Are sneakers an environmental disaster?

For decades, sneakers have been a fashion phenomenon. But at a time when sustainability has become a purchasing criterion, the sneaker industry is still too silent about the production process.

Isotta Giorgini

By Isotta Giorgini29 juin 2021

Yatay, founded in 2018, is a brand that invests in organic and cruelty free footwear from the vision of Umberto De Marco (DR)

Today, consumers are taking their fashion purchases more seriously. People are not only limiting the investment in new clothes in favour of a circular economy, but they are also changing their minds when it comes to sneakers’ shopping. Many became aware of the harmful impact of their fashionable sneakers and, therefore, decided to look for options that combine sustainability, aesthetics and comfort.

However, the sneaker industry keeps being silent about the production process behind a pair of limited edition sneakers. Shoe brands are not transparent enough about the exploitation of animal skin or the massive use of rubber, plastic and glues. And, let’s not also forget the implementation of chemicals used to tan the shoes’ leathers and create their colourful designs. If we consider that just one pair of shoes may contribute to waste and carbon emissions how can we let this industry still producing mind-boggling numbers of shoes every day?

In an age where sustainability has become a crucial trend, however, many fashion brands are taking the environmental impact of the industry seriously, trying to bring up concrete solutions. As a matter of fact, incumbent and newly born sneaker labels are reinventing themselves in terms of materials and practices, aimed at maintaining a balance between sustainability and look.

Newly born brands see success in their sustainable sneakers

Many more brands are remoulding their production processes and selecting alternative materials to minimise as much as possible the impact over the surrounding environment. A striking example is the sneaker brand Sneature, whose mission consists of developing a pair of shoes that is entirely biodegradable but still has an appealing design. Emilie Burfeind, founder of Sneature, explains: “From the very first moment I developed this idea, it was fundamental for me to show that you can design and implement a complex product like a shoe with natural ingredients.” The rising need for a sustainable alternative is augmenting the interest towards these futuristic sneakers and therefore, “it is important to develop a solution approach that includes the entire product process from the development of upcycled waste to additive manufacturing methods such as 3D-knitting and 3D-printing”, Emilie explains. In fact, Sneature, unlike a typical sneaker that uses up to twelve components, is made of only three natural materials, including a mixture of mycelium - the thread structure of the fungus - and cellulose substrate made from hemp.

Sneature's mission is to develop an entirely biodegradable pair of shoes (DR)

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