H&M is doing it. Levi’s is doing it. Even Zara wants a seat at the table. In fact, a total of 64 companies representing 143 brands and a combined value of 7.5 percent of the global apparel market have thrown their support behind a transition to a circular fashion economy, where products are made to be repurposed and recycled, rather than tossed into a landfill at the end of their useful lives.
But while the scientists of the world are close to cracking the code of spinning new clothing from old, finding circular solutions for footwear is proving to be a greater cipher.
The problem lies with the way shoes are constructed. Shoe manufacturing is a complex endeavor, perhaps even more so than most apparel. A typical athletic sneaker, for instance, can comprise dozens of materials—leather, foam, textiles, metal, rubber, wood—all of which are difficult, if not downright impossible, to tease apart after they’ve been glued or stitched together. This is generally a good thing: you don’t want your shoe to fall apart while you’re pounding the pavement, after all. But it doesn’t bode well for end-of-life disposal.