Footwear industry wakes up to waste

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Consumer demand for sustainable shoes is prompting manufacturers to change tack

The carbon footprint of the footwear industry is truly massive in size. It is estimated that some 330 million pairs of shoes are sold each year within the UK alone.

Sadly, most of these end up in landfills, with conservative estimates suggesting that the average pair takes more than 50 years to fully decompose. What's more, a slew of nasty chemicals found within the glues, rubbers and even leather materials used to manufacture our shoes is also released into the environment.

As part of a wider problem regarding sustainability found within the fashion world, the footwear industry has been slow on the uptake. However, consumers are beginning to clamour for eco-friendly footwear that is both recyclable and provides healthy working environments for those within the industry. Organic clothing, like this collection from Zalando, is only now becoming popular amongst fashionistas and footwear is just a few steps behind.

Walk a Mile in My Shoes

A number of innovative approaches to this problem are beginning to present themselves - from the simplicity of traditional recycling to more complex creations that employ sustainable design to re-imagine the humble shoe.

Heavy weights such as Gucci, who have created a line of shoes manufactured from bio-plastic; and Nike, who take old shoes and turn them into rubber pellets for running tracks, have both made strides in creating a more sustainable industry.
However, perhaps the most interesting developments on this front have come from smaller manufacturers with big ideas.

LYF (Love Your Footprint) have taken the concept of the shoe back to the drawing board by designing a type of modular shoe that can be taken apart and rebuilt. Using stitching rather than gluing, the LYF shoes are designed for disassembly, allowing consumers to change pieces that are worn out or simply replace the body of the shoes with new fabric as the mood takes them.

Other smaller boutique companies, especially ones in mainland Europe, pride themselves on locally sourced materials, European-based factories and a move away from dangerous chemicals and adhesives. In some cases waste materials such as coconut husks and cork have been used to further the sustainable aspect of these shoes.

Despite the mountains of discarded shoes currently being sent to landfill, the footwear industry is making progress. New ideas and a greater commitment to what happens to footwear when it's no longer wanted is certainly the green way forward.

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