“Sustainability” is often aligned with the adoption of emerging technologies or contemporary design concepts. But for footwear companies such as Vivobarefoot, its mission to create the most sustainable shoe in the world is wholly founded on getting back to basics.
Its minimalist shoe concept replicates what might have been the oldest shoe 3.6 million years ago, as the brand purports that the earliest footwear was more like a glove for feet. Vivobarefoot asserts that padding and orthotics do not add support to the foot and that its wider shoe and ultra-thin, puncture-resistant, flat sole is a more natural, tactical approach to footwear.
Leading with this basic framework for its design, the firm also incorporates natural, recycled and bio-based materials into its product lines. In fact, the company said it aims to use 90 percent sustainable materials across its entire product range by 2020 and is nearing 70 percent as of 2018.
Its material engineers created a number of “first-ever” products, such as its algae-based “Bloom” foam, which introduces the first sustainable alternative to synthetic and petrochemical EVA in the market, the company said. The use of algae biomass “helps offset the significant use of petroleum ingredients found in conventional flexible foams,” Vivobarefoot reported. Other material technologies include its “winterproof” feature, which incorporates sealed seams and thermal insulation to create a weather-proofed upper, inclusive of a thermal insole that amalgamates its Outlast thermal regulator technology, reflective foil and insulating foam to enable 3 times the thermal protection of a normal insole, according to the firm.
And earlier this month the company debuted its latest “vegan” line, which diverts approximately 17 plastic bottles from landfills and into a new pair of barefoot shoes for each pair manufactured. Its process involves the collection of used plastic bottles that are transformed into yarn and subsequently used in high performance, durable materials for footwear. Sustainable styles include black Primus Lite, Primus Trail Soft Ground and Firm Ground, Primus Swimrun and Gobi Swimrun.
Galahad Clark, the founder and managing director of Vivobarefoot, told Footwear News, “When we started Vivobarefoot we were told we were making shoes ‘wrong’: they were too thin, too wide — not enough toe spring. But we knew that conventional shoes hurt the movement of feet and often demand production processes that hurt the environment, too. Sustainable design has to be fit for purpose. And fit for the planet.”
Clark added, “We believe sustainable shoe making ‘is’ barefoot shoemaking. Shoes that allow our feet to do their natural thing: make you feel more human, connect with nature and ask important ethical questions. Sustainability is about much more than materials — it’s about the use of a product and the impact that the product has on somebody’s life. There are some great shoes out there that get better with age and your feet literally mold to them, so you can enjoy wearing and repairing them for many years. But even this is the wrong way ’round — the shoe should take the shape of your feet. Not the other way around.”
Vivobarefoot’s minimalist aesthetic is how the company positions it from competing footwear brands — part of its sustainability credo is to use less material. “We have a number of projects in the works to help us become the most sustainable shoe brand, globally,” Clark said. “This starts with how we manufacture the shoes, using natural materials like Algae and Plant TPU, but also goes far beyond that. To be truly sustainable we need to use as little material as possible and ensure the shoes are durable.”
“The manufacturing process also has to be sustainable and transparent, as does the way we bring it to market,” Clark explained. “And alongside just making great foot-shaped shoes, we also support indigenous cobblers around the world — for thousands of years, all shoes were made foot by foot from local materials (this is true sustainable shoe-making), and we hope to play a small part in not letting it die out.”