We’ve always had shoes for practical reasons. It was only since Carrie Bradshaw that we began to fetishize Manolo Blahniks, and saw shoes as aspiration. But as the years passed and we began to see evidence of climate change, shoes are now becoming environmentally sustainable.
The possible trend we see in shoe companies is not something we associate with the history of the industry. In fact, according to an MIT study, producing a typical pair of sneakers requires tons of water and energy, resulting in an estimated 30 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.
Now, think about the annual global production of 20 billion pairs of footwear, and the amount of carbon dioxide that process emits. That is an enormous emission, making our demand for kicks a major reason why it is hard to keep our carbon footprint to a minimum.
The good news, though, is that the shoe industry is slowly making remarkable changes, revolutionizing the way we produce and wear our shoes. With more socially and environmentally aware consumers demanding companies to take environmental responsibility, it is no longer enough for shoes to be just comfortable and trendy. Our shoes also need to be eco-friendly and sustainable.
Nike and Adidas are some of the first big corporations that committed to a cut down of their waste. With technological advancements, 3D printing of shoes revolutionized the industry. The knit shoes began rolling in production, which resulted in the incorporation of biodegradable materials and a large cut back on waste.
Recently, sustainable became the new black. The work of the award-winning chemical engineering professor, Richard Wool of the University of Delaware, also showed us how we could produce a breathable material. The Eco-leather comes from processed biodegradable ingredients like chicken feathers, flax, and vegetable oil.
The late Professor Wool and his team laminate the mix of unlikely ingredients, following a technique that a group of aerospace engineers developed in place of a leather tannery. Now, Czech investors have acquired the company that produces the Eco-leather.
Changing the Lifecycle of a Shoe
For decades, the lifecycle of a shoe has faced and generated a lot of problems. From the production stage to the post-consumption or disposal phase, the shoe industry has had to address major issues. To do so, a change in the life cycle is in order.
A company located in Amsterdam called OAT Shoes has developed a kind of footwear that a person can plant after use. Sounding ridiculous and unbelievable at the same time, the material of the said shoes is a combination of hemp, cotton, and other biodegradable materials. The ingenuity of the product relies on the ability of the shoes to decompose around six months after the former user buried it. As if naturally decomposing is not enough, the shoes also have wildflower seeds in it that will bloom after you plant the shoes.
A similar concept holds true for the Piccadilly Footwear from Brazil; they also make shoes anyone can plant, all thanks to its fantastic biodegradable materials.
It is about time we make proactive steps toward being more environmentally conscious and responsible. As consumers, we need to support products that are sustainable, and we have to create the demand for such products. For the companies like the shoemakers we mentioned, they can create a large impact by supplying the demands of the people, and by continuing their production of innovative and sustainable products.