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Walk the green way

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Walk the green way

Mail Today assesses the environmental impact of the footwear industry and how it's finally trying to become more sustainable.

Take a look at your shoe closet. If you're one among the many fashionistas we know, you'll notice (with pride, of course) that the pairs of footwear you have there is more than the number you realise you own. In fact, for months in a row, you might not have even considered wearing some of the pieces you've picked up during a Zara or an H&M sale. Did you know, once these pieces are discarded for being untrendy or worn out, they're dumped in the landfill? The waste from the footwear industry is what we both the industry and consumer need to pay attention to.

A report by Portugal-based World Footwear mentioned that the global footwear production in 2017 reached 23.5 billion pairs, and that number has increased tremendously in the last two years. While the apparel industry is the world's second-biggest industrial polluter, behind oil, footwear is said to constitute onefifth of the total environmental impact from it. The behemoths of the footwear industry have established themselves on the backs of unsustainable methods. However late, the industry has now woken up to this fact, and global key players are trying to clean up their act, one pair at a time.

IT IS important to notice that the waste from the footwear industry is not just from the shoe but from the supply chain. Synthetic materials and toxic glue used in shoes are harmful to the environment. More so, the stages that go in shoemaking are detrimental chemicals and oils used for raw material extraction and processing of materials, and the amount of plastic used in packaging the product has high environmental impact. Shweta Nimkar, owner of a PETA-certified brand named Paio, that crafts vegan shoes says, An estimate of 300 million pairs of shoes end up in landfills every year. Experts have estimated that it would take roughly 50 years for each pair of shoe to decompose. Nimkar adds that during this time, the chemicals and glues used to craft these shoes are released into the environment and affect soil, water and air.

Over the years, major players from the footwear industry have taken note of the need of the hour adopting ethical measures in footwear making. Luxury labels such as Stella McCartney, other highend one's such as Meghan Markle's favourite French brand Veja, performance footwear brands Adidas, Nike, Reebok, and even fast-fashion brands such as Reformation, are some companies that have moved their focus towards turning eco-friendly. That apart, international brands FEIT, nae vegan shoes, Allbirds (Leonardo DiCaprio is an investor), Emma Watson's favourite label Good Guys Don't Wear Leather, among others, have given immense competition to the earlier mentioned brands.

With the introduction of 2019 Parley range of shoes, they'll produce a landmark 11 million pairs of shoes using upcycled marine plastic waste. Matthias Ann, sen
ior product director, FTW, Adidas mentions, Every minute, the equivalent of a dump truck of plastic waste enters our oceans and by 2050, there may be more plastic than fish in the world's oceans. Since 2015, Adidas has been fighting against this crisis as a founding member of Parley for the Oceans. When we asked Matthias if, given the various processes of shoemaking, these shoes are 100 per cent sustainable, he mentions, Yes, indeed. Each piece is created from upcycled plastic waste, spun into a yarn. The pioneering new dyeing technique called Pro-Dye has been created to reduce the environmental impact in the manufacturing process.

In India, brands such as Neeman's and Paaduks have tried to make a change in their own way. With no background in shoemaking, former computer engineer Jay Rege started Paaduks with his wife Jyotsna. Rege, whose brand uses discarded tyres to create shoes mentions, We try to use discarded fabric as much as possible, but there are many practical problems involved in shoemaking. We're not a 100 per cent green product; that said 30 per cent is made of reused materials.

Neeman's co-founder Taran Chhabra, whose brand uses 100 percent merino wool to make shoes (they're launching a line for women in two months) says, We wanted to create a comfortable shoe that's also stylish.

Of course, companies such as Adidas and Nike cater to people looking for quality performance footwear with great longevity. But people generally look for trenddriven, cost-effective options. Nimkar, whose vegan brand Paio (not 100 per cent sustainable) is crafted using fabrics such as cottons, jute, talks about consumer culture, When customers enter a store, they look at buying products that make them feel attractive and provide comfort. If these qualities meet the right price point, it finalises a consumer's buying decision. It's important for companies to recognise that such products are not just for the green consumer' but is needed to positively alter environmental impact. Also, as a consumer, before we stuff our shoe closets, we must realise how our unused shoe will negatively affect us in the years to come.