Adidas Launches a Fully-Recyclable Shoe

What if you knew that the shoes you were wearing on your morning run today might someday wind up on someone else’s feet instead of a landfill when you wear them out? Not through some donation program or as a hand-me-down, either—as a totally remade product, through a comprehensive recycling program that mirrors the sustainable practices movement.

That’s the vision Adidas is pushing with its new running line, Futurecraft.Loop. The brand launched the first iteration of the running shoe today at a lavish event in New York City, where the space was decked out with smoke machines and futuristic projections straight out of the world of Blade Runner.

The Futurecraft.Loop packaging is made of the same material as the shoes
Brett Williams

Adidas execs say the Futurecraft.Loop is made out of just one material, a newly-engineered TPU, without any glue or chemicals to bond the pieces—a stark difference from more traditional running shoes, that typically take 12 to 15 components to come together. That construction means that when the time comes to recycle the Futurecraft.Loop and grind the materials for re-use, the kicks don’t have to be deconstructed and separated, which is necessary with other designs. That step can create a logistical nightmare and deter companies from even bothering with sustainable plans. Adidas, on the other hand, hopes that each pair will be recycled repeatedly, creating the “loop” referenced in the name. Eventually, the company plans to produce more models under the same framework to eliminate much of its plastic waste and pledged to “use only recycled polyester in every product and on every application where a solution exists by 2024.”

The shoe itself isn’t much of a break with contemporary Adidas running design, complete with a sleek upper and the company’s Boost energy return foam.

Another colorway of the shoe, along with the pellets that are created after the recycling process.
Brett Williams

While a few bright color ways were on display throughout the presentation, the 200 pairs presented to creators and press at the event were all white for a reason, according to Paul Gaudio, VP Creative Direction & Future of Adidas, who challenged those assembled to really put the kicks to the test so the company can assess how the materials handle wear and tear.

Adidas has been piloting increasingly more eco-friendly kicks through its partnership with Parley, which first launched 5 years ago. But the Futurecraft.Loop adds an interesting element to the mix: How to get the used shoes back to Adidas once their owners are done wearing them. I asked David Quass, a member of the brand strategy team, exactly how the company plans to get people to actually send the shoes back in for recycling.

“We have been testing and piloting a number of take-back schemes over the last one and a half years, from very traditional bin-in-stores to providing pre-paid return labels,” he said. “As we speak, we’re working on a more bespoke reclaim mechanic which allows consumers to actually trade in product, to create the notion that there’s value, even at end of use.”

To make it even more appealing for buyers, Quass said that Adidas might provide incentives for owners to trade in the shoes, too. “If there’s value and you’re the owner of that product, you need to be compensated for that.”

The various pieces of the Futurecraft.Loop, which are all made out of the same TPU material.

Time will tell how the company manages to pull off the logistics of the plan (which, it should be noted, is sustainable but will still likely include the need to send returned product to centers in Asia and Europe at the start, which could create somewhat of a footprint), but Adidas has some time to work out the kinks. After this version of the shoe is tested, the company will assess the feedback and aim for a wider general release by spring/summer 2021.

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