An eco-friendly footwear startup is turning plastic bottles into beautiful sneakers - each pair diverts 17 plastic bottles from landfills and rolls up to the size of a pair of socks
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- Barefoot shoe industry leader Vivobarefoot is now producing a line of shoes made from recycled water bottles ($75 - $210).
- Each pair of shoes will be made from 17 recycled water bottles. Left to their own devices, those bottles would take ~400 years to decompose.
- Vivobarefoot hopes this line will combat our desensitization to pollution. It's part of a larger trend.
- Increasingly sustainable production is a goal for Vivobarefoot, with hints at new materials coming down the pipeline.
At the heart of the barefoot shoe movement is a belief that nature, ultimately, knows best.
The argument commonly includes the sentiment that there is no machine as elegant nor as intelligent as the human body - a mechanism we've spent much of our collective history trying to understand, whilst enjoying the considerable benefits of its near-incomprehensible complexity.
So it's not entirely surprising that barefoot shoe industry-leader Vivobarefoot is rolling out a line of shoes made out of recycled water bottles. Instead of heading to the oceans (which is estimated to be more plastic than fish by 2050) or a landfill to decompose over 400 years, the material will be reworked into durable, high-performance shoes deployed to mimic and stabilize the anatomy of the human foot. Each pair will use 17 throw-away water bottles.
It makes sense, and is an extension of steps the company took in 2015 with their eco-canvas and eco-suede (each using 50% recycled PET). Nature is Vivobarefoot's inspiration, and its production process will now prioritize and protect nature - as a gesture of goodwill, common sense, and, if you like, a sort of royalty payment.
According to the company, 2017 reports estimated that humans collectively bought 1 million plastic water bottles every single minute. And though plastic's convenience in modern life has afforded it a sort of ubiquity that makes such a figure appear standard rather than alarming, Vivobarefoot bills this generation as the one "to realize that its use comes at a devastating environmental cost."
Vivobarefoot, like many companies recently, is beginning to assume more responsibility for such a crisis of our own making. While most bottles are made from PET (polyethylene terephthalate), a highly recyclable material, fewer than half the bottles bought in 2016 were collected for recycling - and only 7% of those collected were turned into new bottles.
But PET is a malleable, strong, and durable material - uniquely well-suited for incorporation into tough, versatile shoes. This clever reconceptualization is reflected in a larger trend of companies embracing unexpected materials, ranging from leggings made out of fishing nets to low-carb pasta made from chickpeas to cult-favorite sneakers made out of leaves. As long as the quality stays high and prices stay low, consumers are happy to support sustainability.
Thankfully, not much will change in the new recycled PET line except for the recycled material and the company's processes. For shoppers already aware of Vivobarefoot's sterling reputation for design, style, and durability, this is great news. In fact, I've written about Vivobarefoot in the past because they make one of my favorite pairs of city and travel shoes - the $125 Kannas which are lightweight, perforated, and roll up to the size of a pair of socks.
Vivobarefoot shoes, like most barefoot pairs, are based upon the idea that a wider, minimalist shoe will allow the foot to function as it was designed to function. Wearers will benefit from the sensory input of their feet as well as their hands for a potential increase in balance and accuracy, and the muscles in the leg may develop more naturally and cohesively.
According to the company, the human foot is a biomechanical masterpiece that can cope with more than we ask it to nowadays. "By cramming it into a modern shoe, you negate its natural function." Your feet have 200,000 nerves in them - the same as your hands. By loading up on padding, you muffle the sensory feedback your brain would otherwise receive, resulting in clumsier, less skillful movement.
Vivobarefoot's new PET line will cover the gamut: minimalist sports shoes, trail shoes, 'ultimate' land and sea boots, and streetwear like suede chukka boots. Prices range from $75 to $210.
For the company itself, sustainability is an ongoing project. In 2018, they plan to introduce more recycled and traceable fibers into over 50% of the vegan line, with more clever material innovations just over the horizon. But, for now, the PET collection will suffice as tangible strides in the right direction, hopefully on the feet of people who will care about the larger message as much as Vivobarefoot.
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