Innovation

Reebok’s sustainable trainers made from plants

Sportswear brand Reebok has launched a new trainer made from bio-based materials as part of an initiative to develop more sustainable products.

The company, which is valued at $1.5 billion (£1.16 bn) according to Forbes, announced its ‘Cotton + Corn’ initiative last year aiming to produce shoes “made from things that grow”. This new trainer has an upper made from 100 per cent cotton and a corn-based sole, adding up to a total of 75 per cent plant-based content, and comes in packaging made entirely from recycled material.

Reebok’s sustainable trainers made from plants

Bill McInnis, Head of Reebok’s innovation team, Reebok Future, said: “Most athletic footwear is made using petroleum to create synthetic rubber and foam cushioning systems. With 20 billion pairs of shoes made every year, this is not a sustainable way of making footwear. At Reebok, we thought ‘what if we start with materials that grow, and use plants rather than oil-based materials?’”

The shoes are proving popular, with the initial release already sold out. Speaking to Digital Trends last year, McInnis said the company would be continuing with the Cotton + Corn line in different applications: “We’re going to continue to add materials to the menu so we can do performance products as well. It’s going to add a little cost basically on the raw material side. Our goal is to get them close to comparable to what it costs us to make shoes now. With any new material, there’s always a little bit of a premium at the beginning.

At the launch of the initiative last year, McInnis also stated: “Ultimately, our goal is to create a broad selection of bio-based footwear that can be composted after use. We’ll then use that compost as part of the soil to grow the materials for the next range of shoes. We want to take the entire cycle into account; to go from dust to dust.”

Reebok’s sustainable trainers made from plantsThe shoes are made in partnership with DuPont Tate & Lyle Bio Products, an American company that produces bio-based 1,3 propanediol, a petroleum-free fossil fuel alternative derived from corn. The company claims the material generates up to 50 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions over its life than its petroleum equivalent.

The environmental impact of the clothing industry is something that has come under increased scrutiny in recent months, with an inquiry launched by Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee back in June. Clothing consumption in the UK is increasing at a rapid rate – in 2017, consumers spent ‘slightly less than 59.47 billion British pounds [on clothing], higher than at any other stage during the reported period’, according to Statista.

Accordingly, the amount of raw materials and energy required to keep up with modern ‘fast fashion’ trends is growing too. Research by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation found that, on its current trajectory, the fashion industry will use up more than a quarter of the world’s annual carbon budget by 2050, consuming 300 million tonnes of non-renewable resources per year.

Commenting on the Cotton + Corn initiative, Reebok President Matt O’Toole said: “As human beings, we have a responsibility to leave this planet as we found it for future generations. Unfortunately, the fact is most shoes just end up in landfills, which is something we are trying to change. As a brand, we will be focusing on sustainability with the Cotton + Corn program as well as other initiatives we have in the works.”

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