Adidas Parley trainers are made from recycled ocean plastic ©Anthony Cotsifas for Adidas
Adidas Parley trainers are made from recycled ocean plastic ©Anthony Cotsifas for Adidas

From old plastic to stylish trainer - the Adidas way

Avoid, intercept, design is the Adidas Parley take on reduce, reuse, recycle – and it has already stopped over 11 million plastic bottles reaching the ocean

Earlier this year, Adidas CEO Kasper Rorsted told CNBC that his company had achieved its aim of selling a million pairs of Ultraboost Uncaged Parley running shoes in 2017, following its launch of 7,000 limited edition pairs in 2016.

That’s 11 million plastic bottles that haven’t reached the ocean – and the German retailer plans to continue making more of the shoes, further cutting the use of virgin plastic in Adidas products. The trainers are made with thread spun from waste plastic, with midsoles that are 3D printed using recycled plastic.

Adidas first spoke of its Parley products at the COP21 climate conference in Paris, at the end of 2015. The company was keen to show its ability to rethink design, starting with limited collections and progressing to include recycled materials in upcoming ranges. Only one year later, when the trainers were launched, as well as pledging to sell a million pairs from the range, Adidas revealed the plan for its next recycled plastic range – football kits for Bayern Munich and Real Madrid.

“Our ultimate ambition is to eliminate virgin plastic from our supply chain,” said Eric Liedtke, executive board member of global brands.

In developing these products, Adidas works with Parley for the Oceans, a design initiative and global network that shares ideas and creates collaborative projects. As one of the founding members of the initiative, the retailer has signed up staff to the Parley Ocean School on the Maldives, where they learn about ocean stewardship and finding local solutions.

The Maldives is one of the coastal locations where the recycled plastic supply chain begins. Local Parley teams manage the collection of waste plastic and fishing net by partners, and transport it in bales to suppliers in Taiwan. The plastic haul they deliver is largely PET bottles, says Adidas. There it is shredded and recycled into fibres for yarn, ready to be used in the Adidas products. The Parley teams monitor working conditions along the supply chain, and Adidas demands that all tier one and two suppliers comply with the company’s social and environmental standards.

The Parley Ultraboost Uncaged trainers feature knitted uppers made from 95% recycled plastic waste, and 5% recycled polyester, plus recycled materials are part of the laces, heel, and sock liner cover. The company plans to make five million this year, with 80% recycled plastic in the upper material, Andre Maestrini, global head of running, told website Sole Collector.

Today Adidas features 27 products on its website in the Parley range, from swimwear and crop tops to Stella McCartney Ultraboost running shoes, all featuring Parley Ocean yarn. And Adidas is working on more innovations, including a shoe with a biodegradable fibre upper that, when finished with, you can put in the sink, add an enzyme, and watch dissolve in 36 hours, it claims.


Threat to thread

A pallet of “old, stinky, crab-entangled fishing net” was a big part of Kelli George’s involvement in Parley running shoes. As footwear material innovation manager, she was tasked with creating enough yarn from fishing nets into material to make uppers for 7,000 pairs. “One of the textile suppliers involved in Parley wanted to help, and they were interested in recycling fishing nets, which also damage fish and clog the oceans. This was something we’d never done ourselves, so we took all the help we could get,” she said. Working under time pressure, George worked through, problem solving in labs, washing nets in laundromats and revisiting her textile education.

“One of my proudest moments was receiving this beautiful teal green yarn,” she said. “This shoe has a story, and this story has a future, but more importantly, I hope these shoes will make people think about waste.”

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