It’s no secret we’re fans of Natural Fiber Welding here at FUTUREVVORLD. We like what they’re about, and we like what they do. (Which may seem like a redundant turn of phrase, but – in reality – words and actions don’t always tally on the sustainability front.) Between us, though, we’ve got more than enough love to go around, and – to that end – we’re also fans of the Portland-based UNLESS Collective; a label with the notable distinction of being the world’s first plant-and-mineral-based fashion brand.
As you can imagine, then, discovering a project that sees the two of them linking up – coming together on a forward-thinking footwear collaboration, raising the bar for everyone with the best of what they both have to offer – well, that’s music to our ears.
The result of this progressive pairing is the UNLESS DEGENERATE: a sneaker which keeps true to the collective’s word on zero-plastic and 100% plant-based construction, checking all of the usual boxes in terms of low-impact textiles and innovative fruit-derived materials, but which also benefits from the use of NFW’s technology. All of it. An outsole created from PLIANT™, TUNERATM™ foam brought in for the internal midsole, a quarter and vamp built from CLARUS®, and MIRUM® – perhaps NFW’s best-known product – employed for the eyelet and mudguard.
Discussing the collaboration with FUTUREVVORLD, UNLESS CEO and co-founder Eric Liedtke explains the difficulty in creating a shoe that aligns with the brand’s own MO in terms of ethics and materials but which also lives up to the rigours of everyday life in the modern world.
“For us to create a breathable, light and flexible shoe with enough protection, durability and traction to handle anything a person can throw at it without using any plastics or petrochemicals, just having innovative new materials wasn’t enough. We had to reach back in time, to old school shoe making techniques used in the pre-plastics era, to relearn how to make shoes without industrial strength glues, nylon threads, thermo-plastic backers and even aglets.”
And where, exactly, would one go in search of timeless savoir-faire or lessons in the art of footwear and fashion craft but the worldwide hub of fatto a mano?
“To tap into these techniques,” Liedtke begins, “we went to the spiritual home of artisanal shoe making: Italy. The DEGENERATE is made in Asolo, Italy, which has been a traditional center for shoe making for generations.”
But it doesn’t end there – for a label like UNLESS, creativity and craftsmanship are only the beginning of the journey and the start of their responsibility.
“Regenerative fashion to us at UNLESS means taking complete responsibility for the end-of-life of everything we make, so it can be returned safely to the elements and used to birth something entirely new. It also means making products of the highest quality so it can live a long, useful life. Quality manufacturing is essential to bringing our vision for regenerative fashion to life.”
Noble ambitions – which it ought to be said, have been implemented with all-too-rare conviction – the sneaker itself does not, as so many of its peers do, fall into the trap of being easy on the planet but hard on the eye.
With an aerodynamic aesthetic complete with bold, deep cup-sole, the skate-inspired silhouette brings West-coast style to the fore of the DEGENERATE. Or, more specifically, the pared-back aesthetic makes a fitting love letter to the landscape and culture that UNLESS calls home – the Pacific Northwest.
Available in off-white and black colorways, the DEGENERATE retails for $139 and can be found at UNLESSCollective.com – where you’ll also find news of restocks, for when the inevitable happens.