Innovation That Matters

7 Innovative Trainers That Are Truly Sustainable

Innovation Snapshot

From upcycled waste to materials based in microbes and mushrooms, these trainers go the extra mile in terms of sustainable fashion.

Indeed, the footwear industry as a whole has long had a bad reputation, both environmentally and ethically: an estimated 22 billion pairs of shoes end up in landfill each year, and most mainstream brands manufacturing in third-world countries, where conditions and pay are often worse. Moreover, in the past sustainable items of footwear were traditionally badly designed or uncomfortable, but in the last few years, with big brands coming onboard, the concept of a stylish, comfortable sustainable trainer has become more mainstream.

From trainers based on the craft of bamboo knitting to biodegradable ones that can be composted from home, here are seven innovations trying to make the footwear industry more sustainable.

Photo source: Liza Evrard


The French shoe company JUCH is introducing its first eco-friendly collection. Called Element 0, the new shoes are leather-free and feature naturally odour-resistant insoles, recycled ocean plastic laces and sustainably sourced cork and rubber outsoles and yokes.

Having released nine previous collections, the company decided to focus on transparent production and environmentally-friendly materials. Through a blockchain partnership with Crystalchain, consumers can check the veracity and provenance of each aspect of an Element 0 pair of shoes. Manufacturing is based in Romania, rather than Asia, where most of the world’s shoes are made, which greatly reduces the brand’s transport emissions.

The entire shoe is constructed from naturally occurring or eco-friendly materials. The removable insole is made of a mix of natural latex, wool, wood and cornflour. The cork yokes provide lightweight strength, and cork is also used in the outsoles. The microfibre upper is tanned with water, and the integrated socks and laces are made from recycled fishing nets and plastic bottles.

Read more about the JUCH shoes.

Photo source: One x One


Fashion brand Public School New York (PSNY) and Fashion Institute of Technology professor, Dr Theanne Schiros, have developed a trainer that uses a leather alternative, grown from microbes. The upper, midsole and laces were fashioned from a microbial bio-leather originally created by researchers from Columbia University’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Centre.

The bio-leather consists of a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast called a Scoby (yes, the same one used in making kombucha tea). Schiros used waste Scoby from a local kombucha brewery. As part of the fermentation process, the Scoby turns sugars into bacterial nano-cellulose. This has higher elasticity and strength than cellulose which is derived from wood pulp or cotton – making it more hard-wearing, and perfect for trainers.

Read more about the microbe trainers.

Photo source: Create Now/James Dyson Foundation


New Zealand designer Rik Olthuis, has created a 100 per cent biodegradable running trainer, in an aim to reduce waste entering landfill from the footwear industry. Traditional shoe manufacturers use strong adhesives used to attach the plastics and polyurethane foam of the trainer together, which prevent the materials from being separated and correctly recycled. 

The biodegradable gelatine and glycerine materials of the Voronoi Runner can be fully dismantled and composted by the wearer themselves, reducing the need for costly commercial involvement. The upper part of the trainer is made from Merino wool, and the printed heel and toe caps contain plant fibres. The polyurethane foam is replaced by a biodegradable foam alternative that is light, water-resistant and compressive. To avoid the adhesives, the upper is stitched and tied onto a strong, flexible, 3D-printed structure into which the foam is poured. The sole and midsole of the shoe is also made from a 3D-printed and scanned flexible biodegradable filament, which can also adapt each shoe to the individual wearer. 

Read more about the biodegradable running trainers.

Photo source: Justin Sablich/Springwise


French-based company, Off the Hook (OTH), is a unisex, sustainable, trainer brand. These unique shoes have soles made from recycled, world-travelled tires. Moreover, each pair is tattooed with GPS coordinates referring to an unusual place.

One tire is recycled for every three pairs of shoes produced by OTH. Ethical and ecological, Off The Hook produces its shoes in a workshop in Portugal and makes its leather in a tannery in Italy, in order to limit its carbon footprint. The leather is also obtained from scrap pieces from a garden glove factory. This 100 per cent European production ensures that labour laws are respected and that certain chemicals are avoided. In short, everything is done for the well-being of the planet.

“Each time, we have a different pattern for every sole, and each time I produce three pairs of sneakers, there is one tire recycled,” OTH founder Arnaud Barboteau told Springwise.

Read more about the Off the Hook trainers.

Photo source: Emilie Burfeind


We’ve seen sustainable shoes made from bioplastics and natural materials, but German designer Emilie Burfeind has gone one step further, with the Sneature (“sneaker” + “future”), which is a sock-shoe knitted from dog hair shed during grooming, and a mushroom sole. Traditional trainers are made from as many as 12 different components, and because of this, they are extremely difficult to disassemble and recycle. The Sneature aims to solve this problem.

The shoe is designed as a seamless sock, in order to reduce the number of components involved. Dog hair, which was crowd-sourced from dog owners, was spun into a high-quality yarn, called Chiengora, by Berlin startup Modus Intarsia, which specialises in creating the dog-yarn. The Chiengora was knitted to create the upper using 3D-knitting technology. This is similar to 3D-printing, but instead of melting plastic filament to create a solid shape, the final design is bonded together using the wefts and warps of the weave. 

Read more about the dog hair trainers.

Photo source: Adidas Originals


The latest sustainable product from Adidas, in its collaboration with the environmental organisation Parley for the Oceans, is an eco-friendly upgrade to one of its classic lines of trainers. Adidas Originals ZX Torsion BOOSTs are made with recycled ocean waste, as are several other offerings in the Adidas X Parley Collection. 

Parley Ocean Plastic is made from upcycled marine plastic waste and is used in place of virgin plastic. It is collected from coastlines, baled and sent to Parley’s supply chain partners before being repurposed into high-performance polyester yarn. 

Read more about the Adidas trainers.

Photo source: Maksim Shutov on Unsplash


In his first venture into footwear design, architect Kengo Kuma has collaborated with the Japanese sports brand, Asics, to create a trainer that draws on the craft of bamboo knitting. The Metaride AMU is an environmentally-friendly shoe, the name of which is based on the classic Metaride shape by Asics.

The shoe’s upper consists of a performance knit slip-on mono-sock, which is overlaid with white crisscrossing strips made from recycled polyester. The overlays are strategically placed to stabilise the foot, while also converging to form the Asics logo on the side. According to Kuma, the strips play on the traditional Japanese concept of “connecting lines,” where a single line is weak, but a bundle in aggregate is strong.

Read more about the Kengo Kuma collaboration.

Written By: Holly Hamilton