Street-culture’s misinformed and commercial view on sustainability

LEADING an undeniably sustainable lifestyle is not easy at the best of times, given the current climate and rate of knots that brand’s are churning out release with post-Covid-induced angst. But, amidst the rush and excitement our two sportswear giants are taking enormous strides towards a reduced carbon footprint; unless of course, this is a mere blip.

Did you know, only 9% of all plastic once used, has been recycled?

Adidas; a brand solely known as “3-Stripes” whether they be sliced laterally across cotton socks or strategically positioned adjacent to a patch of detailed embroidery — cultural pioneers if you will. Parley; a group of likeminded individuals — leaders who opt for coming together in a fight against ocean and waterbody pollution. Together these two are addressing the fragility of our planet’s ecosystems in a bid alongside collaborative partners to fight a losing battle against one thing — plastic.

Above, I give to you a partnership that conceptualised and executing the development and progression of a reduction in brand-sourced pollution; essentially, Parley dragged Adidas to the forefront of sustainability. To quote,

“Plastic today. A problem tomorrow. As we continue to address our overall carbon footprint, we’re shifting to use 100% recycled polyester in our products by 2024. This is bigger than sport, this is our future.”

This doesn’t stop at artificial and recycled threads, we lost the Summer of 2020 but gained a small gift from Stripes in the form of Primegreen; a recycled, vegan leather to counter winter’s surplus in demand of impermeable surfaces. How would we describe Primegreen to the everyday consumer? Simply, a recycled polyester blend that contains no virgin plastic, ultimately aiding Adidas’ pledge to ensure 50% of their materials are recycled into another product by the end of THIS year, 2020. However, we must beg the question — what is the fundamental impact of launching and producing more assets, which will gradually pollute the planet further? Are adidas ensuring our purchases are healthier, or ensuring their development looks cleaner to the less inquisitive eye amongst us?

Furthering the above, adidas break down their sustainability program into three, easily digestible “Loops” outlining the brand’s plan and frugal steps in doing their bit for our planet. Loop one is simply named, the Recycled Loop, birthing Blue and Green Prime processes whilst announcing adidas’ stance on global climate. Next, a project whereby the product’s lifecycle progresses after being used to its limit — a prime example being that of Futurecraft.LOOP Running shoes, otherwise known as Stripes’ first 100% recyclable performance runner. This Circular Loop integrates phase one and two of Futurcraft, dismembering unsold pairs of phase one to manufacture phase two lines during an unidentifiable process of evolution, thus proving recyclability. Stage three and perhaps the perfect ideology, an end-goal if we’re being so defiant — the Bionic Loop. To exist, whether it be manufactured or drawn raw-to-shelf, everything derives from nature and this rings indefinitely true for adidas’ design. But, can a product endure multiples lives through a Circular Loop, then find itself back in the arms of Mother Nature? Three loops, three steps towards a future with genuine sustainability in mind.

Nike, whilst not so profoundly vocal on the topic of company-wide sustainability, do in fact have numerous projects in place. Most recently, Flyleather became a retail-shelf resident on the likes of Janoski Zoom and Air Force 1 launch models, gaining particular traction when working collaboratively with illustrator Rouhan Wang in September of 2020. But, truth-be-told Flyleather has been used on Nike footwear since late-2017 — relatable to Flyknit due to using the same machines with a similar process at heart. Scraps — up to 50% of the material branded as Flyleather is made up of leather cut-offs and scraps ground into a fine dust, later combined with polyester fibres and shipped to lull a placebo tumbled aesthetic or even dyed to suit the consumer’s needs. In fact, this material is said to be 40% lighter and significantly harder-wearing than your standard cow-hide, which isn’t too shabby when considering it still smells of leather.

This leads us nicely onto what is officially Nike’s most recent publicly available, sustainable product — Space Junkie. Lets analyse the prefix of this, Junkie, then reduce it to merely junk, defined but not limited to old or discarded articles with little to no value or use when put into the functioning world. In their brief, Nike claim the Space Junkie project to be inspired by our infinite goal of moving life in the direction of Mars — an areas whereby materials are scarce and every last morsel must be salvaged in the name of sustainable living.

The core process aiding Space Hippie construction in its entirety is Flyknit. Physically speaking, it’s comparable to the Primeblue blend explained as being prevalent in adidas performance runners; same ideology, even a similar fabrication process of reducing off-cuts and left over yarn to its wallowing, former self. We first saw Flyknit at the London 2012 Olympic Games, donned by no other than Michael Phelps as he climbed upon his podium to receive Olympic medal number 22 in what has been one of the most coveted athletics careers as far as history dictates. Nike’s marketing team executed their arrival to the big stage with precision, first of all ensuring each medalists wore Flyknit during their podium climb; secondly, dressing each pair in a vibrant, not-to-be-ignored and somewhat iconic volt-cross-black sleek silhouette. Phelps wore a lifestyle shoe made of 85(ish)% recycled content, whether it be plastic bottles, deconstructed t-shirts or even post-production discard, to collect his Olympic medal.

Fast-forward 8 years, Nike have developed a process to ensure their Crater-foam tooling (the sole, a quintessential part of a sneaker’s structural integrity) and all that it encompasses are made-up of roughly 12% Nike Rubber Grind. On Nike’s Grind website (yes, this exists) a brief summary is given that loosely resembles that of adidas’ Circular Loop; manufacturing surplus is reduced and leads the construction of sole units (obviously), apparel and even performance play surfaces. This little-known service has existed since 1994 and supplies 26 potential materials — being recognised by the US Green Building Council thus branding it LEED Certificated.

So, Nike and Adidas are trying, really trying. However, in doing so they’re creating new products for our shelves instead of rehabilitating popular ones, per se. Who else, in this era of consumerism and aesthetic importance is trying to make a difference? Lets have a look at New Balance.

Another American brand which is very little surprise in a world dominated by the global powerhouse; instead of project focus here, we’ll be touching upon an un-dyed version of the 327 women’s exclusive release. The 327 itself is one of, if not the most sought after in low-numbered NB silhouettes in recent years — a suede-cross-mess infused upper is sat upon a streamline, thickset midsole and extenuated nipple-ridden outsoles. When launching a new product, whether it be technologically-orientated or an updated novel, it is important in the ever competitive modern market to have a gimmick, something to capture the imagination of those who may glance briefly through a shopfront window. In the case of this un-dyed, un-tampered, naturally aspirated runner the gimmick is the fact that there is no gimmick, the removal in its entirety; every material on this shoe is a raw fabric from the factory. In giving this project the green-light, NB quite literally catered for the masses from sustainably-conscious fashion geeks to athletic front-runners whilst feeding the footwear addiction millions of us share. Oh, they have a cork insole too; who doesn’t love a cork insole?

However, is the commercialised pursuit of sustainability and awareness a cover-up for financial gain through tax-cuts and Government relief schemes? In the UK particularly, high-waste businesses must apply for a waste-disposal license or face fines up to £5,000; then there’s such thing as landfill tax, which drains another £91.35 on top of between £12-250 in waste transfer fees dependant on raw material mixture, per tonne. In breaking this down and using the estimated 41 million tonnes of commercial waste thrown away each year — the UK is spending up to £13,995,350,000 when disposing of commercial waste.

In 2018, UKGov launched a scheme to reduce plastics being discarded into the wild; in fact, companies could apply for their share of a mere £4 million to aid development when repurposing and recycling the man-made material. In turn, this forms 20% of the £20 million Plastics and Research Innovations Fund — but, this isn’t including the tax-breaks and benefits for those who choose to recycle internally.

IRS Credit is an American-founded way of rewarding businesses for recycling discards and off-cuts, a scheme comparable to that of in-store credit universally adopted by retailers. Recycling correctly earns credits, credits as commonly known then earn reductions in specific payments whether it be tax-breaks, electricity or other bills — coincidently, IRS (Internal Revenue Service) offer credits for investing own-funds into renewable energy, then selling back to the board. So, sustainability pays — literally.

To wrap-up what is undoubtably, a commercialised yet successfully revamped social banner hanging over the head of streetwear’s cultural image — we can all support the notion that these changes are positive. Yet, all research and development tends to resonate around one factor; money. More money equates to more research, in turn opening jobs and placements for those in need — though sustainability should not really be a money-motivated step towards a cleaner planet, it should be a given. Fortunately, it is becoming a normality and one day the need to promote this buzz-word will become an insult to the integrity and basic brand-guidelines; a nonessential, compulsory yet safe assumption to make when spending your hard-earned cash.

Photography: Lewis Browning Photography.

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