Jan 21, 2024
by Karl Smith
Basketball Just Got a Little More Sustainable
by Karl Smith
Jan 21, 2024

When it comes to sustainability in sports, a lot of time and a lot of ink is spent in looking to solve problems that make for more obvious headlines – things like the impact the of apparel, of footwear, and of travel. And, of course, that’s no bad thing; these are important issues with a serious effect on the planet. (Although, while a lot has been said about Taylor Swift’s carbon footprint, it’s interesting to see comparatively little vitriol for equally mile-happy sports teams.)

And on those fronts, there have been genuinely groundbreaking innovations over the last few years: the Earth-friendlier and cruelty-free lgONE and lgTWO basketball shoes from Langston Galloway’s Ethics brand, for example, or the recent collection of carbon-captured athletic wear from the Swiss brand On, are well worthy of the praise they’ve received.

Still, it’s always interesting to see a brand take on a challenge of innovating in areas somewhat less familiar, less well-trodden, and – in some ways – less glamorous.

All of which brings us to Brave GentleMan – Joshua Katcher’s proudly vegan fashion brand, best known for its footwear, now making inroads into apparel – and its newest innovation: the basketball.

“We’re incredibly proud to have produced the world’s first basketball from MIRUM, a remarkable next-gen material. Like all of our footwear, this basketball is a symbol of our commitment to redefining possibilities in materials. We extend our heartfelt gratitude to the NY Knicks and Chase for recognizing the importance of our mission.” – Joshua Katcher, Brave GentleMan Founder

Now, if you’re thinking, “Hold up, didn’t basketballs already exist?”, or something else along those lines, obviously the answer is yes – there are already basketballs, that’s how basketball is played. However, where the NBA standard ball is made from traditional cowhide leather – manufactured exclusively by the Horween tannery in Chicago – and where other, less official, mass-produced balls are often made from petro-plastics, Brave GentleMan’s basketball is a fundamentally next-generation iteration.

Crafted from Natural Fiber Welding’s bio-based MIRUM® material, the ball – and made in collaboration with the New York Knicks and Leather Head Sports – is entirely free from animal-derived and environmentally harmful synthetic elements.

Even removing the animal cruelty element from the mix, buying into the false notion that leather is a byproduct of the meat industry, the fact that Horween – just one tannery in a world full of tanneries – reportedly receives up to 3,000 cowhides per week, should be proof enough that the animal-derived status quo is no longer, in the strictest sense of the word, sustainable.

That the hides are shipped to Horween from all over the world, then sent to China for cutting and sewing, before heading back to the United States for quality checks is the rancid cherry on an already foul-tasting cake.

Only four balls were made in this initial run – though Katcher can be seen making suggestions there could soon be more, in a made-to-order program, via comments on Instagram – which, of course, poses questions about whether this is simply a cool piece of sports engineering, or something that might be capable of moving the needle in some way.

“I made a basketball because they are objects of great cultural significance, and once Brave GentleMan was honored by the Knicks, combining the aesthetics of a classic ball with a next-gen material reflected my overall approach in footwear and fashion; marrying the classic with the future.” – Joshua Katcher, Brave GentleMan Founder

But, given MIRUM®‘s high-performance status, and the fact that NFW is known to be one of the few next-gen outfits capable of creating meaningful partnerships and producing its product at meaningful scale, there’s certainly room for an innovation like this to be seen as the start of something, rather than a one-off.