SUSTAINABLE SNEAKERHEADS? — A REPORT.
SNEAKER CULTURE HAS HISTORICALLY BEEN ALL ABOUT THE FLEX, THE DROP, AND THE HYPE, BUT CONSUMER AWARENESS OF ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES HAS PLACED THE INDUSTRY IN THE SPOTLIGHT. AS DEMAND FOR ICONIC SHOES CONTINUES APACE, DO SNEAKERHEADS ACTUALLY WANT A MORE SUSTAINABLE INDUSTRY?
ARE SNEAKERHEADS ACTUALLY LOOKING FOR SUSTAINABILITY?
[originally commissioned by CANVAS8].
HIGHLIGHTS + DATA
- 71% of sneakerheads buy at least one to four pairs monthly (Sole Savy, 2022)
- 74.19% of footwear industry insiders agree that the market has made some progress in terms of sustainability, but that it’s not significant (FDRA, 2022)
- Nike’s leather usage increased by 35% in 2021 because of the demand for iconic shoes (Nike, 2022)
- Despite increasing calls for planet-friendly footwear, it’s smaller and emerging brands that are leading the way in incorporating ethical, sustainable, and unique fabrications
- New sneakers created with sustainable features or products rarely become very popular because they don’t have history
- Sneakerheads are aware of their unsustainable buying habits and are looking to brands for help with eco solutions
EXPERTS — NAV GILL, DANIEL NAVETTA + MAARTJE VAN DEN HURKNav Gill is a creative consultant and writer who specialises in fashion, streetwear, sneakers, and pop culture. She’s worked with some of the world’s biggest sports brands, fashion houses, and luxury retailers, and her bylines have appeared in Nylon, Hypebeast, Luisa Via Roma, Sole DXB, Mr. Porter, and other publications. Nav has presented digital lectures at the Condé Nast College of Fashion & Design, been an industry judge at Graduate Fashion Week, a guest panellist for Adidas Originals, and previously acted as editor at Hypebae. She’s the author of the upcoming book She Kicks, a publication that’s dedicated to female sneaker culture and women in the industry. Daniel Navetta, aka ‘The Air Vegan’, is the founder and director of creative agency Bryght Young Things, as well as the co-founder and editor-in-chief of eco-conscious platform FUTUREVVORLD. His work as a director and producer has earned him recognition from the Tribeca Film Festival, the American Film Institute, the International Documentary Association, and nods for multiple MTV awards, as well as a GRAMMY nomination. His work has been exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Brooklyn Museum. He was also the co-creator of the Business of Hype podcast on Hypebeast. Maartje van den Hurk is a freelance creative and sneaker connoisseur. She’s also a senior insight expert at MARE Amsterdam, a qualitative and trend research agency. Van den Hurk hosts the Queens and Sneakers podcast for Sneakerjagers, the sneaker search engine.
SCOPE“2021 was a year in which we proposed concepts to revolutionise running sneakers, improve the outdated (and bot-controlled) model of footwear ‘drops’ and decrease waste in sneakers,” said Daniel Navetta, aka ‘The Air Vegan’, and the co-founder/editor-in-chief at eco-conscious platform, FUTUREVVORLD, in his editor’s letter at the beginning of last year. [FUTUREVVORLD (February 2022)] Navetta’s growing digital destination shines a light on how sustainable practices are taking effect across fashion, footwear, and streetwear culture. [Hypebeast (March 2021)] Heading into its third year of publication, FUTUREVVORLD’s 10,000-plus Instagram followers demonstrate that there’s certainly a market for sustainable sneakerheads – albeit an emerging one. The sustainable footwear market size was valued at $7.76 billion in 2021, and is projected to reach $13.52 billion by 2030, whereas the global sneaker market was valued at $78.594 million in 2021, with a projection to reach $102.735 million by 2025. [Verified Market Research (December 2022)][Statista (May 2021)] Safe to say, there’s certainly money to be made when it comes to sustainable styles, however, the retro kicks that sneakerheads love – looking at your Jordans, Dunks, and Air Force 1s – use significant amounts of leather, which has some of the highest carbon and waste footprints. For example, the hyped Dunk silhouette saw Nike’s leather usage increase 35% in 2021 because of the demand for iconic kicks, regardless of the sport giant’s 10% reduction goal. [Business Insider (November 2022)] “Due to the consumer preference for classic Nike leather icons in fiscal year 2021, leather models are outpacing the growth of the rest of Nike footwear, putting us behind our plan to achieve our 2025 goal,” said the brand in its latest corporate responsibility report. [Nike (March 2022)] According to analysts in the industry, for major players in the sneaker game, such as adidas and Nike, their success this year lies in how quickly they can address the excess inventory and continue to deliver freshness – not how they release new sleek sustainable silhouettes. [The Business of Fashion (January 2023)] “Sneaker culture is driven by newness; it’s driven by hype,” says writer and creative consultant, Nav Gill. “It’s driven by having the most. When Nike or adidas do the work and they produce a silhouette that positions sustainability at the forefront, they’re often not the silhouette a sneakerhead might go for. It’s interesting in terms of the construction, the technology, and how it comes together, but it’s not a Dunk. It’s not the silhouette that everyone wants.” [Interview with Nav Gill conducted by the author] And here lies one of the problems with the industry: until brands find a way to actually incorporate these new eco-friendly materials into those classic silhouettes or hype drops, we’re not going to see a massive impact. “Often the shoes they put forward as sustainable product are not that cool,” says Gill, before adding that brands should incorporate more sustainable fabrics into its customisation offerings. [Interview with Nav Gill conducted by the author] So what can we learn from the sustainable streetwear brands that are making their mark in the industry? And how can brands in this space cultivate more sustainable practices?