Cole Haan is giving flower power new meaning.
As more and more brands search for more sustainable materials, the footwear company has found a solution in rubber made from dandelions. And the garden-sourced component is making its debut in a shoe that drops Thursday.
The brand’s first sustainable shoe — a green take on its customer favorite Generation Zerogrand (a lower priced sneaker that has helped Cole Haan court a younger customer in this era of casualization) — the Generation Zerogrand II comes complete with the patent-pending FlowerFoam outsole.
Its “natural design approach” — beyond its focus on natural motion, responsive cushioning, energy return and breathability, according to Cole Haan brand president David Maddocks — centers its material selection on going first to nature “to see if there’s a naturally derived material,” then to recycled materials and on to traditional materials as a last resort. Following that approach, the design team discovered dandelion rubber — or rather, rediscovered it.
“There’s actually been a long history of dandelion rubber when there were shortages of rubber in World War II and there are some people, like Continental Tire and some other folks, who are doing some experimentation with dandelion rubber, but we found it to have incredible properties. It’s incredibly lightweight, it’s really amazing cushioning and great rebound and energy return, all properties you want in footwear,” Maddocks said. “It delivered the properties that we wanted to deliver with this particular product and we have patented that application. So, to our knowledge, we’re the first to do that in footwear.”
The innovative kicks incorporate a “minimum of 25 percent natural dandelion rubber” extracted from the roots of the dandelion, though Maddocks said “we’ll always try to shoot for more.” The rest, for now, is traditional EVA, a synthetic material, but Cole Haan’s aim with the new outsole is to “reduce our reliance on synthetic materials.”
“Outsole materials deliver a combination of cushioning, energy return and durability. And you have to consider the wear of the product over its lifetime,” Maddocks explained. “As we learn more by working with this groundbreaking compound and listening to our customers, we will continue to work toward surpassing our minimum standard.”
Uppers on the Generation Zerogrand II are vegan microfiber suede made from 21 percent recycled content, plus repurposed felt made of 85 percent recycled plastic bottles, or rPET. Laces are 100 percent rPET, the Ortholite Hybrid footbed counts 5 percent recycled rubber, 15 percent production waste foam and a fabric top sheet that’s also 100 percent rPET.
A lot goes into lessening impact, but it’s a commitment Cole Haan is making official — both with its FlowerFoam shoe and its new Change Forward initiative for sustainable innovation and natural design, also unveiled Thursday.
All Cole Haan products with a “sustainable” label now will include a minimum of 25 percent (by the shoe’s weight) naturally derived or recycled content for product components. Change Forward also includes a broad commitment to reduce supply chain waste as well as embrace recycled materials for packaging and shipping cartons. And it serves as “an internal invitation to our employees,” Maddocks said, to look for — and suggest — new ways of innovating their processes for sustainable improvement across the company. What it doesn’t include at this stage is any set or specific targets.
“The program is really just formalizing with this announcement [and]…we’ve always sort of [had a] let’s do the right thing [approach] but now we’re formalizing that,” Maddocks said. “We might one day announce specific, measurable targets, but right now it’s a statement of our intention and the Generation Zerogrand II is the first proof point to that intention.”
The sustainable shoe will be available Thursday on the brand’s website and in select retail locations in the U.S. and abroad, in multiple colorways — including black, white, blue and pink — and in men’s and women’s sizes. The Generation Zerogrand II will retail for $130, just $10 more than the first generation of this style.
And according to Maddocks, this sustainable innovation is the first of many for Cole Haan.
“We’re learning every day, we’re seeing where we have opportunities for continued improvement, continued learning. Certainly, we’ll make errors as everyone does, in which case we’ll correct them and move forward,” he said. “I have the benefit of looking at product creation for the next two years coming and the only thing I can say is, people should keep their eyes open for what’s on the horizon.”