Footwear
Feb 05, 2024
by Karl Smith
Mercer’s P22 Runner Combines Performance Credentials with Progressive Materials
by Karl Smith
Feb 05, 2024

Footwear is experiencing something of a material innovation boom right now. Between recycled materials, fruit- and plant-based leathers, and innovative new modes of production like 3D printing, it feels like sneakers have never been more sustainable than they are right now. Yet, it also feels like one category is consistently left behind with performance-focused footwear never quite matching up to the same standards.

There are reasonable explanations for this, of course: the nature of performance footwear already necessitates a whole other material matrix. Take apart a serious running shoe, for example, and you’ll find rods and plates that just don’t need to be inside of your everyday sneaker. The base material construction, too, needs to behave in certain ways that regular materials just don’t account for.

This doesn’t change when you’re thinking about Earth-friendlier footwear, either; there’s no point in creating a “sustainable” running shoe that doesn’t seriously approach the performance technology aspect – that’s a product not fit for purpose, destined for the landfill sooner rather than later.

“I’ve been involved with sustainable footwear for my entire footwear career and it just felt weird, whenever going for a run, to be putting this issue aside. Major brands aren’t doing much on this, so I went out and started to think about creating my own.” – Pim Dresen, Founder of Mercer Amsterdam

But, as always, there are exceptions – there are brands focused on fusing serious performance technology with necessary material innovation. In this category, there are obvious names that come to mind like norda and On – labels which have made progress in this particularly niche their entire USP.

But there are also other brands throwing their weight behind the movement; brands like Mercer Amsterdam, which – having already worked with material innovators Piñatex on a vegan version of its Re-Run sneaker – has now brought that same forward-thinking attitude to performance running footwear.

The result of this is the P22: named after the now-legendary mountain lion of Los Angeles, the shoe is decked out with high-end performance features without ever straying from its sustainable mission. Comprising a sugarcane EVA Vibram midsole, a Vibram MEGA Grip outsole made from recycled rubber, Bluesign and OEKO-TEX certified textile lining, and a slew of other Earth-friendlier specs, Mercer has put forward a serious contender with the benefit of an outsider’s perspective.

 

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“I’ve been involved with sustainable footwear for my entire footwear career and it just felt weird, whenever going for a run, to be putting this issue aside,” says Pim Dresen, the label’s founder and lead designer. “Major brands aren’t doing much on this, so I went out and started to think about creating my own.”

It’s an interesting move for a brand that hasn’t necessarily followed the same template as its peers up until this point; Mercer – unlike norda or On, for example, isn’t vegan – there’s leather in some of its shoes and wool in some of its apparel. But there’s always been an endeavor to do better and to make more conscious choices – a progressive mindset baked into Mercer’s product offering that doesn’t necessarily fall into the black and white ideas of “vegan means good, leather means bad.” Its sneakers have always relied on recycled materials – even when it comes to the animal-derived elements – and mixed in plant-based innovations wherever it felt right.

“If we’re not using plant-based materials, we’re using leather which is Leather Working Group gold rated – the highest sustainable rating for leathers,” he says, not looking to “excuse” the use of leather so much as contextualize it within a wider material mission. “Also, biodegradability is an ongoing discussion,” Dresen continues, “is a plant-based material more degradable than leather? Is it more durable?”, asking the kinds of questions that other brands are keen to gloss over in favor of being seen to do the “right” thing in a more obvious (and more obviously marketable) way.

“I personally have been on a plant-based journey for years,” explains Dresen, connecting the dots between his own mindset and the creative direction of Mercer. “I started experimenting and putting this into our products years ago, just to show the world that is indeed possible to work with different materials.”

 

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While he notes that brand is not fully vegan, Dresen is keen to categorize Mercer as “fully sustainable.” And, in this sense, he finds the lack of progress when it comes to performance footwear more than a little perplexing – incongruous with images that outdoor-focused brands like to project. “I really have no idea why this area is so far behind. People in this market are in nature a lot, so why isn’t the reality of the brands they buy more sustainable in a way that reflects that?”

The P22, Dresen hopes, might – if not producing the dramatic shift of changing that mindset entirely – at least move the needle a little in a more thoughtful direction, making a serious case for sustainability and performance as compatible forces.

Mercer’s P22 Runner is available now – in “Off-white,” “Grey/Green,” and “Black” – directly from the brand, priced at roughly $200 USD.