Preserving the Environment

How a New Technique is Changing the Way Sneakers are Made

July 29, 2014
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How a New Technique is Changing the Way Sneakers are Made
Nike CEO Mark Parker introduces the new Flyknit technology in New York City. Mike Lawrie/Getty Images
Slip into these sustainable, knitted kicks, made by Nike and Adidas.

You wear knitted sweaters, scarves and hats, but knitted shoes?

Introduced by Nike and Adidas, who are now battling for patent rights, the knitted Nike Flyknit and Adidas Primeknit are the future of shoe-making. Instead of being made of leather or nylon like traditional running shoes, the uppers of these are made from a single piece of fused yarn — a model of sustainability and efficiency.

With the old shoe-making process, excess material could not be reshaped or reused — creating a large amount of waste. But according to Nike’s sustainability report, the production of knitted shoes results in 80 percent less waste. That’s because when working with yarn, only an exact amount is used. Then, the thread is cut and the rest of the yarn can be used to make another shoe.

The technique isn’t limited to one type of fiber, either. Anything that can be made into a yarn – carbon, wool, Kevlar, gold and stainless steel – can be used to make these shoes.

Sustainability isn’t the only benefit threaded in those shoes, as the simplicity of the project is streamlining the industry as well. Knitted shoes mean a reduction in materials, labor, shipping and time. The shoes can now be produced all in one place, making it a self-contained process that can be used by small companies. All this means that more production can be done locally — benefiting both the business and consumers.

And just because the shoes are sustainable, doesn’t mean that they’re not fashionable. While the companies have been focusing on athletic footwear (Nike with their running, soccer, training and basketball shoes)  they are now looking to create more lifestyle shoes that can be used by people in everyday life. Additionally, Adidas will soon be featuring a limited edition designed by Kanye West.

Adidas’ director of running Mikal Peveto has noticed the endless possibilities for this process and the shoe industry.

“Let’s be honest: This is beyond a need-based industry — it’s also a desire-based object,” Peveto told City Lab. “From an aesthetic standpoint, when our style group really gets into it, there’s no horizon.”

So as we head out on our busy days, it’s time to follow a path toward a more sustainable and efficient future — with our knitted-clad feet leading the way.

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