Nike’s Cosmic Unity Sets New Standard for Performance Footwear

With the release of the Cosmic Unity, the first performance-driven sustainable basketball sneaker under its “Move to Zero” initiative, Nike reaffirms its goal in supporting athletes and their shared playing field, Earth. Built on the pillars of reducing waste and transforming trash, the Cosmic Unity features a handful of true innovations in sustainability. Which only leaves us to wonder: how far can we go, and how soon can we get there?

Overconsumption, and even overproduction, are two of the biggest challenges we face in establishing a more responsible footwear industry. Be that as it may, any athlete will tell you, performance footwear just doesn’t last forever. Whether you’re an avid runner beating the pavement five days a week or a regular at the neighborhood tennis courts, athletes can cycle through multiple pairs of shoes a year, and that’s not even considering different pairs for changes in weather and terrain. 

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If Nike can prove that not only can it make a high-performing athletic sneaker with recycled material, but that recycled material can also meet and exceed the demands of sport, then we imagine other brands should be inspired to follow suit. Just as long as consumers are aware of its performance and durability, and continue to demand more sustainable alternatives.

Beyond what lies on the surface of a sustainable performance basketball sneaker entering the market, this shoe also suggests that we could be on the verge of an early level of critical mass within the NBA. 

If you’ve been watching the sidelines and reading headlines around the NBA lately, you may have noticed Kyrie Irving’s affinity for Beyond Meat, not only through his investment portfolio and by rocking a branded T-shirt, but as an official ambassador appearing in brand advertisements. He’s not the only one. Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan are also investors who eat plant-based diets in an effort to turn back the clock on aches, inflammation and recovery, and increase overall energy. Will their lifestyle changes begin to translate to their on-court kicks? Time will tell. 

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Although we have yet to see or hear an NBA star make a public demand for more sustainable, or even vegan/plant-based footwear, the potential of Nike’s Cosmic Unity, coupled with the rise in environmental awareness, may lead to the change we need. Just look at this year’s selection of All-Star kicks for LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving as an example: each pair features Nike’s recycled Grind material on various parts of the shoes.

Ross Klein, Nike’s Senior Creative Director of Men’s Footwear Performance, has been quoted in interviews as saying that “the team and our decisions [around the Cosmic Unity] are really inspired by [Move to Zero] and the continuing notion of what this means.” Suggesting more energy in this direction, Ross added, “This is a journey.” 

This “journey” is just in its infant stages, making it an inspiring and sometimes vexing experience. The latter because time is of the essence, and the former because this shoe and its various technological advancements can most certainly impact the future of basketball sneakers. If it can work for seven-foot-tall men and women performing at the highest level of competition, it’ll crush any doubts around the need to integrate more responsible materials. 

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We may not be among those aforementioned pros, but we did get a chance to test the Cosmic Unity out. For us, the overperforming heel and ankle support, and the responsive full-length Zoom Air Strobel Unit were the two standout components. The overall structure of the shoe, specifically the knit upper, performed incredibly well and allowed for full support, a notable feat for a low top hoops sneaker. 

Here are some additional stats that make this sneaker special: the Nike Cosmic Unity contains at least 25% recycled materials by weight, and its lightweight upper also includes recycled material in a complex knit fabric, which utilizes a weave pattern above and below the upper to create stability. Beyond that, recycled components are also integrated into the Swoosh and the geodesic globe on the tongue, which happens to be known as the “Bucky Ball,” a nod to Buckminster Fuller, the great American engineer, architect and futurist. A detail that feels one part appropriate and the other part cosmic. 

Finally, as we ponder the future of sustainability in performance footwear, Bennett Shaw, the Product Line Manager for Cosmic Unity, states that he hopes to expound on this concept by getting better with every new year and iteration. “We want to get better as we go on,” Bennett explained. “We’re committed to try and improve the amount of recycled content by 5%.” 

The Cosmic Unity “Green Glow” will release February 26, while the “Amalgam” colorway will drop March 7, both at Nike.com.

If you’re like us and want more transparency in the footwear industry, read our story <FOOTWEAR NEEDS MORE TRUTH IN LABELING>, where we make a case for a sneakers equivalent to the food industry’s nutritional facts label.