Sports company Puma says it has turned an experimental version of its popular SUEDE sneaker, which incorporates hemp materials, into compost – under certain conditions.
In 2012, Puma took its first stable at making a compostable shoe, but that didn’t work out too well. But the company decided to try again in 2021 with the RE:SUEDE experiment. The RE:SUEDE sneaker features padding, sockliner filler and laces made of hemp bast fibre, which is sourced from the outer material of the stem of the hemp plant. The lining and sockliner cover was comprised of 55% hemp and 45% cotton. The upper is made with Zeology Suede and the outsole from TPE-E (thermoplastic elastomers).
Last year, 500 Puma fans in Germany put the shoes through their paces (so to speak) for six months. 412 pairs of shoes were returned to Puma to undergo composting. They were sent to an industrial composting facility where the sneakers were shredded and mixed with green household waste. The mix was treated with nutrient-rich water and subjected to customised composting conditions.
Puma said that after 18 weeks (~ 4 months), nearly all of the shoes had decomposed. The only part that needed longer was the sole.
The materials that were small enough (<10mm) to pass through a sieve were sold as compost for agricultural use, and the remainder returned for further composting. The duration for all materials to compost down to less than 10mm was approximately 6 months.
The experiment was part of PUMA’s “Circular Lab”, led by the company’s innovation and design experts, with the aim to create the future of the company’s circularity programmes. “Circularity” refers to economic, technical, and environmental systems designed to eliminate waste and maximise resource reuse.
“RE:SUEDE has given us a lot to learn from, celebrate and build on,” states Puma in the RE:SUEDE report. “The experiment proved that there is an appetite for RE:SUEDE, and we can make sneakers that people want to wear.”
As for the future of the sneaker, Chief Sourcing Officer at Puma Anne-Laure Descours said:
“We will continue to innovate with our partners to determine the infrastructure and technologies needed to make the process viable for a commercial version of the RE:SUEDE, including a takeback scheme, in 2024.”