odor and odor build-up.

Upcycling on the upswing

With sustainability top of mind for most footwear companies attending the show, OrthoLite director of marketing Dan Lagor, said it is simply “good business” to begin adopting eco-friendly best practices. The key, he added, is to make products that meet brands’ individual ratings and sustainability initiatives.

OrthoLite is building on the success of Eco Hybrid, its first foam made of upcycled scraps from its own production floor, by extending the circular concept to all of its foam programs. The formulation blends 5 percent recycled rubber, 15 percent production waste foam and 80 percent proprietary open-cell foam. As a result, OrthoLite uses less petroleum and energy and adds less to the landfill.

The company also introduced introduced 100 percent recycled foam that serves best as a bottom layer combined with softer foam applications. The fully recycled outsole material closes the production loop even further by completely recycling foam from finished goods. The result is a recycled foam well-suited for applications where a firmer foam is required as in the case of multi-density insoles. The base can be combined with Eco Hybrid, creating an insole that contains a 100 percent recycled base and a 20 percent recycled top layer.

OrthoLite dual layer insole with fully recycled bottom layer and X40 Hybrid foam on top. Angela Velasquez

Sunmore presented two sustainable concepts that emphasize the use of recycled materials. The company’s EPR technology creates a fused material made up to 50 percent recycled foam. The lightweight material provides the wearer durable underfoot support. The EPR material can be used as foam for footwear, or in other applications like foam rollers, yoga mats and gym mats.

The company’s ECO,DOT product blends production waste foam, recycled thermoplastic elastomer and proprietary closed-cell foam. Components made with ECO,DOT typically contain 10 to 25 percent waste materials. However, recipes can be formulated to cater to brands’ specific needs. The material comes in solid black or speckled blue dot, or “eco dots,” which enhances stability and adds anti-slip properties.

The environmentally-friendly material reportedly outperforms open-cell flexible foam by providing long-lasting comfort and shock absorption. It disperses forces across the entire foot surface, resulting in the easing of fatigue and knee pain.

Finproject saves scrap materials from years in landfills by regrinding it to make to make XL Extralight Sustainable, the firm’s eco-friendly closed-cell material.

The sole material includes up to 35 percent recycled rubber and results in a fashionable speckled, granite-like appearance the company calls Granito. Furthermore, the company uses clean energy that comes from its photovoltaic plants.

The performance and features of the sustainable soles is virtually unchanged, Scott McNally, Finproject U.S. sales agent, said. The material is picking up interest from brands as varied as Timberland and Salvatore Ferragamo, he added.