My fellow Bartold Clinical Director and mate Paul Griffin has challenged me to name my 5 top running shoe innovations/innovators over the past 20 years. It could be the end of a beautiful friendship!
What an unenviable task, and, is it even possible? Well, never being one to shirk one’s duties and rise to a challenge, I have accepted, with only the caveat that this is simply my opinion.. and we welcome any and all suggestions from our esteemed Bartold Clinical membership.
Here we go, my top five, in order, with my reasons for inclusion!
I guess you might have realised by now that Paul and I are pretty passionate about sports footwear, but more, much more than that, we are extremely passionate about the environmental issues that surround this industry.
As an example, my old employer Salomon makes about 10 million pairs of sports shoes every year. The carbon footprint left by the manufacture of 10 million pairs of shoes is enough to power the city both Paul and I lived in, Annecy, France, for 1 year. Annecy has a population of about 100,000 people.
Nike on the other hand, only make 25 pairs of shoes… but they do so every second, of every minute of every hour.. 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Almost 1 billion pairs of shoes, and a carbon footprint massive enough to power New York City for one year.
Add to this the close to half a billion pairs of shoes in landfill, our oceans and elsewhere, which will last for at least 50 years, and it is clear to see that Houston, we have a huge problem…
Now I am not in any way criticizing the likes of Salomon or Nike, I am just presenting the facts, and, I happen to know that both companies have a very significant commitment to sustainability, with Salomon recently launching a very interesting recyclable shoe
Nike also is spending large to try to crack the sustainability issue.
For me, whilst admirable, recycling is not the solution, because the problem has not gone away.. it still exists.
To really make a difference, we need sports shoes to go away once they have outlived their purpose, in other words, they need to be biodegradable.
A brand you may not have heard of, Hylo Athletics, is taking exactly this path, and what they have achieved to date is astonishing.
The insole of a running shoe is normally made out of a material like poron or EVA.
These materials are an ENORMOUS environmental issue, and they degrade in hot climates like Australia at a rate of 5.1% every 20 years, meaning they can be in the ecosystem for upwards of 200 years
Hylo makes its insoles out of algae.. yes, that green stuff you see in roadside ponds.
Algae has natural thermoplastic performance characteristics ensuring an anatomical insole with a cushioned feel.
Algae is the fastest growing plant on Earth, and it is a vital component of aquatic ecosystems. However, the rise in global temperatures, excess nutrient runoff, and human activities have contributed to an uncontrollable rise in algae growth in ecosystems around the world—harming plant, animal, and even human life. Hylo’s use of Algae Bloom™ returns 14 litres of clean water to the habitat per pair. Algae Bloom sequesters carbon dioxide and takes it out of the atmosphere, cleaning 9m3 of air per pair. The material utilises excess algae biomass which does not require fossil fuel or arable land to grow.
The midsole is the greatest issue of any part of the running shoe, because inevitably it uses foams like EVA or Pebax. These foams not only hang around for hundreds or even thousands of years, but they require toxic chemical blowing agents as a part of the manufacturing process.
Hylo has addressed this issue by using… corn!
It is not a perfect solution, but is a great start, because the use of locally-sourced cornstarch in the Corn Runner’s midsole reduces the use of EVA whilst utilising a renewable material.
Most running shoe outsoles are made from synthetic rubbers.. again obvious sustainability and environmental issues.
Hylo uses Natural Rubber, which is produced naturally, predominantly from the native Brazilian plant Hevea brasiliensis. It is renewable and bio-based.
In addition, it performs really well by increasing tear-resistance and working in tandem with the foot’s movement allowing the sole to move and flex in multiple directions.
Music to my ears!
The upper of the shoe is ALSO an issue, because it is made of synthetics like nylon or polyester.
Almost 30% of the upper of the Hylo shoe is made from Corn Fibre. Corn Fibre is a breathable, lightweight and quick-drying alternative to polyester; however, it retains the strength and resilience associated with its synthetic counterparts.
Derived from naturally-occurring plant sugars, Corn Fibre is a byproduct of corn production and is sourced from within 20km of the Hylo factory hub in Putian. It has a lower carbon footprint than petroleum-derived materials, such as polyester.
Bioformis a high-strength solution for firm structural support – it retains its shape and is able to withstand long-term flexing at the heel. Hylo uses this material for components like heel counters.
Minimum 39% Bio-based. Bioform is derived from renewable materials. It’s made using discarded plant matter such as leaves, stalks and cobs of maize. Any production waste from the manufacturing process is recycled back into the production onsite.
Organic cotton is used for the laces, back tab, even the woven label and covering of the insole.
GOTS Certified Organic Cotton emits 94% fewer greenhouse gases in production compared to conventional cotton. It uses less energy, no hazardous chemicals are applied and is waste-water treated.
Finally, BIOREL which is used in the internal corn-based reinforcement on both the medial and lateral sides of the Corn Runner. It is durable, comfortable and provides key support at significant pressure points while running.
Derived from renewable materials, Biorel is bio-based and biodegradable. During production, waste scraps are recycled.
One of the most commonly used products in shoe manufacture is ….. petroleum. Hylo uses no petroleum in its products. Petroleum can take hundreds of years to degrade, if at all, alongside releasing microfibres during use – and, more often than not, ends up in landfill. And just for good measure, it is fossil-based and carbon-emitting, releasing harmful gases into the atmosphere.
Hylo is also at the forefront of using different methods of adhesion from typical glues which are toxic and non-biodegradable.
As yet, no material meets all sustainability criteria while offering the properties required to meet the standard of performance we set for our running shoes.
However I cannot help but be hugely impressed with what Hylo Athletics has already achieved, and the fact that they have committed to solving sustainability and biodegradability issues with materials science innovation.
I have called out the Hylo Athletic Corn Runner as my #1 most important running shoe innovation of the last 20 years for one simple reason.
There is NOTHING more important than the world we live in and protecting it for our children and their children.
If we do not act now, there will be no nature left to run in…
At Bartold Clinical we will do what we can to continue to champion materials science innovation and support those companies prepared to invest in a better future for performance.
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