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PUMA Releases 500 Compostable RE:SUEDE Sneakers For Sale

Photo Courtesy PUMA

In November 2023, PUMA announced it was able to compost an experimental suede sneaker successfully. A two-year pilot program saw 500 pairs of the iconic suede shoes be made from compostable materials, including hemp and a tanning suede called Zeology. Across Germany, 500 participants wore the RE:SUEDE shoes to test their durability and comfort. 

In April, the company announced the release of 500 of the RE:SUEDE sneakers for sale starting April 22. “RE:SUEDE 2.0 is an important step towards finding viable end of life solutions for our footwear,” said Anne-Laure Descours, PUMA chief sourcing officer.

Customers can return the RE:SUEDE 2.0s to PUMA for free once they are worn out. The company will then send them to its partners to be composted. Being eco-friendly pays off for the customers, who will receive a 20% discount on their next purchase in exchange for sending them in.

The sneakers were first created in 2021, with the pilot program starting in early 2022. Participants wore them twice a week for six months. After seeing how they performed on the streets, PUMA needed to find out if they could truly compost. Working with Ortessa Group in the Netherlands, the fashion brand found a way to shred and decompose the shoe. 

Nera Tanning, makers of the Zeology suede used, ensured this tanned suede was aldehyde-free and free of chrome and other heavy metals.

To turn the shoes into compost, they are shredded, mixed with household waste, and placed in a composting tunnel. The shredded mix is sprayed with leaching water and naturally heated in a controlled air circulation environment. After three and a half months, the materials are small enough to pass through a sieve and are sold as Grade A compost in the Netherlands.

Photo Courtesy PUMA     

“We learned a lot during the RE:SUEDE trial and how to streamline our industrial composting process to include items that need longer to turn into compost,” said Marthien van Eersel, manager of materials and innovations at Ortessa. “While all RE:SUEDE materials can decompose, the sole of the RE:SUEDE required more pre-processing and additional time in the composting tunnel to completely break down.” 

Fashion waste is one of the worst polluters in the world. Many clothes are made from petroleum-based materials, causing soil erosion and ecological degradation. Many still-wearable clothes wind up in landfills, and fast fashion causes these numbers to balloon. It is also an industry subject to changing trends in art and society. Brands and clothing go out of style fast.  

Studies show that the footwear industry creates about 43% of global greenhouse gas emissions. These mainly come from manufacturing, but according to The Guardian, 90% of old shoes end up in landfills. While many international aid organizations collect older footwear for impoverished countries, not all of them are suitable for wear. Thus, finding ways to recycle or break down inorganic materials is paramount. 

Photo Courtesy PUMA

Companies like Carbios in France have developed an enzymatic process to break down PET chemicals and reuse them for polyester-based garments. They’ve done this with old shoes and plan to open new plants in France next year. Reducing the extraction of raw materials for clothes would greatly reduce the rate of emissions. 

PUMA hopes RE:SUEDE will move the company closer to reaching its circularity goals. Waste reduction from shoes and clothes is a focal point.

Recycled materials are another. Compostable footwear is innovative in that it can be worn for years and turned into soil. 

PUMA also works with several young designers who specialize in sustainable clothing. The Voices of RE:Generation campaign is helping these entrepreneurs get started while emphasizing the importance of sustainability and a low carbon footprint. “Sustainability can’t be one-sided,” said Andrew Burgess, one of the beneficiaries. “You can’t have one brand calling the shots. I’m looking forward to sharing my take on how brands like PUMA can improve. It’s time our generation had a seat at the table.” 


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