Vivobarefoot, makers of minimalist footwear, believe there is power in plant-based sustainability—so much so that they’ve created a new sneaker, 30 percent of which is manufactured using renewable plant materials.
Vivobarefoot has made a name for itself in the footwear industry as a disruptor, thanks to its atypical and often innovative approach to footwear design. In 2017, for example, Vivobarefoot released a running shoe powered by artificial intelligence that’s among the few examples of a minimalist smart shoe. Later that same year, the brand also announced a partnership with makers of algae-based performance materials, Bloom, to create the EVA foams found in its shoes. Vivobarefoot’s new sneaker, The Primus Lite II Bio, is one of the first to be made with a thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) created by Bloom’s algae, yellow dent field corn and natural rubber—instead of a petroleum product.
According to Vivobarefoot, Bloom harvests the algae from freshwater sources at high-risk of algal bloom, a natural event that can have devastating effects on an ecosystem. As a result, the brand says that Bloom actually “cleans and restores the environment” during the collection process.
Along with being environmentally-friendly, Vivobarefoot says the material produced from Bloom’s algae is both lightweight and durable, reducing the overall weight of the shoe by about 10 percent.
“The launch of the Primus Lite Bio represents an exciting step away from the industry’s reliance on single-use petroleum-based materials and towards a promising future of plant-based alternatives,” Asher Clark, design director at Vivobarefoot said. “We want to challenge the world’s relationship with shoes, the materials they are made from and the impact they are having on us and our environment. Our ultimate goal is complete circularity.”
The company has already collected some compelling evidence that using plant-based materials in a product can attract consumer interest. In April, Vivobarefoot commissioned an independent consumer study and found that 67.5 percent of people think the use of plant-based materials in a product is a “key factor” in determining whether or not it is sustainable. This means using plant-based materials could become a key differentiator, as one-third of all consumers have already reported switching brands for sustainability reasons.
Considering more than 20 billion pairs of shoes are made every year, a process largely reliant on petroleum, Vivobarefoot says footwear consumers are hungry for something that can reduce their ecological footprint.
“The less you put between your feet and the environment, the better. Just like our other styles, Primus Lite II Bio was designed to let people’s feet do their natural thing, while providing maximum sensory feedback from your body to your brain,” Clark added. “The Primus Lite II Bio is not perfect, it still contains significant non-plant-based products, but it’s a step in the right direction. There are many challenges the footwear industry faces in creating sustainable products, and Vivobarefoot believes it is better to innovate for good, rather than to stand still.”
The brand says it is “on a mission” to phase out petrochemicals from its entire production line over the next two years, replacing them with sustainable materials like Bloom’s algae. New colors and styles for its “Bio” line can be expected in the fall.
Other brands have also turned to algae to produce sustainable alternatives for the chemical-heavy materials popular in footwear and apparel production, some even believe that algae-based materials are the future of the footwear industry. H&M has produced collections using algae and Dr. Scholl’s also recently unveiled a capsule of footwear made from algae and rice husks, demonstrating the wide-ranging possibilities of its sourcing potential.