The anatomy of a shoe is more layered than you might think. From tongue top to heel liner, eyestays to foxing (I’ll let you look that one up), there are typically about 23 different parts to a shoe. Each has its role to play to ensure you stay comfortable, supported and looking fly, as you stroll around.
With that amount of components, comes a great deal of materials. A sneaker could be made with more than 40 materials, and it’s this complex amalgamation of textiles, glues and lace tips that makes recycling footwear so difficult. So, what if you could create a shoe made from just one material? Wouldn’t that solve the great sneaker recycling problem?
That’s just what PANGAIA had in mind when it began collaborating with forward-thinking footwear specialist Zellerfeld.
The offspring of their partnership is the Absolute Sneaker: an on-demand, 3D-printed shoe made from a single material, allowing it to be melted down at the end of its life and recycled into new products. It’s a circular dream – and a dream incentivized by the lure of a $30 PANGAIA credit for your good intentions.
The Absolute Sneaker is made only with TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane). TPU is a highly versatile material that’s found in many sneakers. Unfortunately, it is plastic and therefore fossil fuel-based. A deviation from the material science brand’s usual way of working, PANGAIA acknowledges this, presumably having weighed up the pros and cons.
Of course, the ultimate goal with Zellerfeld is to develop the technology so that it works with renewable and natural materials too.
Because the sneaker is 3D-printed, it can be created on demand to fit any customer. This reduces excess stock which often goes to waste in the fashion industry. Zellerfeld’s tech allows designers and brands to release products at speed, negating the need for the factories and supply chains that often make the sneaker industry difficult to make sustainable.
Sounds good. But we also question the benefit of producing more products at speed. Might this reduce the value in some products, making them more susceptible to being thrown away?
So, does the Absolute Sneaker solve the problems of shoe recycling? Not absolutely.
The shoe looks like a concept design. It’s definitely wearable, and is touted as being comfortable, but without some of the parts of a shoe we all love (like, I don’t know, laces and proper midsole), the Absolute Sneaker won’t appeal to everyone. The concept is strong. But let’s see where it goes from here.
Elsewhere, for a more recognizable sneaker with a sustainable overhaul, check out adidas’ hemp-based Earth Day specials.