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Never-ending trainers could be designed by their wearers – Glenn Bennett, adidas

New trainers could be made from discarded ones. Image courtesy of adidas

At this year’s Olympics, athletes will compete in tailor-made trainers designed to help them perform better. With a research programme named Sports Infinity, consumers can now design their own sport shoe, one that never has to be thrown away, that is, according to Glenn Bennett, Executive Board Member of adidas AG.

What exactly is the EU-funded Sports Infinity project (previously known as WRAP)?

‘It aims to identify and develop innovative, partly waste-based, long-fibre reinforced composites, enabling the automatic production of easily customisable sports goods.

‘The production process itself involves automated moulding which has the capacity to bond together a multitude of different materials to give the product its shape without the use of glue or other adhesives. The material used for production will be developed using recycled waste as well as recyclable material. So the football boots of the future could contain everything from carbon used in aircraft manufacturing to fibres of the boots that scored during the World Cup.’

How would consumers actually recycle a pair of Sport Infinity shoes?

‘Sport Infinity looks into creating a sporting product out of an innovative 3D shapeable recycled material. So once your football boot reaches the end of its life, you can bring it back to be broken down, remade into raw material, allowing you to design it into your shiny new customised boots or even a football. The new production process allows for greater design and customisation flexibility. Consumers can decide what they want from a product in terms of features, look, feel and material based on what they really want and need. As you can see, consumers become co-creators and will co-design with us to keep up with the latest trends or to react to on-pitch needs. In this way, every pair of boots is not just recycled but reimagined to the consumer’s most personal specifications.

‘To make sure this isn’t just a great concept, but actually works, we are working closely with young athletes across different countries so that they can deliver their feedback – ensuring that Sport Infinity products are matching expectations of our target consumers in regards to performance as well as look and feel.’

What are the sustainability challenges in making shoes?

‘The footwear and apparel industry is one of the largest industries in the world, producing billions of pieces every year. These products are made from a mix of materials, including virgin (new), recycled, bio-based, organic and renewable materials. At this point, most post-consumer waste ends up in landfills or is incinerated; however, the industry in general is moving towards more recycled materials and better recycling options including take-back programs and re-use of materials, which will decrease the volume of materials (and) products being sent to landfills.’

Do you think consumers are driving this change?

‘Our consumers increasingly desire to take part in creation processes; they are socially and environmentally conscious and, in a digital world, fast access to a desired product is essential to them. This means that future manufacturing solutions of sports and fashion products will have to be fast, flexible and well embedded into the digital and cultural space. To meet these demands, it is important for us to be at the forefront of innovation and technology across all categories. This will ultimately enable us to continue to provide consumers with disruptive products and features in a sustainable manner. Sport Infinity is a great example of how to approach this challenge.’

‘The football boots of the future could contain everything from carbon used in aircraft manufacturing to fibres of the boots that scored during the World Cup.’

Glenn Bennett, Executive Board Member, adidas AG

What other innovations do you foresee that will make sportswear more sustainable?

‘We are continuously searching for new ways to make better products and to innovate manufacturing techniques. Our partnership with Parley for the Oceans, an organisation in which creators, thinkers and leaders come together to raise awareness about the state of the oceans and to collaborate on projects that can protect and conserve them, went through the roof in 2015 and continues in doing so in 2016. As founding member, adidas supports Parley for the Oceans and has created a world first with a shoe upper made entirely of recycled ocean plastic and gillnets.

‘At the same time, we are driving towards closed-loop solutions. To achieve this, we invest in R&D for materials, processes and innovative product solutions which will allow us to upcycle (recycle into something better) materials and reduce waste.’

So it makes economic sense for adidas to pursue sustainability?

‘Sustainability is becoming more attractive for both companies and consumers as they are increasingly aware of environmental topics such as climate change and pollution and understand that their choices have a direct impact on these environmental problems. The consumer’s perception of sustainability is changing. Over the last years we have seen significant progress in integrating sustainability thinking and acting into our core business practice. Our status quo today is a strong baseline for moving our performance to the next level. Sport Infinity is another big step in our commitment to innovation and sustainability.’

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