LONDON — These shoes are made for walkin’ — and for compost.
Nicholas Kirkwood, who’s been figuring out ways to improve the impact of shoe manufacturing on the planet, is asking customers to return their worn-out Beya flats, loafers and mules so that he can rip them apart, and start again.
To mark Earth Day on Thursday, he’ll be launching the Beya Second Life Project, which will see customers trade in their pointy-toe Beyas — no matter how old they are — online, and receive credit against their next purchase.
Kirkwood’s company will dismantle the shoes, compost some of the pieces and recycle others. It will also tap into its network of artists and creatives to upcycle some of the components, giving them a second life.
“We want to enable our customers to make a more sustainable choice when it comes to the end of their shoes’ life,” the company said.
Manufacturing shoes involves lots of unnecessary waste, and relies on chemicals, glues, raw materials and processes that are damaging to the environment.
Old, worn-out shoes are also difficult to recycle, as they are made up multiple components, many of which are plastic. That’s why they tend to end up in landfills.
The Beya Second Life Project, which will be available to customers in the U.K. and the U.S., is one of many green initiatives Kirkwood’s company is undertaking.
The company has, over the past year, overhauled its design and development process, focusing on natural and compostable materials.
Some 80 percent of the spring 2021 collection has been made with “conscious, low-impact materials,” such as Nature-L leather, and woven hemp. The company said that 100 percent of the collection uses one or more sustainable internal components.
The company said that from Earth Day onward it will also be planting 10 trees for every pair of shoes sold on the brand’s website. It has partnered with Eden Reforestation projects, which will be planting the trees all year round across eight countries.
Earlier this year the company committed to donating one percent of its annual revenue to environmental causes, and it also became a Climate Neutral Certified brand. Climate Neutral is a nonprofit organization that works with brands and consumers to decrease global greenhouse gas emissions.
A Central Saint Martins graduate, Kirkwood launched his brand in 2005 and quickly became known for his use of unconventional materials and techniques that marry traditional crafts with cutting-edge technology.
Kirkwood has also embraced sustainable materials and processes and is working toward making his luxury footwear entirely from plant-based, food industry waste.
“It’s a pipe dream, but there’s a very strong chance the technology will go there. A lot of it is there already,” Kirkwood told WWD in an interview last year.
The designer said he is hoping to ply cactus, bamboo, or apple-core waste into leathers that can match the quality and aesthetics of calfskin.
To mark Earth Day in 2019, he reimagined his Beya mule as a slingback for Net-a-porter, working with recycled denim and leather uppers that underwent a toxin-free, chrome tanning process.
Insoles for that collection were created with 100 percent recycled carton cardboard, while the leather-covered block heels were made of ontano wood, which can be dried naturally rather than with chemicals.
Spring 2021 is also the first time the shoes’ uppers are made from fully biodegradable materials, such as organic silk, wool, hemp, suede and nappa leather. The shoes also have recycled soles and biodegradable linings, which Kirkwood has used in past designs.
Kirkwood believes he’s made big leaps in the last two to three years, testing everything from glues and backings to production techniques.