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Native Shoes Releases Fully Biodegradable, Plant-Based Sneaker

Native Shoes’ latest project blends sneakers and science in an attempt to tackle the issue of circularity.

Made up of plastics, foams, chemically-treated leathers and textile fibers built for durability, casual sneakers and athletic footwear are among the most toxic contributors to footwear waste. These styles and their myriad components can linger in landfills indefinitely, refusing to break apart or decompose.

With the release of its new Plant Shoe, a casual lace-up made entirely from plant-derived components, Native promises to be the first waste-free sneaker.

According to the brand’s creative director, Mike Belgue, the new design was spurred by the company’s commitment to becoming “100 percent life-cycle managed” by 2023. The Plant Shoe is made from totally biodegradable, animal-free materials—and it’s consumer-compostable, he said.

“The next step beyond our current recycling initiative was to create something that wouldn’t need to be reused or recycled, but instead, generate zero waste. Something that was born from the earth and could go back into it,” Belgue explained.

After two years of research and material testing, the Native team developed a sneaker model with a roster of materials that reads like a grocery list.

The shoe’s upper is woven from carded pineapple husk and organic cotton, while an organic linen sock liner covers its kenaf and corn felt insole. The outsole is made from natural lactae hevea or “rubber milk,” with a cork and sisal-based midsole. The shoe’s components are held together by olive oil-soaked jute thread and natural latex glue.

“This exciting design opens the door for continued innovation as we march toward our goal and re-imagine product offerings for the future,” Belgue said.

The Plant Shoe follows Native’s Remix Project, which also addresses post-consumer footwear waste. Consumers can drop off their worn Native shoes at select locations or send them in through the Zappos for Good platform. Through a proprietary process, the shoes are reground into material for playground flooring, insulation and more.