The idealistic quest for compostable shoes

February 5.2024




As an attempt to stop the millions of shoes that end up in landfills every year, some designers think that 3D printed, made-to-measure, compostable shoes that will decompose at the end of their lives will be the next big thing in sustainable footwear.

The fashion industry is one of the most polluting in the world. Its production accounts for about 10% of global carbon emissions and consumes vast amounts of land and water. According to industry experts, modern shoes are among the hardest products to produce sustainably due to their complexity and the lack of reliable statistics regarding the amount produced annually for the world’s population.


Because most shoes are composed of a mix of synthetic fabric, rubber, plastic, metal, and strong adhesives, they are very difficult to discard. Most of them will most likely wind up in a landfill after being used, where it could take hundreds of years for them to break down.

Today, prototypes of Vivobarefoot’s new compostable model are being developed in collaboration with Balena, a material science, and shoe company located in London. The shoes aren’t available for purchase yet but after they are made using in-store foot scans, printing will take thirty hours. Then when the shoes wear out, their patented material will be composted at an industrial facility to create a non-toxic substance.





“We are trying to build a regenerative footwear business in an industry that is pretty famous for exploration, extraction, and short-termism,” says Asher Clark, a co-founder of Vivobarefoot. “This is about reimagining the way things are done from linear, offshore production to the world’s first scan-to-print-to-soil footwear. It is a vision for cutting out a lot of waste in supply chains and providing an end-of-life solution for the footwear industry.” Clark also stated that the shoes’ sustainability —which will set you back between £260 and £280 at retail—have also limitations as they are made of a patented thermoplastic called BioCir flex, which contains 49% petrochemicals and 51% biological materials. It cannot be left on a compost pile at the end of the garden to break down; instead, it needs to be brought to a composting facility.





At the same time a non-profit British Footwear Association’s Polly Lythall, a manager of business development, claims that moving production facilities to China and India has driven up the price of environmentally friendly alternatives. She claims that even with the popularity of new materials, leather is still a good choice because of its strength and reparability as it is resilient and repairable despite certain negative environmental effects. “One of the most environmentally friendly shoe options is still a well-made leather shoe. You can have the leather repaired and resolved,” claims Lythall. Leather is ultimately a byproduct of the meat industry and would otherwise be wasted.

“The majority of vegan materials are much higher in oil content and were most likely imported from China” she added. “It is very difficult for our members and partners to navigate because there are no regulations. Nothing stipulates that a shoe can be recognized as sustainable if it doesn’t have X or Y stamps. But at the moment nothing is there”.










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Moda Vietnam is a cluster, which aims to bring together all businesses and entities linked to the sector of Textile, Fashion, Home Décor.