Sneakers, trainers, runners, creps… Whatever you want to call them, they’re an essential part of not only modern sports but also modern fashion. Sneaker culture has never been more vibrant or pervasive, and competition between the world’s big sportswear brands – the Nikes and New Balances of the world – is fierce.
One of the final frontiers when it comes to sneakers is sustainability. Manufacturing sneakers is an incredibly CO2-intensive process, and sneakers don’t last as long as other clothing items before they need to be disposed of – especially if you’re an athlete.
“Globally, almost 24 billion shoes are produced each year, with 90% of them likely discarded within 12 months. That’s almost 22 billion pairs of shoes every year,” Juney Lee, a lecturer, designer, researcher and marathon runner, relates.
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So when we heard the news that German sportswear giant Adidas is teamed up with sustainable sneaker brand Allbirds on a collaborative sneaker that purports to have the “lowest carbon footprint on record,” we were excited. Until we saw what it looked like.
The FUTURECRAFT.FOOTPRINT is both Adidas and Allbirds’ first performance shoe that produces less than 3kg CO2e per pair to manufacture – 2.94kg CO2e to be exact. While it’s technically impressive, and no doubt a comfortable sneaker to wear or run in, we can’t help but feel it looks a bit… Same-y. Some might even call it ugly.
And that’s a big problem.
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Sustainable fashion often falls into the trap of just not being that fashionable. Case in point, hemp shirts: they’ve been around for ages, they’re really comfortable, and they’re good for the planet. But they usually make you look like a bit of a hippie, which is why you don’t see the Pradas and Louis Vuittons of the world making haute couture hemp.
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Aesthetics are particularly important when it comes to sneakers as – perhaps counter-intuitively – most people buy sneakers almost entirely on aesthetics as opposed to comfort. Take the Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star. It’s an over hundred-year-old design; they’re nowhere near as comfortable or practical as modern sneakers. Yet they remain insanely popular because people like the way they look. People buy Vans despite the fact they’re similarly uncomfortable and have no plans to skate in them. And when was the last time you saw someone play basketball with a pair of Air Jordan 1s?
This is all to say that it’s no good having the most eco-friendly sneakers in the world if you can’t inspire people to put them on.
And that’s the issue. The FUTURECRAFT.FOOTPRINT has put all its chips on sustainability and seemingly none on style. Indeed, the only real aesthetic touch – the printed logos and 2.94kg CO2e graphic on the midsole – is arguably the thing that really ruins it. It makes them look generic; a bit behind the times, actually. Remove it, and you’d probably save even more CO2, as well as enhance the design… Even then it’s a boring-looking sneaker.
Boring is bad. You want people to be excited about a collaboration like this, as opposed to turned off. It’s bizarre because Allbirds’ existing sneakers, such as their Tree Dashers or classic Wool Runners, are really good looking shoes with impressive environmental bona fides to boot. They’re distinctive yet stylish in a way that the FUTURECRAFT.FOOTPRINTs aren’t, without compromising their core mission of sustainability.
Ironically, the worst thing about them is that they’re probably not ugly enough. Nike’s ultra-sustainable Space Hippie sneaker collection, for example, might not be for everyone – but at least they’re distinctive. They take advantage of their recycled construction and turn it into an aesthetic selling point. The FUTURECRAFT.FOOTPRINTs, on the other hand, don’t make enough of a splash, nor do they look normal enough to convince normal buyers to give them a shot.
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Maybe we’re just being overly cynical. If you look at Allbird’s Instagram, you’ll see plenty of love for the new sneakers – some people think they look good, at least. On top of this, they’re still just a proof of concept, so there’s a good chance they’ll refine the aesthetics of the shoe before they hit the market.
We just hope Adidas and Allbirds pick a stronger aesthetic direction with them. Either go all-out ugly or avoid ugly entirely. We love the vision, but when there are so many eco-friendly sneakers on the market, we feel as if these aren’t quite pretty enough for us to bite the bullet… Just yet.