Athletic apparel maker Reebok is bringing plant-based footwear to the market later this year under a “Cotton + Corn” sustainable products strategy developed by its Reebok Future group.
Specifically, the Reebok Future team’s aim is to create shoes “made from things that grow,” and not petroleum-based products that often are used today. The first release will be a shoe that has an upper comprised of organic cotton and a base originating from industrial-grown corn (a non-food source.)
For the Cotton + Corn initiative, Reebok partnered with DuPont Tate & Lyle Bio Products, a manufacturer of high-performance bio-based solutions that has developed petroleum-free, non-toxic bio-based product called Susterra propanediol, which is derived from field corn. Susterra propanediol is used to create the sole of the Cotton + Corn shoes.
The big athletic shoe brands sure do like to experiment with ecologically-friendly materials and alternative manufacturing techniques. Today, we have Reebok wanting to make shoes out of corn and cotton, but we also have seen Adidas make a shoe out of recycled ocean waste. Meanwhile, Adidas and Under Armour both have invested in 3D printing for use in manufacturing shoes.
It is not a surprise to see Reebok joining Adidas in using alternative materials to make shoes, given that the parent company of Adidas now owns the Reebok brand, and has been looking to goose its growth prospects recently. Perhaps the company believes that one way to do that is by having Reebok embrace a socially progressive agenda; we'll see if there is more of that to come.
It will also be interesting to see of the "cotton and corn" recipe for athletic shoes gets picked up by Adidas, too, or by other athletic shoe brands, for that matter. The abundance of these bio-based materials could make them a popular resource for shoe manufacturing.
Ditching petroleum-based products also is likely to be a popular move among consumers, or at least a certain segment of consumers. Although, it's fair to wonder if the segment of consumers who would notice and applaud this move by Reebok is the same segment that is actually interested in purchasing Reebok shoes. The athletic shoe market features a lot of mostly expensive limited-edition shoes that almost seem designed more to get attention than sell in large volumes. In this case, Reebok seems committed to produce multiple plant-based shoe models. But for it to stick to that plans, customers will need to do more than notice and applaud: They will need to buy.