Material Monday: What do global shoe brands do to enforce sustainability?

Material Monday: What do global shoe brands do to enforce sustainability?

Posted 26 August 2019 by Katie Kubrak

In this article we feature several case studies, which can help you understand the informed sustainable selection process. We thought it would be interesting to focus on Nike, as a global player, and discuss 5 of their sustainable sneaker stories.

SUSTAINABLE STORY 1: on natural and plant-derived ingredients

Synthetic and manufactured dyes are visible pollutants. They have been deemed as dangerous to the future of healthy environments. For this reason, Nike spent two years investigating how plant-based dyes could be upscaled into mass produced goods. The outcome of this investigation was presented as The Plant Color Collection.

Some of the benefits of this successful research include: (a) reduction of the number of particles in wastewater, (b) lower energy consumption due to lower temperature requirements during manufacturing, (c) less labour-intensive processing, and (d) overall reduction of emissions. Furthermore, this product selection features expressive and feminine colours, which are a testament to the beauty of natural ingredients around us.


SUSTAINABLE STORY 2: using reclaimed materials

Nike’s iconic models including Air Force 1, Blazer Low and Cortez are manufactured out of material, which contains at least 50% recycled leather fibre. This engineered surface offers additional benefit of being 40% lighter and 5x more abrasion-resistant in comparison to a full-grain leather. All of this directly translates into an extended product longevity.


SUSTAINABLE STORY 3: waste repurposing into a product

Nike’s newest footwear innovation started as a yarn leftover they had no use for. Presented with a challenge, Golnaz Armin – Senior Materials Director – combined waste material to create the Vapormax Flyknit ‘Random’ 2. Unique, yet “random”, the aesthetic of each pair is achieved through the lack of colour consistency across the waste yarn. In addition to the upper, the Air sole contains 75% recycled materials and the heel counter is made from recycled CD’s.


SUSTAINABLE STORY 4: transparent supply chain and manufacturing

Nike has launched the ‘Nike Manufacturing Map’ to showcase that supply chain transparency is at core of its business and approach to sustainability. This website aims to be a useful tool for customers to learn about the independent factories and material suppliers used to produce brands iconic sneakers. The map includes detailed information on factory location, supplier group, type of product made, number of workers, gender ration, migrant percentage and average age. This interactive list is a great example of how a brand can share and be open about its manufacturing.


SUSTAINABLE STORY 5: what could a sneaker become at its end of life?

Nike Grind is an initiative focused on a collection of recycled materials originating from Nike manufacturing scrap, unsellable products and worn-out sneakers to create secondary products including basketball courts, turf fields, running tracks, retail spaces.


Presented case studies aim to show that when we think differently not only about design, but also about purchasing, we can turn purchasing into a sustainable consumer behaviour. We would love to hear from you on what is the most sustainable sneaker in your opinion. Please do let us know your thoughts in comments below or get in touch with us direct via email.