In this golden age of sustainability branding, Converse has a scrappy, green vision for its Chuck Taylor shoes.
The brand today unveiled its latest initiative, the Converse Renew collection, that incorporates old denim, plastic bottles and recycled cotton canvas scraps from its own cutting room floors into its shoes. The shoes made of recycled PET will be available in stores from July 5, while the denim shoes will be available from August, and the recycled cotton shoes will go on sale from spring 2020, the company said.
The initiative, about four and a half years in the making overall, involved reimagining its signature designs in a way that still represents the brand’s ethos of self-expression, the company said.
“Emotional connection is a unique thing for our brand, and we continue to think about how we can continue to connect with our consumers in that way,” said Brandon Avery, Converse’s vice president of global innovation.
The Converse Renew Denim collection, for instance, builds individuality into each shoe because of the way it sources and incorporates the material, said Avery and Jessica L’Abbe, the senior director for color material and graphics at Converse. The shoes will be made with jeans and denim from North America headed to landfill, and sorted in a facility in India by Beyond Retro, a U.K.-based vintage and sustainable retail brand that Converse has teamed with. The denim is sorted into light, medium and dark wash categories, which essentially become the shoes’ colorways.
“There’s no dyeing, you’re using that piece of denim how it was worn,” L’Abbe said. “The result here is that every denim Chuck is different, so it’s highly personal even at scale.”
Turning jeans into shoes also meant rethinking familiar processes, L’Abbe said. Fabrics are usually purchased in bolts that are rolled out and cut at the factory, whereas worn jeans come in their own shapes. “There was that head-scratching moment when jeans started showing up at the factory,” L’Abbe said. “But then we started looking at denim the same way as we looked at leather hide.”
To create its PET shoes, Converse partnered with First Mile, formerly known as Thread International, which purchases plastic bottles from developing countries. The goal was to turn plastic bottles collected in Taiwan by First Mile into a material for its Converse Renew Canvas shoes, which are made with 100 percent recycled polyester from used plastic bottles. The challenge lay in re-creating the warmth and the touch of the canvas of a Chuck Taylor, so the firm experimented with multiple yarn constructions until it landed close to the look and softer feel of the traditional Converse canvas, said Avery and L’Abbe.
The Renew Cotton collection is the product of a proprietary Converse process to use recycled cotton canvas scraps collected from its own canvas creation process. Polyester is added to strengthen the material, L’Abbe said.
Nike, which owns Converse, said in its impact report for fiscal year 2018 that more than 90 percent of its cotton is used by Nike brand apparel, socks, and Converse footwear. Nike brand apparel sustainably sourced 68 percent of its cotton in fiscal year 2018, while that figure for Converse-branded apparel was 67 percent, according to the report. Nike defines sustainable cotton “as certified organic, recycled and Better Cotton Initiative certified cotton.” The Better Cotton Initiative is a group that sets cotton production standards.
Nike Inc.’s target is to source 100 percent sustainable cotton by 2020, according to a Converse representative, who said “Converse and Nike are tracking to achieve that target.”
“People love Chucks because they change over time, and they often say they get better over time,” said L’Abbe. “It’s about their personal experience and their connection to their Chucks.”