Footwear
Jun 04, 2024
by Karl Smith
Merrell x Parks Project Is a Call To Keep the Outdoors Great
by Karl Smith
Jun 04, 2024

Presumably created by someone in a marketing department somewhere in order to explain the idea that two distinct entities can work in tandem, “brand synergy” is basically a way of saying “collaboration” for people who aren’t sure that their idea works. It’s one of those bits of industry jargon which (rightly) strikes fear into the hearts of anyone hoping for a halfway-decent or meaningful end result. Because, the thing is, when collaboration works, it doesn’t really need explaining; the connection, the vision, and the shared creative impetus are obvious.

It’s a beautiful thing, really. And it’s great to see that spirit very much alive and well in what Merrell and Parks Project have created together here.

Essentially a limited-edition capsule collection, the release is a distillation of what the Michigan-based footwear brand and the Los Angeles-anchored non-profit each do best – the former producing Earth-friendlier gear for experiencing the outdoors as it’s meant to be enjoyed, and the latter working, through raising funds, through raising awareness, and through direct action, to protect that most sacred of spaces from our worst impulses. Essentially, it’s a match made not so much in Heaven as very much here on Earth.

“Collaborating with Merrell has been fantastic because both brands share a deep appreciation for the outdoors and a commitment to making them accessible and conserved for future generations,” explains Parks Project CEO Keith Eshelman. “Sharing our design sensibility with such a respected heritage brand seen on trails everywhere feels like a perfect match,” he continues, putting forward a sentiment very much echoed by the footwear brand, keen to point out that, “Merrell loves to work with likeminded brands that focus on getting more people outside and are energized by nature and the outdoors.”

Where all of this becomes tangible, though, is where it really gets interesting.

“Not many next-gen materials are offered as 100% bio-based, meeting our performance standards and delivering excellent breathability, but HyphaLite is the exception. It’s plastic-free, made from cellulose, natural latex and discarded mushrooms.” – Therese Williams, Merrell Materials Manager

On the garment side of the capsule, you’ll find shorts, t-shirts, sweats, pants and a notably distinctive bucket hat – all of which are decked out in a thematically appropriate, plant-inspired motif from artist Ailsa Munro.

“The entire collection incorporated key design details as an ode to parks rangers,” says Kiernan McKay, Merrell Color Designer 2. “We took inspiration from their uniforms and translated it into the colors selected for the Merrell x Parks Project Moab 3 Mid – including the green midsole, neutral upper and color pops. Looking at the color breakdown, the print neutrals and off-whites stand out and are then paired with high-viz and teals for an added energy moment.”

These are all aesthetic gesture which – in the hands of two different brands with a different approach – might have been little more than that, but which, here, acts as a visual nod to not only the substance of the collection in terms of entwined philosophy but also in terms of material construction.

Which, of course, leads us to the footwear and to a new version of the world’s best-selling hiking shoe: the Merrell Moab 3.

Most notably, this iteration of the shoe is made in part with HyphaLite – an innovative, plastic- and cruelty-free material that’s designed not so much to replace leather as it is to replace harmful synthetic materials which are too-regularly present in footwear (and pretty much everywhere else). Still, for all its credentials, given there’s an ever-increasing number of next-gen materials on the market which Merrell might have easily run with here, this wasn’t a choice that the brand took lightly.

“Not many next-gen materials are offered as 100% bio-based, meeting our performance standards and delivering excellent breathability, but HyphaLite is the exception,” offers Materials Manager Therese Williams. “It’s plastic-free, made from cellulose, natural latex and discarded mushrooms.” More than the question of what isn’t present, though, is what HyphaLite does differently. “The cellulose is regenerative and sourced from sustainable forests: for every tree used to make the cellulose, three new trees are being planted. The latex is sourced within a 60 km radius of the factory and used without modification. The mushrooms are sourced from local farmers near the factory which provides additional income to the mushroom farmers by using the discarded mushrooms. The supplier, ISA, is a trusted partner and industry leader in sustainability for leather products.”

It’s all of this – the notion that, in using HyphaLite, Merrell isn’t just avoiding bad decisions but actively finding a way to make good ones, giving back to the planet and to local communities – which has this particular collaboration singing in such rapturous harmony.

Parks Project exists to help and support parklands and outdoor spaces of all sizes. While we’re known for supporting national parks, we’ve also focused on regional and hyperlocal parks,” says Eshelman, clearly possessed by the same desire to pay it forward wherever possible. “This project, is particularly special,” he concludes, “as it supports a park initiative right in our backyard in LA, helping to leave our local trails better for everyone.”

Of course, while HyphaLite is something like the star – although, of course, the real hero here is nature itself – it’s rare you’ll find a shoe that’s constructed entirely from a single material. And, unsurprisingly, the Parks Project x Merrell Moab 3 is no exception to that rule. Where it is an exception, however, is in bucking the all-too-common trend of erstwhile Earth-friendlier footwear falling at every other hurdle but the headline element.

“The upper utilizes two different canvases – the quarter underlay consists of Cotton, Pineapple, and Tencel yarn, all bio-based and great substitutes for petroleum-based textiles,” Williams says, breaking down the granular detail of the shoe’s DNA. “The canvas used on the vamp and tongue is made from Cotton and Refribra – a special fiber derived from upcycled cotton scraps that would otherwise end up in the landfill. The lining is made from discarded coffee grounds that have natural cooling effects. The footbed EVA contains 25% seaweed which is regenerative and reduces the use of virgin EVA.”

“Collaborating with Merrell has been fantastic because both brands share a deep appreciation for the outdoors and a commitment to making them accessible and conserved for future generations. Sharing our design sensibility with such a respected heritage brand seen on trails everywhere feels like a perfect match.” – Keith Eshelman, CEO of Parks Project

All of which adds up to something pretty special; that far-too-rare spectacle of a brand’s ethos in full effect, doubled-up here by the backing of a partner who not only understands and appreciates that way of thinking and working, but who also commits to it with the same non-negotiable approach.

Having donated over $2.5 million to fund projects in national, state, and local parks, you can find more on Parks Project over at the B-Corp’s official website – where it just so happens you can register for early access to the Parks Project x Merrell collaboration, which drops officially on 5th June 2024.