Sportswear company Puma has developed an experimental iteration of its famous 'Suede sneaker' to make it biodegradable. The Re:Suede shoe is made from more sustainable materials such as Zeology tanned suede, biodegradable TPE and hemp fibres.
Puma said the Re:Suede experiment is a pilot in circularity. Designed to help address the challenge of waste management in the footwear industry, the experiment will allow Puma to take more responsibility when it comes to tackling the ‘after life’ of its products. The pilot will launch in January 2022, offering 500 selected participants in Germany the chance to join Puma on its experimental journey towards circularity.
Participants will wear their Re:Suedes for six months to test out the durability of a product using biodegradable materials in real life, before sending them back to Puma via a take-back infrastructure, designed to move the products to the next step in the experiment. The sneakers will then be subject to an industrial biodegradation process in a controlled environment at Valor Compostering B.V., owned by Ortessa Groep B.V., a family-run business of waste specialists in the Netherlands.
The goal of this step is to determine if Grade A compost can be produced for agricultural use. The findings will help Puma assess the biodegradable process and unpick essential research and development for the future of sustainable shoe consumption.
The Re:Suede experiment is the first circular programme to launch under Puma’s 'Circular Lab' – a new innovation hub, which is led by the company's sustainability and design experts who work to develop the future of Puma’s circularity programmes.
This pilot is a recharged experiment in circularity, following Puma’s exploration in the space in 2012, which saw the brand’s first attempt to create a biodegradable sneaker as part of its InCycle collection. Yet after four seasons, the sneaker was discontinued due to low demand and the need for further research and development.
Since 2012, Puma’s innovation department has worked to address the technological limitations of the InCycle collection in order to apply such learnings into the Re:Suede experiment. Improvements include the use of new, innovative materials such as Zeology suede, which is made using a more sustainable tanning process and ensures better comfort for the wearer, when compared to other biodegradable materials evaluated at Puma. The outsole of the Re:Suede has also been improved to ensure optimal wear.
“In 2012, our circular ambition was bold but the technology wasn’t quite there. As they say, with every challenge there’s an opportunity – and we’ve continued to push ourselves to do better by applying our strengths as well as acknowledging and improving on our weaknesses,” said Heiko Desens, Puma’s creative director.
“We hope that progress made during the Re:Suede experiment: ‘No Time For Waste‘ will help us continue to raise the bar in circularity testing – enabling our consumers to make better fashion choices in the future, so their sneakers can go ‘from Suede to soil’, without compromising on product style or durability during ownership.”
Power of partnership
About the partnership with Ortessa, Desens further comments: “We’re excited to partner with the experts at Ortessa, who share our passion in developing proactive and pragmatic solutions to the industry‘s waste problem. Their expertise is fundamental in helping us learn more about the afterlife of the Re:Suede, so we can continue moving forwards on our exploration of circularity.“
Puma aims to share the results and insights gained from this experiment within the industry to achieve an even bigger impact when it comes to addressing the challenge of waste management in the footwear industry in general. Circularity is one of the pillars of the brand's Forever Better sustainability strategy. By 2025, Puma aims to reduce waste by increasing the level of recycled polyester in its products to 75%, setting up product takeback schemes in its major markets and developing recycled material options for leather, rubber, cotton and polyurethane.