The second installment in our three-part series on sustainable fabrics and fibers.
In our previous “Fabrics of Our Future Lives,” we explored innovative fibers that weave sustainable fashions. Today we turn our gaze a little lower, to materials made for walking: footwear that puts planet earth first.
Together the brands listed here are turning the tide on their industry’s waste, and there is a ton of it— or, rather, tons: Allbirds found that traditional shoe manufacturing adds 771 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year — one shoe alone produces 30 lbs. —, and the site Imagine All the Water reports that one pair of typical shoes requires over 2,000 gallons of water to create.
Industry vanguard Stella McCartney meanwhile found that 1 garbage truck worth of apparel is burned or landfilled every second, including hundreds of thousands of shoes — The U.S. alone tosses 300 million pairs of shoes a year. — and don’t forget that many shoes are also petroleum-based, a hit against Mother Earth that’s sharper than a stiletto.
But luckily the brands, scientists, engineers, and designers here are leading the way toward a new textile economy. So, without further ado…
o Developed by Christophe Guberan and Carlo Clopath at MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab, these printed shoes take customization and waste reduction to the next level.
o Through their process, structural patterns are applied to stretched tensile material. When the material’s tension is released, the patterns pull it into a pre-programmed shape.
o This means Active Shoes can be created in one piece, form fitted for specific use, and then reprogrammed later. One pair could be repurposed endlessly, offering fashionistas endlessly sustainable options.
o One of the many established brands pursuing emerging and sustainable textiles, Adidas’ FutureCraft series proves the long-running shoemaker’s in it to win it.
o Whether they’re creating shoes from a biodegradable synthetic spider silk called BioSteel, collaborating with Parley to transform ocean plastic into stylish trainers, or creating a 100% recyclable runner called LOOP, Adidas is clearly committed to mining innovative ideas for sustainable futures.
o As Adidas executive board member Eric Liedtke said, “The next step is to end the concept of "waste" entirely.” Sounds good to us!
o Born a mere five years ago, Allbirds has already changed the footwear game.
o In addition to their commitment to sustainable production, Allbirds incorporates innovative and earth-friendly fibers like eucalyptus fiber, recycled cardboards and plastics, and castor bean oil into their swoon-worthy shoes.
o Sweetest yet, Allbirds recently unveiled SweetFoam, a material made from sugar cane. In addition to producing a supportive yet flexible sole, sugar cane consumes so much carbon dioxide that Allbirds’ irrigation-free production is actually carbon-negative — a huge positive for us all!
o “Waste not, want not” is the name of the game at Athletic Propulsion Labs’ (APL).
o The California-based brand’s Techloom process weaves their cashmere, wool, and other natural shoe’s upper body as one-piece, a technique that results in both a better fit and less material waste — two reasons why APL’s are a celebrity favorite.
o Algae blooms caused by industrial run-off, climate change, and other human-made causes wreak just as much havoc on our oceans as plastic bottles: They destroy ocean life, their unsightliness and odor cripple local tourism, and they bring a host of health issues, too.
o Mississippi-based BLOOM’s intends on ending these algal monsters: BLOOM collects and process algae blooms into six types of materials that can be used for many applications, including shoe soles.
o This process leaves clean water in its wake, rebalances the eco system, and creates a strong, flexible, and fashion-forward material. No wonder brands like H&M and adidas have already adopted BLOOM’s upstart technology.
o Central Saint Martins grad Jen Keane spent much of her time at the famed design school in the lab, not on the runway. And it paid off.
o Keane successfully developed a proprietary microbial weaving that harnesses plant fibers, biodegradable yarn, and cellulose from bacteria found in kombucha to create strong, flexible, and seriously ill footwear.
o Known as the “This is grown.” project, Keane’s creations aren’t yet for sale, but we hope to see them strutting their stuff soon enough.
o Another big player going big on sustainability, Adidas-owned Reebok’s recently unveiled a vegan Cotton+Corn collection made from sustainably sourced natural materials that eschew chemical dyes, reduce water pollution.
o Not only are the shoes themselves sustainable: they’re packaged in 100% recycled materials. That ain’t corny.
o Using fig, coconut, and pineapple fibers, Mat Rombaut’s luxe, plant-based shoe brand proves high fashion and sustainability can go hand-in-hand.
o Best of all: Rombaut and his team have a wicked sense of humor, as seen in their recent ode to 90s infomercials and their tongue-in-cheek lettuce-shaped vegan slip-ons.
o Guillaume Linossier spent almost two decades working for major outdoor brands. Unsettled by the amount of waste in the slow-to-move corporate culture, Linossier decided to quit and do his own thing.
o Now Linossier and his team are designing shoes made from sustainable materials, including recycled cotton, plastic bottles, and the aforementioned, algae-based BLOOM.
o While he’s certainly happier than he was, Linossier hopes to go further: he wants to create shoes that are 100% biodegradable.
o The pioneer in the field of sustainable and vegan apparel, Stella McCartney continues to push her eponymous lines’ wares to new frontiers.
o On the footwear front, McCartney — also a Central Saint Martins grad, like Keane — debuted her own Loop, a shoe collection in which the shoe’s upper body and sole are hooked and sewn together, rather than glued, meaning pairs can be reused or recycled with more ease and less waste. A new classic?
o Sustainability is in Third Oak founder Sara Irvani’s blood. Her family’s Georgia-based footwear company Okabashi has been recycling and reducing since the late 1980s, when it became clear they needed to adapt to a changing economy.
o Now, decades later, Irvani’s label Third Oak is continuing the tradition: they use a soy-based, recyclable plastic called Microplast to create a supportive and sleek flip-flop.
o Even better for carbon conscious shoppers: Third Oak’s based here in the U.S., meaning less shipping-related emissions. And considering only 1% of shoes worn in the U.S. are made here, buying local’s an easy way to reduce your footprint, too.
o Whether using traditional materials, such as recycled plastics and corn waste, or more novel ingredients, like leather made from tilapia hides and curdled milk, cult French brand Veja’s footwear is always effortlessly stylish.
o As exciting and alluring as all of their designs are — New York magazine just wrote on Americans’ obsession with Veja — the most titillating offering is the Campo, a completely biodegradable offering. And it doesn’t get chicer than that….