The desire and urgency for eco-friendly sneakers is growing and growing. But at the same time, there is an uncertainty as to what actually counts as "sustainable". There are numerous opinions and approaches to this, ranging from sensible to controversial. Unfortunately, there is often a lack of foresight and a holistic assessment of the ecological footprint. In order to make a real contribution, the debate should go far beyond the choice of materials and the production of the sneaker. We all share the responsibility as creators, producers and consumers. That's why we have to go this way TOGETHER.
Fair, ecological and environmentally friendly sneakers - The many facets of the sustainability debate
Sustainability in the sneaker industry is a multi-layered and complex issue. For labels and producers, the demands for environmentally friendly production, sustainable materials, transparent supply chains, fair working conditions, repairability and even circular economy solutions dominate strategies and operations.
In contrast, we increasingly hear about greenwashing lawsuits on a large scale. And there is the enormous success of fast fashion brands, boosted by the daily social media posts of influencers, that contribute to increasing mountains of waste with their quick expiration date.
All the vegan leather and recycled plastic bottles in the world won't solve the fundamental problem that makes shoes such a threat to the environment: the fact that a product with a built-in short shelf life is virtually impossible to recycle. The millions of shoes made every day create enormous amounts of carbon emissions and chemical pollution. And once they wear out, they end up directly in a landfill or incinerator.
So in a world where overproduction and short, linear life cycles lead to ever-growing mountains of waste, we believe that as manufacturers we have a fundamental responsibility to make our sneakers as durable as possible – physically, culturally and emotionally.
However, the responsibility doesn't end with us as a sustainable manufacturing sneaker brand, but continues with the consumer’s behavior. As consumers we need to think more about what we are buying, why we are buying it and how long we will truly enjoy it. It's an attitude based on taking care of the things we have instead of buying more and more things.
The beauty of this is that it does us ALL good – emotionally and environmentally.
Sustainable sneakers – The sneaker industry's biggest challenge.
Before we dive into the many benefits of the above attitude, we can look at the current numbers so we can better grasp the scope of our "buy less, but better and make it last" ethos.
24.2 billion pairs of shoes a year are getting produced for the eight billion people on our planet.
- 3 million pairs per day,
- 76 million pairs per hour,
- 46,000 pairs per minute.
Of these, 90% end up in landfills due to their short lifespan. This corresponds to a volume of 36'000 airplanes! So we should not only talk about more resource efficient materials and production, but rather how to overcome overconsumption and thereby curb the mass production of products with a very short life span.
In the following three sections we will show how we can all do our part to reduce the unacceptable numbers above and at the same time how we will be rewarded with lots of joy, love, quality time and a unique style.
1. conscious shopping vs. mass consumption
The huge quantities of products are only produced when a large percentage of them are purchased. Especially in the sneaker world, fast-moving hypes and collabs create artificial demand through constant novelty, which promotes the disposability of fashion. But the quick, supposed feeling of happiness after such a purchase fades in the blink of an eye, leaving us surrounded by numerous items that mean little to nothing to us in the long run.
The worldwide success of Marie Kondo's tidying and decluttering concept, whereby we learn to surround ourselves only with things that really mean something to us, speaks volumes.
We don't produce seasonal collections, but true classics that change with you and your wardrobe. Versatile style even becomes a lasting statement here. Find out how that comes about below.
2. local production in family businesses vs. mass production
The larger a brand with its multiple, annually changing collections, the more difficult it becomes to keep supply chains transparent, as suppliers in turn work with their own subcontractors. At VYN, we maintain a personal relationship with all our partners and even know the origin of the raw hides that are processed into leather at a German tannery.
VYN's production takes place in Italy and is based on Italian craftsmanship and expertise. This high-quality manufacturing contributes to the product's lifespan, as clearly demonstrated by the Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) conducted by SATRA Technologies. VYN is proud to pioneer the use of traceability for our premium sneakers, creating a distinct sustainable signature in the footwear industry.
High quality and durable materials include certified European leather from Hoffmann in Germany and sustainably harvested cork from Portugal for the insoles. The TPU sole is currently made from fossil TPU, but we are striving to work closely with our suppliers and Switzerland's most renowned universities (including FHNW Kunstofftechnik) to be able to use a material from renewable sources.
3. circular vs. linear design
Sneakers have a built-in expiration date, as they are subject to much more daily wear and tear than a jacket or a hoodie, not to mention their limited cultural longevity. When new shoes hit the market every week, it doesn't take long for them to become old news. Despite all the measures taken to reduce their impact, sneakers will always remain a disposable item unless they can be repaired.
A solution is needed that addresses both physical and cultural longevity. VYN is the world's first sneaker that you can renew yourself: the colored spare parts (heel and heel parts) extend the life of the sneaker many times over and offer you a unique personalization.
As a VYNNER you can directly influence how long you wear your sneakers. Because compared to the rest of your wardrobe, the shoe has a unique feature: by wearing it in, it ergonomically adapts to you and gains quality over time - given materials that are designed to last, like our high-quality leather and cork.
With its purist and timeless design, your VYN sneaker will define your personal style for years to come. As Rachel Tashjian wonderfully sums up in a report in GQ 2020 and also quoted by Alec Leach in his very readable book The world is on fire, but we are still buying shoes:
«Personal style, not fashion, holds the greatest reward: it allows you to invest in yourself, rather than in a bunch of ideas about who you could or should want to be. Fashion can help you build your identity, your mystique, your confidence. (...) But you must exert control over your clothing if you want to use it to define yourself.»
Everyone should be able to afford quality and thus sustainability. It is an investment in oneself, one's valuable time and ultimately in all our futures. We simply can't afford cheap products anymore, because we all pay the price for them in the end.
Shopping with foresight means that we consider the lifetime of the product, socio-ecological aspects in the price and are ready to enter into a loving relationship with the product.
Finally, it can be summarized that the interaction of many factors - resource-saving production, durable materials, consumer behavior, care of the product, a culture of repair and appreciation - contribute to an ecological sneaker.
The joy of beautiful things and the celebration of one's own uniqueness are in no way inferior to sustainability. On the contrary: through positivity, deceleration and the joy of personal expression, we are moving step by step together towards a more sustainable future.