The next time anyone tells you corporations cannot be soulful or environmentally conscious tell them to pick up a pair of the new Adidas x Parley eco-warrior sneakers, that began retailing this week.
Their raw material: several tons of plastic gathered from the shores of the Maldives by volunteers of Parley for the Oceans, young Eco Warriors who gathered up the plastic waste of the Indian Oceans; baled it and sent it on its way to a recycling plant.
Adidas and Parley unleashed their first shoe partnership two years ago. Its raw material: a 74-kilometer long fishing net, weighing 70 tons that was illegally tossed into the Ocean after a famous ocean-wide pursuit of an illegal tuna trawler by Captain Paul Watson.
Besides the materials, this week’s stylish new series also marks a subtle change. Not just in the source of the plastic – but also aesthetically, as Erman Aykurt, Senior Design Director for Adidas Originals, explains.
“Our initial focus was more using eco innovation to create a performance product. But as we learnt more, we moved to a new chapter of conveying the message to a broader audience. The product that we unveiled this season is visually harking back to the early 90s. It picks up the visual language of the 90s, when, in a very dominant, cluttered market for sportswear; adidas was looking to refocus their product. Back to the needs to the athletes and provide a little clarity,” explained Aykurt, the senior design director overseeing all adidas collaborative footwear projects.
The result was a minimalist tagline. “Everything that is essential nothing that is not.”
Named the EQT Support ADV, the Parley sneakers are fine tuned performance runners with a cool high-tech sock shape and recycled rubber outside, all finished with Parley repurposed plastic yarn.
Adidas and Parley unveiled their project in London, during last month’s Frieze art fair. Unveiling the new sneakers inside Nick Knight’s SHOWstudio in Westminster. It’s a bold all-white building in the shape of a small temple, which was once the home of James Bond author, Ian Fleming. As a blue plaque on the outside proudly boasts.
“Like with all collaborations we are in this for a long-term engagement. We have started a new dialogue with adidas originals. That’s why we chose this setting and why we are working with Frieze. To bring this story to life,” said Parley founder Cyrill Gutsch.
Over two years ago, Gutsch also teamed up with Pharrell Williams, who created a collection “Raw for the Oceans” for G-Star in Bionic Yarn – made of recycled plastic, collected from the sea. Since then, Gutsch has inked partnerships with designer Stella McCartney and the Corona beer brand from Mexico.
The actual pattern used in the decoration of the latest sneaker is similar to the first collab. “But we learned from the very first attempts that reinforcing a sock construction like that has the same effect as putting additional layers of material,” explained Gutsch.
In total, Parley collected 2,500 tons of plastic waste in the Maldives, and then used an agreement with major shipping companies to take away the trash in empty cargo ships. Since most ships import in consumer goods to the island nation, but leave the Maldives empty as they have little to export.
“The plastic is recycled in plants in Taiwan and Vietnam. At first plants would not take the plastic. Our material is often in very bad quality after all the sea erosion – finding an expert that would take it on was hard. Without the backing of adidas they would never have take it on,” conceded Gutsch.
Adidas produced some 10,000 pairs of each sneaker, which are currently priced at around 150 euros on the web.
“We want a big sell through – we don’t want these shoes to linger on shelves. That would devalue the project. We want them to be iconic shoes,” stressed Aykurt.
The next move: Adidas plans to remove all plastic from the production process and all adidas products, and even from all their canteens.
“This is not a government directive, adidas is doing it as they know it is right. We are at the beginning of a major trend. And people are discovering that they can find it cheaper to use less harmful materials. At the beginning, we defined a 10-year roadmap – and adidas decided to take out all micro beads out of their products. They said, ‘Let’s phrase out all plastic bags,” explained Gutsch.
Now, you don’t even find a plastic fork in Herzogenaurach anymore! They are ending all virgin plastic use,” said the German-born eco activist.
Gutsch called his eco movement Parley, as that means a negotiation – in this case with the sea. “It’s just a fact that we are killing everything out there – knowingly or unknowingly – very rapidly. Marine plastic pollution is killing all our oceans, and there is not much time left to stop that,” he concludes.
Images by Dean Martin Dale