Innovation in footwear, particularly sneaker-related innovation has always been a thing. In recent years though, it’s really been heating up.
Most notably in 2012 when Nike took the sneaker industry by storm with their Flyknit range, a new material designed to minimise manufacturing waste. Nike reconstituted recycled plastic waste using proprietary methods and transformed it into threads that were then re-engineered into shoe uppers. More than that, it ushered in the trend of low-profile, second-skin footwear that many brands today now dabble in.
Five years on, Nike is now introducing Flyleather, a sneaker made with at least 50% recycled leather. Flyleather is Nike’s solution to the huge amount of waste generated in leather tanneries, approximately 30% of a cow’s hide. When you consider that the global leather raw material market is worth $100bn, that is a lot of wasted material.
Image courtesy: Nike
According to Nike, the brand is greatly reducing its own carbon imprint while creating a leather-like material that is 40% lighter and five times more durable.
Nike claims the development of this material was driven partly by the fact that leather has the second-highest impact on both its carbon emissions and water consumption. Flyleather, the company insists, uses 90% less water and has a carbon footprint 80% lower than the conventional material. Hence, one pair of athletics shoes made with this product has about half the carbon footprint of shoes manufactured out of traditional leather.
Nonetheless, leather tanneries have a massive environmental footprint. Using huge quantities of water and chemicals, the material is often processed in countries where regulations are weaker and are held back further by lax enforcement.
Image courtesy: Sneaker News
John Hoke, Nike’s Chief Design Officer, suggests that Flyleather has the capacity to change the leather industry as we know it because “it allows for increased potential to extend our craft with more precision… based on the needs of specific sports.”
There’s no doubt that Nike is taking a step in the right direction. However, Flyleather does not solve the problem of animals being slaughtered to make shoes, an outcome that continues to vex animal welfare activists. The animal rights group PETA slammed Nike’s announcement, describing it as a “scam.” PETA urges Nike to embrace the vegan half of Flyleather and switch entirely to high-performance, sustainable vegan leather.
As is the case with sustainability at large, these changes are not about an overnight transformation. A development such as Flyleather is about making incremental yet significant changes that push the envelope even further in developing materials that are both high-performance and more environmentally responsible. Given the sports and lifestyle label’s track record over the past several years, a complete alternative to leather is surely in the making.