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Nike’s New Basketball Sneaker Marks a (Sustainable) First for the Brand

Last June, Nike launched Space Hippie, an “exploratory” footwear collection inspired by the idea of a life on Mars where materials are scarce and there’s no resupply mission in sight.

Designed to create as little environmental impact as possible, the drop’s four designs used 85 percent to 90 percent recycled polyester yarn for the upper, while mixing Nike Grind—a collection of recycled materials made from manufacturing scrap, unsellable products and worn-out sneakers—into the shoe’s foam bottoms.

Nike expanded on that ethos Wednesday, introducing its first performance shoe to be made of at least 25 percent recycled content by weight. A basketball sneaker, Cosmic Unity is the first of its kind in the footwear giant’s performance category.

“Basketball really has the power, globally, to bring a perspective and unite people together,” Ross Klein, senior creative director of men’s footwear performance at Nike, said. “And so, by using basketball and thinking through basketball, we can really bring a wide range of athletes to the table.”

On the Cosmic Unity’s upper, a single cable wraps itself around the sneaker, giving it a supportive, stable web pattern. Created using additive manufacturing—also known as 3D printing—Nike said the design reduces material waste while offering zonal tuning, forefoot lockdown and breathability.

The shoe also updates Nike’s Crater Foam midsole. Previously only seen in the brand’s lifestyle product, the material is a proprietary brand blend with about 10 percent Nike Grind. To make the midsole firmer for better support and responsiveness, the new design uses smaller, confetti-size Nike Grind pieces and a different molding process to further compress the material, it said.

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“The way the Crater Foam is utilized in the world of basketball is to bring support around the shoe—around the heel, around the midfoot and around the forefoot—but also bring a sense of being closer to the ground,” Klein added. “With this material, we can achieve being closer to the ground than many products.”

The Cosmic Unity’s full-length Zoom Air Strobel helps bring this into play, he continued. Stitched directly to the upper, the unit brings a responsiveness to the athlete right under the foot, Klein said, “so what they experience is that pop, that sensation, that springiness as they step into the shoe.” The outsole, meanwhile, uses a thin, lightweight rubber that cuts down on weight and keeps the wearer closer to the ground, while maintaining on-court traction and control, Nike said.

Recycled content features throughout the sneaker, in the collar lining, sock liner and top cloth, tongue, laces and the all-over cable detail in the forefoot. Even the Swoosh is made from marbled recycled content.

A collection of sustainable apparel accompanies the Cosmic Unity footwear drop. The design takes inspiration from both the color blocking of ‘90s off-court fashion and the curved lines and color palette of Space Hippie’s “raw and exposed vibes,” Nike said. Jackets, pants and shorts within the collection are made from 100 percent recycled polyester, while T-shirts are at least 55 percent recycled fibers and at least 40 percent organic cotton fibers.

Nike launched another sustainably centered product line in November. Of the All Conditions Gear Holiday 2020 collection’s winter apparel lineup, 85 percent contained more than 90 percent recycled content. Items included a waterproof Gore-Tex jacket made with recycled polyester and a fleece hoodie that uses 100 percent recycled materials.

The basketball category has drawn considerable attention from brands in recent months, with Under Armour building a full-blown brand around long-range sniper Steph Curry and Adidas aligning with Fear of God to “change the face” of the globally popular sport.