• One-size-fits all "fashion" sustainability standards don't work in the real world. Because shoes aren't shirts.

    Any standard (retailer, organization, government) MUST be customized for shoes

    • This site is for retailers, foundations, journalists, researchers, academics, and policymakers.
    • Learn why umbrella "fashion" sustainability standards look good on paper but don't actually work.
    • Find special insights into shoe materials, production, performance, and circularity versus clothes.

  • THE PROBLEM: sustainability standards throwing shoes in with apparel

    • If 80% of "fashion's" environmental impact is due to materials and manufacturing;

    • And shoes have more numerous varied materials and are manufactured in vastly different ways than clothes;

    • Then the footprints of shoes and clothing are inherently dissimilar; requiring prescriptions to be tailor made.

    • Yet, the push for erroneous one-sized fits all "fashion" standards continues from retailers to organizations.

    • Wrong assumptions that standards made for clothing can just apply to shoes must end—they cannot succeed.

    • Consider this: airplanes and trains are both in the transportation industry—should their standards be the same?

    WHAT WORKS: individual right-sized standards for each "fashion" product

    • There are clear and vital differences between shoes and shirts paramount to grasping their unique footprints.

    • Once this is realized, the only way forward is right-sized standards, policy, and programs by each product type.

    • One for clothing. One for shoes. One for Handbags. One for accessories.

    • Some targets may be shared, but differences must be accounted for and unique scopes must be made.

    • Real success requires multiple policy tracks and standards that fit each individual "fashion" product, like shoes.

  • Understanding shoes v. clothing

    4 foundational reasons why shoes don't fit into apparel standards

  • 1. MATERIALS: Shoes have 10 times the number of materials and components, all intertwined, compared to clothing. This results in very different (and larger) traceability challenges and sustainability complexities not seen in apparel.

      • There can be upwards of 70 materials and components that go into making shoes versus five for a t-shirt. Even basic kid's shoes, an example of what a breakout of materials could look like below, require a multitude of materials.

      • While apparel is made predominantly from textiles, shoes contain an exorbitant number of diverse materials and components – increasingly made up of more plant based and recycled content – including:

        • Steel

        • Kevlar

        • Stainless Steel Wire

        • Wood

        • Cork

        • Brass

        • Aluminum

        • Zinc

        • Stainless steel

        • TPU

        • TPR

        • PU

        • PVC

        • EVA

        • PP

        • Cotton

        • Leather

        • Synthetic backing

        • Non-woven backing

        • Foam backing

        • Microfiber backing

        • Spandex

        • Silk

        • Wool

        • Rayon

        • Polyester

        • Nylon

        • Rubber

        • PU cement

        • White Glue (PVA)

      • A brand may manufacture 30 different types of shoes, per season, each with different materials from multiple suppliers based in different countries – resulting in huge traceability challenges and complexities not really seen in apparel.

    • 2. Footwear CONSTRUCTION is fundamentally different than apparel. Shoe PRODUCTION is a complex process requiring hundreds of hand touches and large machines down a production line, versus few touches for apparel, meaning factory sustainability issues are in no way similar.

      • T-shirts need a sewing machine and a few hands. Traditional shoe manufacturing requires large machines and assembly lines where there are over 100 touches for each pair of shoes.

      • Shoe factories often employee hundreds of people manufacturing shoes because of the complexity of cutting, sewing, attaching multiple layered materials (backings and reinforcements), finishing and artisan needs.

        • “…materials can be cut and sewn conventionally, but can also be laser cut, RF welded, hot pressed, cold pressed, co-molded, perforated, and over-molded; all on one shoe!” (Wade and Andrea Motawi, Shoe Material Design Guide. P. 32, 2017)

      • Unlike apparel, many materials must be bonded together to provide toughness, body, and durability for consumer use; common examples are fabric backing (adding liquid resin and or coatings) and lamination. This adds additional processes and complexity in production but also requires unique disassembly techniques not found in most apparel items. Footwear companies are working to add more recycled or bio-based materials to displace traditional materials here, but performance will continue to require the above complex assembly.

      • Affixing the upper to the outsole midsole on nearly all sneakers, for example, also requires glue in 12 areas across a shoe, adding to the complex process and requiring a great focus on details. This does not even account for the work needed to attach metal hardware like eyelets or inserting metal shanks for boots or heels.

    • Shoes are more like Tesla cars than clothes

      Shoes share some of the same complexity as EVs, including a multitude of different integrated materials, a manufacturing process that includes hundreds of touches down a production line—including robotics, and recycling and circularity models that are vastly complex.

    • 3. SAFETY & PERFORMANCE: Footwear cannot drape, it must be durable. Shoes must firmly perform on feet every step. This requires footwear to be designed differently with different testing and regulations than clothes – resulting in a need for its own durability and sustainably standards.

      • Shoes must perform to higher regulatory standards than most other products because they are under constant pressure by consumers in constant motion. Imagine firefighters, nurses or construction workers. Shoes must be manufactured with multiple performance factors not found in apparel including:

        • slip resistance (see picture of test machine)

        • traction

        • flexibility (see bottom picture of test machine)

        • durability and weight support

        • All of this is needed for the full safety of the consumer to protect against slipping, twisted ankles, and other health related issues.

      • Inside a shoe are hidden materials and components needed to ensure performance, vastly different than apparel functions. Some of these include:

        • toe and heel counters

        • molded plastics

        • toe rand reinforcements

        • outsole reinforcements

        • eye stay reinforcements

    • 4. END OF LIFE: Different Circles. Shoes are not easy to disassemble for recycling and require a different waste management and circular model than clothing.

      • A multitude of materials, many affixed together, make it hard to recycle footwear. Some companies have programs to recycle their shoes, others are designing for disassembly. However, there is no such infrastructure to recycle large amounts of dissimilar footwear across the industry.

      • Added to this is the fact there are a multitude of construction types needed to understand how to effectively separate the upper from the bottom to have a better chance of isolating materials for increased recyclability. Including:

        • Slip lasting

        • Strobel lasting

        • Combination lasting

        • Board lasting

        • Blake construction

        • Blake/rapid construction

        • Goodyear welt construction

        • Norwegian storm welt construction

        • Stich down Veldtschoen welt construction

        • Bologna construction

      List and Photo Source: (How Shoes Are Made. 2018. P. 27–28)

      • Shoes require more than a machine to grind unusable shoes. You need a team of experts who understand the materials across the shoe as well as how it is constructed to disassemble footwear. This may require sorting shoes into construction categories and specific machines. Thus, a much different circular infrastructure and model is required than apparel, one that is not reflected in most suggested policies.

    • Bottom Line

      Retailers, organizations, government bodies, journalists and academics: Shoes can no longer be held to the same sustainability standards as apparel.

      • Shoes Aren't Shirts.

      • Neither are handbags or accessories.

      • Their specs are different, consumer use is different, manufacturing is different.

      • Therefore, the sustainable standards must. be. different.

      • It's time to right-size efforts based on actual products, not an umbrella term of "fashion."

      • Otherwise, shoe companies will be forced to focus on areas and efforts that don't fit.

      • Success in reducing footprints requires science, including the science of right-sized standards.

    • Learn more on shoe materials, construction, and production

      Go deeper on shoe sustainability with new ideas and best practices