Oct 03, 2023
by Karl Smith
Nike’s Newest Innovation? Old Shoes. Here’s Why.
by Karl Smith
Oct 03, 2023

Nike has been selling sneakers since before it was Nike. Which also means people have been buying Nikes since before Nikes existed. In terms of both culture and commerce, it’s hard to image what the footwear landscape would look like without the Swoosh.

That Nike should want to sell you more sneakers, then, ought not to be such a surprise. The idea that the Portland-based brand – the company responsible for essentially reinventing the athletic footwear market and for basically inventing the casual footwear market that we know today – might now want to sell fewer new sneakers, however, is a whole other story.

And yet here we are: fifty-nine years since Blue Ribbon Sports was founded and fifty-two years since that operated morphed into something like the beginnings of the Phil Taylor-led Nike we’re all familiar with. It’s 2023 and it’s not a new Nike sneaker that’s caught our eye – although, for better and for worse, there are always new Nike sneakers – but old ones instead, Or, specifically, what Nike is doing with them.

With the launch of a new program, Nike Refurbished, the Northern California company is making a much-needed move to cut down on waste and extend the lifespan of its product.

If you’re thinking this means the launch of a Nike resale platform, you’re not quite right — but it’s an understandable assumption. The brand’s well-known aversion to the secondary market has Nike well placed to make inroads of its own in that arena.

Nevertheless, that’s not what Refurbished means. Instead, the freshly-announced initiative is a “no man left behind” operation – a way to make sure that imperfectly manufactured and perfectly loved sneakers have their chance at a longer life, avoiding landfill by finding a new home, cutting back on pre- and post-consumer waste in the process.

While it’s fair to say that – between the ISPA sub-label and groundwork laid by the Space Hippie – Nike has made some innovative steps in Earth-friendlier footwear in recent years. But, it’s equally fair to say that its “more is more” approach has held those potential advances back from having the kind of impact that they should.

The question, then, is whether this program will change that and mark a turning point for Nike.

Speaking to Noel Kinder, Nike’s Chief Sustainability Officer, we discuss the finer details of Nike Refurbished – how it came to be, what it means for Nike, and what it might also mean for the industry as a whole.

What was the catalyst for launching the Refurbished program?
Noel Kinder: Nike’s ultimate goal is a zero carbon, zero waste, circular future.

Consumers, or athletes as we call them at Nike… are telling us how climate change affects them [and] at Nike’s scale, there’s a responsibility to consider the complete solution – inclusive of how product is sourced, made, used, returned, reused and ultimately reimagined as something new.

Nike Refurbished extends the life of gently worn, like-new or slightly imperfect Nike footwear using an in-house refurbishment operation.
Do you see this as an important part of the brand’s overall sustainability strategy moving forward? 
NK: Absolutely. Nike Refurbished isn’t a one-off effort; it’s integral to how we look at implementing sustainability across our enterprise, through innovation, integration, and scale.

By giving products a second life, we are serving both the athlete and the planet.
What kind of effect are you hoping this will have – not just for Nike, but also for the industry as a whole in terms of working toward more Earth-friendly goals?
NK: Nike Refurbished is a testament to how we can serve consumer needs by extending the lifecycle of products.

We believe in leading by example. To tackle industry-wide issues like carbon and waste, we’re identifying the areas where collaboration can amplify impact and we team up with competitors to collaborate on developing textile-to-textile recycling, cost-efficient reverse logistics, and technology systems that help us to firmly establish a circular ecosystem.
 Why should people get involved with the program? 
NK: Choosing Nike Refurbished products is a win-win for consumers. They access authentic Nike products at a can’t-beat price, all while actively contributing to a more sustainable future.

By choosing refurbished Nike product, athletes are taking direct action to reduce waste and embrace circularity. And consumers are telling us, they like the variety in the Nike Refurbished assortment.” – Noel Kinder, Chief Sustainability Officer, Nike, Inc.
Finally, is there anything else you’d like to add – anything you think people should know about the program?
NK: We serve athletes, and that’s why we see sustainability as a relentless commitment to progress over perfection. We ask ourselves ‘what if?’ and we home in on solutions we can scale, because that’s how we can change the game for athletes and the planet.

We invite everyone to join us on this journey, and to shape a future where athletes and the planet thrive. Together, we can move the world forward.