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  • You can tell a lot about a person based on their shoes.

  • And today, there's a ton of options.

  • In 2018, footwear was a $250 billion industry.

  • With over 24 million shoes produced globally.

  • Just look at Kanye.

  • His shoe and apparel line is valued at $1 billion dollars.

  • The problem is, lots of shoes, especially sneakers, aren't made to last.

  • They're made of plastic, and we can't recycle them.

  • So a lot of them end up as trash.

  • So, the question: can sneakers become sustainable?

  • The average American, in 2018, bought seven pairs of shoes.

  • But let's focus on the sneaker, which wasn't always so popular.

  • Here's where it started.

  • It's the late 1870s.

  • Lawn tennis becomes popular, which allows men and women to compete against each other.

  • Or tennis and chill.

  • That game also created a new must-have item, these.

  • Sports became really popular.

  • Basketball, Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, golf.

  • And by 1919, almost 20 million pairs of tennis shoes were being produced in the US.

  • Brands like Keds, Converse, and PF Flyers launched the very beginning of the sneaker market.

  • This is Pensole Footwear Design Academy.

  • And this is D'Wayne Edwards, its founder.

  • Shoes are very complicated.

  • Also, one of the first black footwear designers.

  • His resume includes LA Gear, Sketchers, Nike, and Jordan.

  • So, plastics made their way onto sneakers in a few key areas.

  • First, in the outsole for support.

  • And then in the heel counter for structure.

  • In the 1970s jogging becomes super popular.

  • Companies introduce polyurethane foam into the midsole, which makes jogging more... uh, comfortable.

  • But they don't stop there.

  • They start to focus on the athletes.

  • The goal was, if you can make their footwear lighter, then you can make the athlete faster.

  • Molded EVA replaces polyurethane in the midsole, which... immediately cut the weight down in half almost.

  • And almost simultaneously, synthetic leather is introduced into the upper, which impacts the fit, weight, and maybe more importantly, the design.

  • My name is Nicoline van Enter.

  • I am the founder and creative director of the Footwearists.

  • Nicoline is a footwear forecaster and shoe designer.

  • Her job is to see trends before they even happen.

  • Everybody could imagine classic sneakers, for instance, that you collect from the late 80s or the early 90s.

  • Often now, when you open the box the sole just crumbles away.

  • That's essentially what happens to the plastics, and that's also why it's difficult to have a plastic shoe, recycle it into another plastic shoe.

  • So, right now, shoes are essentially a hodgepodge of materials, which means when you want to recycle an old shoe, your options are donating it, grinding it, or throwing it away.

  • And, that's a pretty short life cycle, but the future is actually really exciting.

  • As consumers, there are more sustainable options than ever before.

  • The World Footwear 2030 Report predicts that sustainability will drive innovation in the footwear industry, and it's already happening.

  • Big brands are experimenting with things like bio-fabrication, like, using mushrooms to grow the materials for their shoes, and 3D printing, which significantly reduces waste during the manufacturing process.

  • One example of this is the Adidas FUTURECRAFT.LOOP:

  • Here's how it works.

  • You have a shoe of only one material.

  • You can grind that up, take it back to pellets, melt that again, and turn it back into the same TPU that the shoe was made of.

  • But, companies still don't know how many times that process can be repeated.

  • Another consideration: Can a sustainable shoe still appeal to sneaker culture?

  • Sustainability right now does not have a design language:

  • You can hold up a sustainable material and a non-sustainable material in the form of a synthetic, a textile, a leather, a plastic, a foam, and not be able to tell the difference.

  • That's a problem.

  • If you want consumers to truly embrace sustainability, you have to win the aesthetic game, and the aesthetic game is allowing sustainability to have its own natural aesthetic.

  • So, back to the question: Can sneakers become sustainable?

  • It's going to come down to how much companies are willing to invest, what consumers want, and if technology can drive the change that will give us a material that's well... better than plastic.

You can tell a lot about a person based on their shoes.

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B1 US footwear shoe sustainable sustainability sneaker recycle

Your Sneakers Are Part of the Plastic Problem | National Geographic

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    Mackenzie posted on 2019/12/12
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