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The Next Big Footwear Component Could Come From Your Kitchen

Companies across the globe continue to search for innovative production techniques and methods that advance the sustainability of footwear. Here, three firms turn to the food industry for inspiration on their inputs.

Coffee culture

Leave it to The Brooklyn Footwear Company to develop shoes dyed with coffee. The brand taps into the nabe’s café culture with its U.S. patented Coffee Washed Leather.

“We recycle brewed coffee grains from local coffee shops, re-brew them at the factory, and finish the products using our proprietary process,” Olga Grib, co-founder of The Brooklyn Footwear Company, said.

The concept for Coffee Washed Leather came from a pure “what if” moment. The company’s designers were tinkering with different creams and dyes when they dunked a prototype into a bucket of coffee. “As soon as the leather dried and revealed this incredible finish and aroma, we knew we had something special,” Grib said.

The process creates leather uppers with a natural antique finish and texture. Coffee penetrates the leather outsole, lining and upper, making it very soft, Grib described. Additionally, the natural process requires no chemical dyes, which means the shoes are fully biodegradable.

“Recycling coffee grains helps the coffee shops to reduce waste, and we have great relationships with the owners,” Grib said. “Coffee is such an iconic ingredient with an incredibly loyal following, and it is just amazing that we are able to integrate our company within this culture.”

Chew on this

U.K. company Gumdrop Ltd. is taking discarded chewing gum and recycling it into a range of new compounds that can be used in the rubber and plastics industries. And that rubber and plastic is making its way into shoes, among other things.

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Gumdrop founder and managing director Anna Bullus said the development of the gum-based material, dubbed Gum-tec, is a natural progression from the work she has been doing with Gumdrop.

Launched in 2009 to raise awareness about problems associated with gum litter, Gumdrop collects chewed gum in pink bins placed throughout the U.K. Once full, the bins are return to Gumdrop and the gum gets recycled into Gum-tec. The sustainable and moldable material can be applied to broad range of plastic and rubber products, from mobile phone covers and packaging, to outsoles and rubber rain boots.

“We wanted to go the extra mile to highlight the gum litter as well as demonstrate that by recycling your waste gum you are contributing to a reduction in use of virgin plastic and oil,” Bullus said. “Footwear was the natural choice and a great circular story—recycling one step at a time.”

Vino for vamps

Wine production may not be the first place shoe makers think to turn for their footwear, but one Italian company has found a way to make a leather-like raw material that uses what the wine industry leaves behind.

Vegea has developed a biobased technical textile it calls grape marc, which uses grape skins, stalks and seeds derived from the wine production process. From there, a polymerization technique converts oils and lignocellulose from the wine industry biomass into what’s used to make the Vegeatextile.

The new raw material—apart from helping fuel the circular economy—looks and feels a lot like leather, and comes in different weights, thicknesses, elasticities, finishes and textures.

“Our technology was born with the aim to reduce industrial waste through the valorization of agroindustry by-products and their re-use for high value added and low environmental impact materials,” Vegea owner Gianpiero Tessitore said in a statement. “In collaboration with industries operating in the same field and supported by H&M Foundation we produced the first Vegeatextile collection. Under the creative direction of ecodesigner Tiziano Guardini, we worked on the first prototypes for dresses, handbags and shoes showing the great potential and versatility of the material.”