May 24, 2024
by Karl Smith
The Best New Earth-Friendlier Footwear
by Karl Smith
May 24, 2024

If you follow FUTUREVVORLD – and, if you’re here, chances are you do – then there’s a good chance that you probably keep up with the latest when it comes to sneakers, too. The problem with that is, thanks to a saturated market and an equally saturated media, what “the latest” means changes every other minute.

More importantly, though, what’s new and what’s interesting aren’t exactly synonymous either – especially if what you’re into is forward-thinking, Earth-friendlier footwear. That’s why we put these lists together, and, for that matter, why they don’t drop every single month without fail: because we want to highlight what matters, not just what the hype cycle dictates – because we want to give room to the brands and the footwear releases that are actually trying to accomplish something, not just feed the machine.

And so, with that mind – and without further ado – here’s the best new Earth-friendlier footwear, from mushroom-based hiking shoes to plastic-free sneaker for everyday use; from made-to-order innovation to forward-thinking modular design.

On Running x LOEWE
RRP: $550 USD, directly from On.

Expanding a collaboration that’s now been running – with considerable critical acclaim – for two solid years, LOEWE and On Running continue to lead the pack in terms of combining High Fashion sensibilities with performance technology, spearheading the recent glut of luxury-meets-sportswear link ups which have become a staple of new collections at marquee-level houses from Paris to Milan.

This latest effort, which also includes a selection of apparel, once again hinges on the CLOUDTITLT TWO sneaker – a serious piece of performance gear, created (like all of the Swiss brand’s products) initially with athleticism in mind, now given the Jonathan Anderson treatment, complete with a selection of aesthetically-pleasing colorways and LOEWE’s caligraphic logo.

Despite delivering in the looks department, however, it’s fair – and necessary – to ask whether these aren’t perhaps On’s strongest contenders in the materials department.

While free from animal-derived materials, the original CLOUDTILT sneaker features around 30% recycled content, including a 100% recycled polyester mesh on the the upper, and employs the lower-impact technique known as dope dyeing for 90% reduced water usage. The current product page for the On x LOEWE CLOUDTILT TWO, however, currently makes no such claims and seems, at best, to have stagnated on the sustainability front – odd for a brand so concerned with serious forward motion.

Nike ISPA Link Axis in Black
RRP: $350 USD, directly from Nike.

By now we’re all familiar with the ISPA Link Axis, which feels like a strange thing to say given how – back in 2022, when it first appeared – the shoe wasn’t familiar at all; not just because it was a new design for Nike but because it was a new mode of design for any mainstream sneaker brand. Now, though, modular footwear is picking up traction elsewhere – a testament to the success of ISPA’s work – and the Link Axis continues to reappear in new forms. In this case: black.

Now, this may not sound like much of a headline – especially when you look at the colorways of its various ISPA predecessors – but that’s kind of the point. What the sub-brand is doing here, in releasing a low-key aesthetic variation, is introducing the shoe to a wider audience; courting those consumers who – despite agreeing with the philosophy behind the Earth-friendlier design – were not necessarily instant fans of the ultra-bold neons.

Now, for those who found the combination of retro-futuristic structure and stand-out colorway to be a little much, visually speaking, this toned-down iteration presents an opportunity to put their money where their mouth is; in many ways more of a challenge to consumers than a concession. And that’s something we ought to see more of.

Flamingos Life Hampton Court Sneaker
RRP: $180 USD, directly from Flamingos Life.

Speaking of wearability, while they’re not quite the only name in the game, it’s fair to say that few other brands are combining everyday style with Earth-friendlier credentials in the same ways as Spanish sneaker outfit Flamingos Life. Visually speaking, nothing about the brand’s shoes screams “sustainability,” but – as we’ve already established – that’s not by any means a negative.

Unsurprisingly, then, the Hampton Court sneaker fits the usual Flamingos Life profile: low profile in the literal sense, in terms of the silhouette’s familiar structure, and also in the sense that these are not sneakers which very much fall under the category of minimalist – perhaps even chic; understated, in a word.

That being said, look below the humble facade and you’ll find something else familiar to fans of the brand: a 100% vegan sneaker, with an upper crafted from 68% corn waste and 32% cotton, and an outsole which combines natural and synthetic rubber. Look deeper still and you’ll find that, for all their ultra-contemporary construction qualities, these are also shoes steeped in a rich tradition of craftsmanship – made in the Northern Portuguese town of Felgueiras, a one-time epicentre of footwear production, the Hampton Court brings the town’s historic esteem into the present day, paying back to the community.

HOKA x WTAPS Ora Luxe Sandal
RRP: $90 USD

California-based HOKA has had some fairly big hitters when it comes to its Earth-friendlier creations and collaborations, recent links with upcycling extraordinaire Nicole McLaughlin and a team-up with Paris-based Satisfy on the Clifton silhouette being just two pretty stellar examples. This latest joint effort, then, comes close to falling into that same esteemed category.

Joining forces with Japanese streetwear brand WTAPS, the pair have delivered on collaborative versions of the Ora Luxe Sandal and the Anacapa 2 Low GTX for some sleek, co-branded footwear pieces that don’t break the mould too much or do anything like what you might call reinventing the wheel.

With its 35% Sugarcane EVA midsole and 35% Sugarcane IM EVA foam outsole, it’s easy to see why the post-run relief shoe makes for an interesting design to experiment with: for one thing, it’s not your average choice for a footwear collaboration from a structural point of view, in terms of the silhouette, giving it a kind of curiosity factor, and – for another – it’s materially forward-thinking; something which is far too unusual when it comes to such hype-adjacent releases.

That being said, there’s a reason we’re focusing on the Ora Luxe and not on the Anacapa. The latter, which does still have a pretty impressive mix of partially bio-based and recycled elements, also relies on virgin leather – something which feels unnecessary given HOKA’s success in pushing material boundaries without sacrificing performance.

Still, one out of two ain’t bad.

Parks Project x Merrell Moab 3
RRP: $155 USD, directly from Merrell.

If you’re not familiar with the Parks Project, here are two follow-up counterpoints: 1) You should be, and 2) It’s exactly what it sounds like – a brand-slash-organization dedicated to the all-too-necessary task of preserving America’s National Parks.

With all that in mind, then, it ought to be pretty obvious what brings together a footwear label like Merrell with an outfit like the Parks Project – a good old-fashion love of the Great Outdoors.

Putting the obvious aside, however, there’s plenty here to surprise: not least of all the use of the biodegradable HyphaLite material – a plastic and leather alternative created from mushroom, used here in recreating a lower-impact version of Merrell’s Moab 3 hiking shoe that’s fit for the trails and kinder to the Earth.

RRP: $190 USD, directly from PURIFIED.

A common criticism of “sustainable” footwear and fashion is that the products are rushed and often half baked – sent out into the world more as an idea than a fully-considered product, and, as a result, contributing to the problem rather than working to solve it. This criticism, however, does not apply to PURIFIED’s HEVEA sneaker – a shoe that’s taken four solid years of research, development, production and testing to get right and which is, undoubtedly, all the better for it.

Given the time and consideration it deserves, the HEVEA has emerged – fully formed, product and philosophy entirely in line – comprising a mix of world-leading materials, and, most importantly of all, with the all-too-rare distinction of being totally free from plastics.

Using Natural Fiber Welding’s fossil-free MIRUM™ for the upper – a substitute for leather and, by this point, a much-vaunted material in its own right – and the Illinois-based innovator’s cured rubber PLIANT™ creation for the outsole, what founder and designer Will Verona has produced here is not only a shoe that visually and functionally looks and feels like any other in all the ways that matter, but also a shoe which, most importantly, differs from the destructive status quo in just as many ways.

Vivobarefoot, VIVOBIOME Hybrid Wing
RRP: $330 USD, directly from Vivobarefoot.

London-based footwear brand Vivobarefoot isn’t exactly a giant when it comes to aesthetics. Perhaps most famous for its toe shoes and for footwear which, as the name suggest, is created to feel – first and foremost – as though your extremities are uncaged, it may be unfair to say that Vivo isn’t hot on visuals. Unfair but, still, basically true.

What they lack in aesthetic excellence, however, they make up for in genuinely revolutionary use of materials. Something which, with the release of the VIVOBIOME Hybrid Wing, the planet-forward label is continuing to push in directions few others are even willing to consider.

A scan-to-print footwear product, the Hybrid Wing is made to order, manufactured using the Selective Laser Sintering process, crafted from circular materials, and – it’s probably worth mentioning – currently limited to 1000 pairs.

Coming in “Obsidian / Origin Blue” and “Obsidian / Origin Red” colorways, the latter of which might look familiar to fans of the Jump Man, the Hybrid Wing is perhaps more notable for what it represents than for its own merits as a sneaker; the first chapter in creating what the brand is calling the VIVOBIOME – a scan-to-print circular footwear system described as, “a bold departure from complex, wasteful analogue manufacturing towards a simpler, low waste, connected system fit for the future. A digital eco-system that will soon be made-to-order, made-to-measure, made locally and made to be remade.”