The Adidas x Parley sneaker.

The Adidas x Parley sneaker

Strung together from the mounds of plastic waste accumulating in oceans every year, these new Adidas sneakers are working to clean up our oceans one pair at a time. The sneakers are a result of the collaboration between Adidas and Parley for the Oceans, an environmental group who works to raise awareness about ocean pollution and collaborate on projects to protect our oceans’ wellbeing.

The Prototype

Adidas released a rough prototype of the sneaker last summer, however, it was by no means ready to be placed on shelves. Alexander Taylor, an industrial designer who works with Adidas, said, “It was a functional shoe in that you could put it on,” – although not necessarily the standards Adidas holds itself to. But a year later, Adidas and Parley for the Oceans have upped their model, releasing a limited edition 50 pairs of their new and improved sneaker, which meet the same standards as the rest of the athletic gear. This new shoe is comfortable and functional, unlike the stiff model previously released.

The New Sneaker Design

Threads made from the plastic are strung into the upper of the shoe.

Threads made from the plastic are strung into the uppers of sneakers

Unlike most of the shoes on the market, these sneakers are made from recycled ocean material. The upper part of the shoe (the part that covers the top of your foot) is made completely out of recycled plastic – around 16 plastic bottles and 13 grams of plastic from gill nets go into the creating this piece of the shoe. The only part of the shoe that contains non-recycled material is the Adidas formulated foam pellet Boost sole, which contains thermoplastic polyurethane. The sole then gets fused to the upper of the shoe using biowaste-powered steam.

The Materials Used in the Sneakers

There were two distinct types of plastic used to create the shoes: PET and nylon from gill nets.

PET, or Polyethylene Terephthalate, is most widely used to create water and soda bottles. It’s known for being flexible, strong, lightweight, and 100% recyclable. It is also fairly soft and easier to melt and recreate into fibers than other plastics.

Gill nets before they are processed into threads.

Gill nets are processed into threads to be used in the upper of the sneaker

Utilizing the nylon was more challenging than the PET because the gill nets that the nylon came from brought their own set of difficulties. To begin with, there was the odor associated with gill nets. As their name implies, gill nets are created with the intention of trapping fish by their gills. So not surprisingly, recycled gill nets are going to smell like rotting fish. The nets have to go through an intensive cleaning process to rid them of their fishy stench. Even after the smell is removed, the transformation from gill net to sneaker is a lengthy process. Gill nets are designed using heavy-duty nylon in order to withstand the saltiness and sheer power of the ocean waves. In order for the nets to be soft enough to string into shoes, they have to be crushed into a powder and extruded to form fibers. This last step (powder to fiber) requires expensive machinery. The partnership between the small ocean advocacy group with limited resources and the large sportswear company with immense capital facilitates this costly and highly technical process of turning ocean garbage into shoes.

Parley’s Plastic Collection Sites

The locations Parley chooses for it’s plastic collection are selected with purpose. They partner with smaller countries whose economies are especially hit by plastic pollution – those being countries that are heavily supported by fisheries and tourism businesses. Parley’s first location was the Maldives, however, more recently, they have added Grenada and Jamaica into their loop. When Parley representatives arrive at these locations, they meet with business owners to clean up plastic dumps sites. After the clean up and collection is complete, they sort and process the plastic into pellets. Lastly, Parley ships the pellets off to apparel companies for use in their products.

Parley’s Mission

Cyrill Gutsch, Parley's founder

Cyrill Gutsch, Parley’s founder

Parley wasn’t always an environmental organization. Cyrill Gutsch, Parley’s founder, began as a branding consultant. He converted his agency from design to environmentalism after learning the threats our oceans face due to plastic pollution. Parley now aims to educate other creative businesses on how they can repurpose ocean plastic into desired goods, as well as coming up with alternative materials to plastic in our daily use. Although he himself got on board easily, Gutsch found it hard to gain support and rally others to promote marine conservation. According to Gutsch, “People just couldn’t believe that oceans could be so vulnerable.”.

“We need to reinvent plastic,” Gutsch says. “We have to redesign the material, and question some of the product categories. We want to invent our way out of this.”

Gutch acknowledges his ideals are not easy to obtain. With plastic being so widely used, convincing companies to come up with a more environmentally friendly, biodegradable material to use instead will not be easily done. It will take dedication and perseverance to the cause to see the change Parley wants to see.

The Future

In the future, Gutsch hopes that recycled plastic will be a natural choice for designers – especially new, young designers. He is hoping that Parley’s recent partnership with Parsons School of Design in New York hopefully will facilitate this end goal. The Adidas x Parley sneaker is just the beginning. Rumor has it that one of Adidas’s franchises is getting on board with recycled marine plastic before the end of 2016.


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Image Sources:

Cover Photo:

Close-up Shoe:

Gill Net:

Cyrill Gutsch: