With Nike's latest Move To Zero SS22 campaign and the launch of adidas' Allbirds collaboration in December, the ever-growing demand for sustainable sneakers has never been more apparent.
Here, we find out the leaders and the latest innovations in the market, as well as what's selling and the materials to back in your assortments.
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• The global sustainable footwear market is forecasted to reach $11.8bn by 2027 at a CAGR of 5.8% from 2020 to 2027. Google Trends reinforces consumer demand, with searches for sustainable sneakers accelerating over the past five years.
• adidas is a clear leader in the market, increasing sustainable options YoY by 82% in the US, and 116% in the UK. New Look and Aldo rank highest in the mass market, favoring recycled materials and marketing products as vegan.
• Recycled, vegan and organic are top keywords in the sustainable sneaker segment, with Veja emerging as a key player for all three. The number of sneakers featuring recycled content jumped by 149% YoY.
• Hiking and running styles see good SKU movement as eco-friendly marketing messages pair well with outdoor activities.
• Mushrooms and cacti offer sustainable and ethical alternatives to leather, whilst corn fiber and dandelion rubber emerge as climate-conscious fabrics to watch.
Why Retailers Should Take Note
Sneaker production accounts for 1.4% of global greenhouse gas emissions compared to the 2.5% of emissions attributed to aviation. As a category that is heavily dependent on synthetic, fossil fuel-derived materials such as polyester, sneaker manufacturing is carbon and energy-intensive. Styles also typically combine different plastics, bound with toxic glues and limiting recycling capabilities. Hence, the sneaker industry is a significant contributor to pollution-rich landfills. With Gorpcore an example of unrelenting athleisure influences, retailers should look to sustainability to minimize the impacts of an evergrowing market.
The global sustainable footwear market is expected to reach $11.8bn by 2027 at a compound annual growth rate of 5.8% from 2020 to 2027. Google mirrors this trajectory, with searches for "sustainable sneakers" growing worldwide over the past five years. Results echo consumer demand for increased consciousness from retailers and sustainable innovation, particularly in the athletic footwear segment. Top related search queries also pinpointed Veja, adidas and Nike as the most sought-after brands for eco sneaker styles, placing them as key competitors in the field.
Who's Leading In The Market?
adidas comes out on top
Across regions, adidas is the most stocked brand of sustainable sneakers. Interestingly, its options in the US and UK have seen a huge increase YoY, jumping 82% and 116%, respectively. Within this, a notable amount of its collaborations, including Pharrell Williams and NOAH, have adopted more sustainable materials as well as sub-ranges like adidas TERREX, which have seen eco-friendly options grow 184% in the UK market vs. 2021. Both Dr. Scholl's in the US and Timberland in the UK are the fourth most stocked sustainable brands in both regions currently. Mentions of "recycled" in the care instructions of Timberland's sneaker range have grown 211%, primarily from using its own fabric ReBOTL™, which is made from 50% recycled plastic.
Veja advertised a nearly 100% sustainable range
Of the three top stocked sustainable brands in the market, when looking at the brand's own-buy assortments, Veja offers the highest percentage of eco-friendly sneaker options within its assortment, with only 7% of styles considered non-eco products. Although Nike has massively paired back its wholesale offering and strategy, which could affect option count across franchises and third-party sellers, sustainable sneakers within its own assortment account for 17%, far less in comparison to adidas at 57%.
The state of the mass-market
New Look tops sustainable options in the UK across high street retailers, with most of their products featuring "leather-look" or "canvas" materials that can be marketed as "registered under The Vegan Society," which is also called out within Kurt Geiger's range. Levi's has utilized its cotton hemp materials used on its denim range on sneakers, with additional features that include recycled laces, soles and BCI cotton.
Aldo ranks as one of the top eco-friendly retailers in the US, favoring recycled polyester on its sneakers, featured on almost half of its sustainable range. Recycled also receives the most mentions within Clarks products, including recycled canvas, rubber and mesh.
Recycled materials prove the most popular gateway into the eco market, with "recycled" accounting for 64% of sustainable sneakers. Favored for maintaining the same characteristics as virgin fabrics, the number of sneakers featuring recycled content has increased by 149% YoY. Recycled polyester is currently the most popular avenue, accounting for over 6,000 styles, yet only 2% of total stocked sneakers tracked by EDITED. Veja and adidas reigned as top stockists for the fabric, with the latter attributed to 20% of recycled polyester sneakers. Recycled rubber also has prevalence in the market, with The North Face emerging as a key investor, particularly among the footbeds of VECTIV™ trail running and walking shoes.
With leather accounting for almost 50% sneakers in stock, retailers are searching for sustainable alternatives. 15% of sustainable sneakers feature "vegan" as a keyword, with the number of vegan styles almost doubling YoY. Journee Collection, Veja, Merrell and Superdry arise as the top brands priding themselves on eliminating animal products.
Going organic emerges as the third most popular sustainable strategy, with Veja, once again, leading the way. The sneaker brand not only incorporates organic cotton canvas but also makes use of the fabric for laces and shoe lining, seen in the brand's best selling Esplar, Campo and V-10 styles.
Running sneakers make up a third of majority sell outs
30% of first majority sell outs were running sneakers, accounting for the highest proportion of sales. Across brands, recycled materials are most popular, with adidas offering the highest recycled mix at 50%. Sustainable running sneakers as a whole have seen in stock options increase by 345% YoY.
Earthy tones are the trend color of choice
Collectively greys, neutrals, greens and browns made up 19% of first majority sell outs. Within this, Nike was the top-stocked retailer accounting for 25% of the options, updating classic silhouettes like the Air Force 1 '07 and Air Max with neutral tones, while adidas paired its TERREX and hiker styles with nature-inspired color palettes.
Flow silhouettes prove popular
A growing number of brands are offering additional options of flow lines in sustainable alternatives. Within the three-month period, adidas' Stan Smith, Superstar and Forum Low, as well as Nike's Blazer, Air Force 1 and Court silhouettes, all saw first majority sell outs.
Hiking styles pair well with sustainable messaging
adidas has seen good SKU movement on its hiker-inspired styles, noting TERREX silhouettes ranking within first majority sell outs. The brand has paired outdoor-inspired products with a sustainable message, noting call outs in descriptions for products to be remade, recycled and end plastic waste.
Fine Mycelium is a patented fabric derived from fungi, grown in as little as a few weeks. The innovation successfully imitates the appearance and feel of calfskin, while outperforming on strength and durability - avoiding the emissions and ethical repercussions of genuine leather.
With its ability to produce both lightweight and robust fabrics, corn fiber poses an eco alternative to synthetics. Deriving from corn's fermented sugars, the material is fully compostable, quick-drying, naturally flame retardant and favored for its lack of dependency on fossil fuels.
Developed by Mexico-based textile brand Desserto, cactus leather is harvested from the leaves of the indigenous CO2-absorbing Nopal Cactus, without killing the plant. The process requires a low amount of water and produces smooth, waterproof and durable leather.
Known for tire innovation, dandelion rubber has recently entered the sneaker market. With a better grip than synthetic rubber, dandelions have great potential for sustainable sneaker soles. Its development also inhibits deforestation for rubber trees, encouraging biodiversity.
Prada x adidas: Re-Nylon
Debuting the Forum style in high and low tops, available in black and white, the project uses 100% regenerated nylon, made from discarded plastic collected from landfill sites and oceans worldwide.
SAYE Modelo '89
Having launched in August, its latest eco-friendly drop is made from cactus leather, making it fully vegan. Other design features include organic cotton and bamboo for the lining and laces and heels made from sustainable materials.
Chloé Nama sneakers
Becoming the first luxury brand in Europe to receive B Corp certification, its new sneaker includes a knitted design made of 90% recycled polyester from plastic bottles and equating to 40% of its total weight made of recycled debris.
Piloting its "Re:Suede - No Time For Waste" project, the brand is testing a biodegradable version of its Suede silhouette, comprising Zeology tanned suede, biodegradable TPE and hemp fibers.
How Retailers Are Communicating
Nike's Move To Zero
Nike documents its journey to zero carbon and waste, starting with a reflection on sourcing, processing and manufacturing strategies. The brand's new Nike Sunburst icon indicates a shoe composed of at least 20% recycled content.
Vans' Eco Theory collection
Vans promotes its Eco Theory collection of environmentally conscious styles, with recycled PET featured as the editor's pick. Though still acknowledging room for improvement, consumers can read of the brand's current eco endeavors.
adidas Made To Be Remade
Encouraging giving back, adidas is targeting throwaway culture through its Made To Be Remade scheme. The brand's latest iconic Stan Smith iteration is not only recycled but can be returned at the end of its life to be transformed into something new.
Allbirds x STAPLE
Allbirds announces its limited Allbirds x STAPLE release. The new colorway of the lace-free Staple Dasher offers full transparency on its carbon footprint, from production to delivery, branded with 12.5kg CO2e.
Contributions by Robyn Smith and Karis.
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