Recycled footwear doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. This exciting and cutting-edge alternative blends eco-friendly principles with those of style and fashion. Right now, lots of designers are directing their focus towards footwear that attracts attention while also conforming to the low-impact lifestyle that so many crave by using innovative shoe materials. Recycled footwear is a great solution as it binds function and practicality with already existing materials. It’s a trend that lots of small businesses have capitalised on for years, and now big brands are starting to take notice.
In addition to looking good, recycled footwear solves lots of problems that we’ve seen time and time again in the fashion industry. Traditional show materials require a big chunk of natural resources. To save money, most are now produced overseas, adding to the associated emissions. As if that weren’t enough, there are also a lot of ethical challenges when it comes to choosing products manufactured by exploited, underpaid workers.
Even if we can manage to close our eyes to this dilemma, it is impossible to ignore the end product—most shoes aren’t biodegradable or recyclable. This means they end up in landfill where they pollute our air, soil and water. In the past, I’ve discussed how designers need to take responsibility for their products’ end of life. One way to do that is through recycled footwear.
Rather than harvesting raw materials, most recycled footwear is made from existing materials. For example, Sole Rebels make their soles from worn out tires. Likewise, canvas and other fabrics that are suitable for shoe materials are sourced in inventive ways — used suit jackets, parachutes and even car seats. Above+Below London use bus seat textiles in their uppers and re-used leather cheque book wallets for the trim. The creation of recycled footwear keeps all of these materials out of landfill and reduces the strain placed on the environment.
This potential to save money while protecting the environment has recently grabbed the attention of some big names in the industry. For instance, the well-known sports brand Adidas has partnered with an environmental initiative called Parley for the Oceans. Together they have designed and released a unique batch of running shoes. The uppers are made from recycled plastic that has been removed from the ocean. It is amazing to see such a big company take pollution from the sea and turn it into something marketable and usable. All of the synthetic fibres normally used by Adidas have been replaced with recycled plastic yarn. The revamped version contains not just ocean plastic uppers, but midsoles 3-D printed from recycled fishing nets — now that’s ingenuity.
Adidas isn’t the only big brand diving headfirst into recycled footwear with such focus on the sourcing of the shoe materials. Ipanema released a full collection of recyclable flip-flops, tackling their products’ end of life head-on. Not content to see their designs wind up in landfill, the company contracted a French designer, Philippe Starck, to create summer footwear that is made from 30% recycled materials and is itself fully recyclable. The effort was a tremendous success, resulting in four fashionable minimalist-style designs with vibrant plastic straps available in an array of colours.
Committed To The Cause
Recycled footwear isn’t an entirely new concept. While it is fabulous to see some big names taking the initiative when it comes to recycled footwear, I’d be remiss to forget about the smaller brands that have been working on this concept for years.
For example, “Simple” has focused on creating simple, sustainable footwear for decades. Today their choices of shoe materials are an eclectic mix comprising recycled cotton, plastic, carpeting, silk, paper, and inner tubes.
Another company, El Naturalista has always been committed to protecting the environment, using a combination of recycled and all-natural materials to establish sustainability. Their shoes are the Holy Grail when it comes to affordable recycled footwear.
And we can’t forget MDMA shoes. These shoes are all the rage right now and for good reason. The designs are bold, trendy and eye-catching. These shoes prove that sustainability doesn’t have to be dull. But there’s more beneath the surface. Lately, I’ve been talking to a designer from MDMA about their commitment to minimise their impact on the environment. They source some of their fabrics from waste management companies, and rather than industrial waste, their uppers are made from upcycled cloth and textiles that you won’t want to miss. This really helps to close the loop in the textile industry by diverting all those discarded fabrics from landfill. Resourcefulness is a real business plan for MDMA, as is their commitment to subverting the seasonal cycles of consumerism. MDMA are here to stay!