Footwear
Jan 22, 2024
by Karl Smith
The Best New Earth-Friendlier Footwear
by Karl Smith
Jan 22, 2024

With new materials, new processes, and new ways of working making their presence clearly felt, 2023 may well be remembered as the year that the footwear industry took a step forward powerful enough to keep it moving in the right direction. Before now, odd projects here and there have felt positive but have, in general, to pick up the traction or the momentum necessary to actually move the needle in any noticeable way.

There have been Earth-friendlier releases, yes, but there has also been a sense of seemingly-insurmountable inertia. There has, of course, also been the elephant in the room: a penchant for virgin plastics and for greenwashing their usage with once-meaningful words like “vegan.”

But things feel like they’re moving now – and moving in a real way. Look at FUTUREVVORLD’s top 10 Earth-friendlier projects of 2023 and you’ll see recyclable, 3d-printed footwear, modular sneakers colored with algae-based inks, and shoes made from super-plants like hemp and next-gen materials like mycelium leather. These innovations – which are just a handful of many from the last year – come from dedicated materials science outfits, from upstart brands with a green USP, and from household names which seem to finally be catching on to the seriousness of their impact.

All-in-all, it was – and is – good news. Now it’s on the footwear industry to keep that momentum going – to not lose sight of what real progress actually looks like and to keep delivering on genuinely innovation, genuinely progressive products that people not only want to buy, but which are produced at a scale large enough to convert that desire. Here, then, is where we start.

COMME des GARÇONS x HOKA TC 1.0

While details on this release remain scant in the extreme, there are things we can piece together about this collaborative piece of footwear. First, this isn’t full-on CdG, it’s BLACK COMME des GARÇONS – which means the shoe is likely to sit at the more affordable end of the luxury sneaker collaboration spectrum.

Second, because it’s a TC 1.0, we can be pretty confident that the materials used here fall firmly into the Earth-friendlier category. With the regular HOKA TC 1.0 being not only a vegan shoe, but also a progressive one in terms of its make-up – crafted from a single-layer mesh upper, 100% recycled polyester top cloth, 30% sugarcane-based EVA insole, and a Vibram® Ecostep Natural outsole – it’s hard to imagine the California outfit will want to row back on those credentials.

There’s no official word on price or release date, as yet, and our only sighting comes courtesy of Instagram, but word is we should be expecting these to land in 2024.

Flowers For Society Radicle Topless

If you’re not familiar with German sneaker brand Flowers For Society, it’s probably time you rectified that. The label, which only uses vegan and recycled materials in its footwear, creates sleek, minimal, and quasi-futuristic sneakers with a focus on equally future-facing materials.

This latest effort – the Radicle Topless – continues an exploration of the brand’s unique formula; a system that sees the label using only two official silhouettes (the Radicle and the Seed.One), with various colorway changes and mutations to the upper. The TOPLESS comes in a triple-white formula, emblazoned with “TIME TO BLOOM” on the heel and the brand’s logo on the tongue, and uses the largely fruit-based Beyond Leather as its base material, claiming to be made from “100% vegan, recycled materials.”

Retailing at around $160 USD, the Radicle Topless is available as of today, directly from Flowers For Society.

adidas Adizero Takumi Sen 10

Having faced some awkward (and entirely correct) questions about the ethics of its single-use Adizero Adios Pro Evo 1 race-day shoe, German sportswear giant adidas has responded with the release of another runner – this time with slightly more passable green credentials.

The Adizero Takumi Sen 10 – which comes in “Green Spark / Aurora Met. / Lucid Lemon” – adds two layers of LIGHTSTRIKE PRO cushioning foam and ENERGYROD technology as an upgrade to the Takumi Sen runner family, with the ENERGYRODS also boasting a part-recycled glass construction.

While the shoe makes the choice to forgo the carbon technology commonly found in high-powered running footwear, as well as the LIGHTSTRIKE and ENERGYRODS, the Takumi Sen 10 comes with a Continental™ Rubber outsole, Slinglaunch heel, mesh upper and an overall minimum of 20% recycled materials.

You could argue that countering questions about your production profligacy with yet more product isn’t much of a response at all. And, for that matter, you could also argue that minimum 20% isn’t a tough enough standard to set. In both cases, you’d probably be right. Nevertheless, with high-performance running footwear having a pervasive problem with waste and with materials, this shoe – priced at £170 GBP – certainly marks a step up.

Beyond Retro x Converse Chuck Taylor 70

In these footwear roundups, we sometimes have a tendency to focus on performance products and on cutting-edge technologies. But, while those are the areas where the biggest strides are being made – and where, in some cases, those big moves are also most in need of being made – it doesn’t do anyone any harm to remember that shoes can and should be fun.

And it’s this sense of extroversion and exuberance which brings us to the latest collaboration between UK-based vintage retailer Beyond Retro and Boston-anchored super-brand Converse. While it’s fair to say that the release – comprising Chuck 70 Hi and Low silhouettes, outfitted with upcycled floral fabrics – isn’t going to change the world, it’s equally fair to say that its particular air of visual joy and its use of pre-loved materials are here to serve as a reminder that just because something is designed thoughtfully, that doesn’t also mean it isn’t designed to be enjoyed.

Priced at $110 USD for the Chuck 70 Hi and $105 USD for the Low, the collaboration pairs are available now, directly from Converse.

Sean Wotherspoon x adidas Orketro Aizome

Sean Wotherspoon and adidas have been on something of an Earth-friendlier roll of late. The collaborators’ hemp- and mycelium-based Gazelle sneaker made it to the top of our Best of 2023 list back in December, and – way back in July – the two came out with an updated and undyed version of the Three Sripes’ Orketro sneaker with a minimum of 50% natural and renewable materials.

Continuing on that same trajectory, Wotherspoon has now upped the ante with a naturally-dyed edition of the sneaker. The limited edition Orketro Aizome uses a Japanese hand-dyeing technique for Indigo – known, funnily enough, as Aizome – to give the shoe a bold new hue without the breaching its original principles.

Sold exclusively in Tokyo at the end of last year, unfortunately you won’t be able to get your hands on these any time soon – which makes sense considering the ethos behind the pair, but still stings a little for those with good taste and an eye for Earth-friendlier offerings. (Although, for what it’s worth, you can still pick up a pair of the original Wotherspoon x adidas Orketro sneakers from e-tailers like END.)

Post Archive Faction x ON Running 7.0

Much has been made of the ongoing PAF x On collaboration – in terms of its affect on the Swiss brand’s cultural standing and, of course, in terms of the quality of the products themselves. And rightly so: while collaborative offerings with big-name luxury outfits like LOEWE might bring in bigger headlines, it’s partnerships with labels like Post Archive Faction that really allow for experimentation and lead to more interesting results.

Case in point: having first revealed “CURRENT FORM 1.0,” a collective of collaborative garments and a take on the Cloudmonster silhouette, back in June of last year, the ultra-cushioned running shoe now finds itself the subject of a PAF treatment once again. Coming in tonal white and black colorways, the upper features an almost moc-like quality, while the sole – with its rebound-pushing CloudTec® and its landing-focused Helion™ superfoam – remains a constant.

As the upper has been given the biggest PAF makeover, it’s difficult to speculate on materials – but the base-level Cloudmonster comprises around 35% recycled materials at minimum overall with pretty clear details about where that number comes from and what, exactly, which parts of the shoe are constructed from. Much like with the HOKA TC 1.0, it’s hard to imagine On – especially in collaboration with a progressive outfit like PAF – walking any of that back.