People say that fashion is a reflection of a generation’s culture. It’s no secret that the same goes for shoes. An incredibly prominent adaptation in terms of shoe manufacture is the use of plastics, both recycled, and non-recycled. As time progressed, another trend has taken over the world in line with the growing impact of climate change and the devastation of global warming – the use, or rather, reuse of plastics. The footwear industry has adopted this trend and has taken big steps forward.
Footwear has undergone various revamps, and purposes. A necessity for travelling distances, footwear has been worn for many other reasons such as support and protection, with comfort and durability being factors for choice in addition to aesthetic factors. The footwear market size has the potential to grow by $42.06 billion during 2020-2024, and the market’s growth momentum will accelerate during the forecast period, according to a report by Technavio. Another study by Allied Market Research indicates that the Asia Pacific footwear market is expected to reach $152.9 billion by 2020, registering a CAGR of 4.7% during 2015 - 2020, wiith China being the leading regional footwear market, followed by India.
With that being said, the footwear industry has been growing at a steady pace since the past few years. Various types of footwear including athletic and non-athletic shoes are used by individuals of all age groups and gender. The rising demand for fancy, trendy yet comfortable footwear among all age groups is a key factor driving the global footwear industry. The global footwear market is segmented by type of footwear, end users of footwear, various platforms for sale of footwear, material used, and their sales across various geographies. Moreover, the improved spending capabilities of individuals, changing lifestyles, and rising number of working professionals has increased the spending capability of individuals. This is occurring especially in the developing countries and leading to further expansion of the overall market for footwear.
The impact of growing preference for environmental-friendly products have created a new direction for the modern footwear industry. The range of materials for footwear has expanded. Aside from the usual skin, jute and leather, rubber, plastics, synthetics, and PVC, new materials are being developed in combination with existing materials to come up with footwear that meet today’s quest for comfort, safety and sustainability. In this aspect, leading footwear manufacturing companies have started to procure materials from different vendors to manufacture enhanced footwear products.
Recent innovations are marking a major step forward in sustainability – breaking the usual barriers in footwear manufacturing. Nike has designed a new footwear model from recycled materials; a 3D printed shoe made from BASF materials has been created by one designer; while Adidas has introduced two sustainable technologies where 100% of the polyester used is recycled.
Nike takes radical circular design on a new level
Space Hippie, an exploratory footwear collection constructed with Nike's own “space junk,” transforms scrap material from factory floors into a radical expression of circular design. Every detail of the four initial Space Hippie silhouettes, from material choices to methods of make to packaging, was chosen with consideration for its environmental impact.
With Nike Space Hippie, Nike meets the urgency of climate change with a bold step to re-imagine solutions to critical environmental problems. The result is the creation of Nike footwear with lowest carbon footprint scores ever. With a shoe constructed, designed, and tailored according to the utilisation of its materials for a more efficient and environmental-friendly target, no sacrifices were made in terms of performance and durability. Although it is built from scrap material, Nike was able to design a shoe that paves the way for the recycling of plastic bottles, and the like, into a yarn fabric that could potentially be on par, if not replace the fabric of all of their other shoes. Not only does this shoe create a definitive competitive place in the footwear market, it also resulted in Nike’s carbon footprints dropping down to its lowest point.
What’s extremely interesting about this shoe isn’t the fact that it is a recycled shoe, but rather, it is the fact that Nike has discovered a process to create footwear of this caliber and quality, while simultaneously contributing to the fight against global warming, and reducing the cost, effort, and time it takes to acquire materials. It won’t be much of a surprise to see Nike come up with many more designs similar to that of the Space Hippie. Not to mention the fact that they, too, look almost exactly like the extremely trendy ‘Yeezy’s’, and performs just like any other Nike footwear.
3D printed show from innovative materials
A virtual concept shoe made entirely of innovative BASF materials, a 3D printed shoe made from TPU, and other creations from young designers gave an insight into sustainable, high-performance materials, pioneering shoe concepts and BASF's wide-ranging shoe expertise.
As a project launched back in 2013, Infinergy became the first expanded thermoplastic polyurethane (E-TPU). The closed-cell, elastic particle foam combines the properties of TPU with the advantages of foams, making it as elastic as rubber but lighter. The sole difference of the 2013 model and the current model was the target design and demographic of the shoe. The shoe itself was initially made for athletic, and safety shoes. However, the new models are tweaked, and designed to revolutionise occupational, and dress shoes.
Another shoe model concept called “Limitless” is a reflection of BASF’s exquisite use of materials and innovative designs. The main premise of the concept shoe is the potential for recyclability and instant exchange of fossil raw materials by biomass resources without compromising on design and functionality.
The most technologically advanced material solution is BASF’s utilisation of 3D printing Technology. Ultrasint TPU01 is a multi-purpose TPU material for producing flexible parts, with high throughput and excellent quality. Typical applications are sports footwear, orthopedic insoles in which the required properties of shock absorption, energy return, and flexibility can be specifically tuned by design through additive-based manufacturing.
BASF Italia, in collaboration with the Politecnico Calzaturiero of Padua, also held an annual “Footwear Design Contest.” This year’s theme revolved around the wedge of a woman’s sandal. This wedge isn’t any other usual wedge, but rather, it is a wedge made out of E-TPU as well.
Ending plastic waste effort
Another footwear industry colossus, Adidas, switched to a cleaner and greener initiative in order to build a more sustainable, and eco-friendly business culture. This will be implemented using something called a “Three Loop Strategy.”
The first segment of the Three Loop Strategy is the “Recycled Loop.” As its name states, this Loop aims to capitalise on recycled materials, which is tantamount for the development, and release of two of their new performance fabrics; PRIMEBLUE, and PRIMEGREEN, both of which are set to be launched within the year. PRIMEBLUE is comprised of Parley Ocean Plastic®, an initiative that collects plastic, and other waste in the ocean, and synthesizes them into a more recyclable form. The fabric is now included in some of the brand’s most iconic and visible performance products, an example of which would be the Ultraboost 20. PRIMEGREEN, on the other hand, will be available later this year in future key competitive products. It contains non-virgin plastic, which means that all plastic used to construct the fabric has been used by a human at least once in its life cycle. The Recycled Loop projects a 50% volume on recycled polyester by the end of 2020, and it may even reach further at the rate the company is going with this loop.
The second loop is the Circular Loop. Adidas aims for a more “reusable” nature for most of their products, which means that long after the initial use of the product, they aim to expand its life cycle. A case in point would be the Futurecraft Loop running shoe and its 100% recyclable nature.
Of all the loops that they have, the last loop on the list gives Adidas a more unique tone and approach in this trend and age of ecological development. The Bionic Loop aims to make Adidas products reach a biodegradable state, meaning each shoe must return to nature. The End Plastic Waste movement aims to lower the company’s carbon footprint magnitude by at least 30% by 2030, in order to achieve the final goal of climate neutrality by 2050.
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