Sneaker aficionados are used to choosing between high tops and low tops, laces and Velcro. But how about a sneaker with a sole made from corn?
By mid-fall, Reebok is planning to unveil a completely compostable sneaker designed to not cause harm to the environment when it’s created, or to pile up in a landfill when it’s worn out and thrown away.
Reebok is joining a diverse array of companies that have gone the natural route, rolling out practices and products aimed at causing less strain to the environment, principles that are particularly important to the teens and young adults who make up Generations Y and Z and who collectively have billions of dollars in spending power.
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Still, some forays into eco-friendly fashion have ended up on the proverbial scrap heap. A line of biodegradable or recyclable products introduced four years ago by PUMA, for instance, was dropped due to poor demand.
Reebok’s new shoe will be modelled after its familiar “Classics” sneaker. But the environmentally friendly footwear will have an upper section made of sustainable organic cotton, while the sole will be derived from industrial grown corn. Unlike its edible counterpart, industrial grown is considered a grain and is harvested when it’s older and tougher, Reebok says. Even the new sneaker’s eyelets will be stitched, rather than made of metal or plastic like some other shoes.
Reebok said the new shoe is at least partly a response to the toll the creation and disposal of sneakers takes on the environment. “It was standing back and looking at the whole athletic shoe industry,” says Bill McInnis, head of Reebok’s Future division which focuses on creating new products and techniques. “The way shoes are made is not the cleanest process right now, and what happens to shoes when you’re done is not the cleanest process either… The idea is to look at the entire shoe life cycle, both how you make it and what happens to it when people are (no longer) wearing it.”
But for a brand that tends to attract a younger shopper, a compostable shoe could be a smart business bet, with millennials and their younger counterparts favouring products and companies that are less damaging to the environment.
“We know from talking to our consumer that awareness of the importance of sustainability has grown dramatically over the last few years,” says Reebok spokesman Daniel Sarro. “They want to wear products that are eco-friendly.”
Ultimately, the company says that the goal is for the shoe to be the first in a long line of plant-based footwear. The organic cotton and corn “are the two pillars,” says McInnis. “But we’ll continue to expand the menu.”