SEASON 1 / EPISODE 8 Pop Culture Tech Podcast

Sneaker Culture Goes Green

What happens when you put two huge pop culture movements together—sneaker culture and sustainability—and add tech innovation?


What’s In This Episode

  • Our growing obsession
  • Bringing sustainability to footwear
  • Out-of-the-shoebox thinking
  • Designing the cycle
  • 3D printing and foot-by-foot fitting

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Featuring (In Order of Appearance)

Podcast: Sneaker Culture Goes Green featuring The Footwearists and Vivobarefoot

Sneaker Culture & Sustainability: The Perfect Pair

A few years ago, a traveling display called “The Rise of Sneaker Culture” displayed our rising obsession with sneakers—aka our kicks, trainers, tennis shoes. And although certain celebrity-endorsed pairs have high resale values, the reality is that most sneakers end up in a landfill.

Fortunately, experts are helping make our obsession with sneakers less of an impact on our planet. Their collective objective: create more sustainable footwear.

Out-of-the-Shoebox Thinking

Pollution is a byproduct of footwear manufacturing. As awareness rises, sustainability is quickly becoming a focus for shoe brands, big and small.

Nicoline van Enter, founder and creative director of The Footwearists, wonders how consumers would react if companies offered replacement parts, such as new soles, for expensive sneakers. Her work, she explains, is always about being “creative to increase longevity, to change different processes for recycling, to remake upcycling—to make it popular.”

The sneaker resale value market is projected to hit $6 billion by 2025.

Cohen & Company

While some recycled sneakers do become playgrounds, it’s too difficult to fully sort the materials based on chemical composition, making them sub-optimal for maximum reuse.

Designing the Cycle

Getting on the right sustainability track requires more collaboration between footwear, waste companies and recycling companies, says van Enter. Why? There are currently no systems for grinding up, chemical recycling and biodegradation. So even if products were made of plants, they would likely still be thrown away or burned.

“I want to see more effort designing for footwear end of life—designing recycling, designing, compostability,” she says.

3D Printing Foot by Foot?

Our goal should be to “create products that help us connect more with nature or make us feel more human,” says Galahad Clarke, co-founder of Vivobarefoot. The eco-friendly footwear brand focuses on building a sneaker culture that’s sustainable and good for your health.

His product philosophy is heavily influenced by leading eco-friendly thinkers Kate Fletcher and Sustain-ability by Design author John Aaronfield. Among his most interesting innovations to date is “bloom foam,” an algae regularly removed from waterways.

But that’s just the beginning, and technology powers innovation. “We have exciting journeys ahead of us with things like 3D printing, which will ultimately bring a more sustainable shoe industry,” he says. 3D printing is the key to making shoes foot by foot from local sustainable materials rather than pollution-heavy mass production.