Adidas and Volcom Make Fashion Statement out of Ocean Plastic Trash

Brands are recycling waste to develop the latest styles in shoes and swimwear.

Adidas shoe upper made entirely of recycled ocean plastic and gill nets; Volcom swimsuit. (Photos: Courtesy Adidas; courtesy Volcom)

Nov 10, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

The deluge of plastic polluting the world’s oceans is owing in part to the resiliency of the moldable, nearly indestructible materials used to create it. Water bottles, grocery bags, and nylon fishing nets persist far longer than we use them, and when they’re not properly recycled, they can end up killing marine life.

Now, sportswear companies are putting ocean trash back to work—recovering, recycling, and repurposing materials for use in shoes, jerseys, and swimsuits.

This month, Adidas is selling 7,000 pairs of running shoes made mostly of discarded plastic collected off the coast of the Maldives, and surf wear company Volcom has unveiled a women’s swimsuit line made from 78 percent recycled nylon materials, including abandoned fishing nets.

Adidas uses plastic retrieved by environmental group Parley for the Oceans during its cleanup expeditions. The material is upcycled into a yarn, which is weaved to create the upper—the part of the shoe that goes over the foot. That portion of the shoe is made up of 95 percent ocean plastic and 5 percent recycled polyester. The rest of the $120 shoe, including the lining, laces, and sole, is mostly made of recycled material.

Each pair of UltraBoost Uncaged Parley shoes contains the equivalent of 11 plastic water bottles, according to Adidas. The company has also developed a line of soccer jerseys made of recycled ocean plastic.

“But we won’t stop there,” Adidas executive board member Eric Liedtke said in a statement. “We will make one million pairs of shoes using Parley Ocean Plastic in 2017—and our ultimate ambition is to eliminate virgin plastic from our supply chain.”

If Adidas produces 1 million pairs of UltraBoost shoes in 2017, the equivalent of 11 million water bottles could be removed from the oceans next year. That’s a lot of water bottles, but it doesn’t put a dent in the 12 million tons of plastic trash that ends up in the ocean every year.

But if the upcycling-plastic practice is expanded throughout Adidas’ shoe line—which produced about 301 million pairs of shoes in 2015—the impact could become significant.

“At this point, it’s no longer just about raising awareness,” Cyrill Gutsch, founder of Parley for the Oceans, said in a statement. “It’s about taking action and implementing strategies that can end the cycle of plastic pollution for good.”

Adidas and Parley have partnered on sustainability efforts since 2015, which led to the removal of plastic bags from Adidas stores.

Volcom, a surf, skate, and snowboard apparel company, has announced a partnership with Italian yarn maker Aquafil to create a women’s swim wear line composed of 78 percent recycled nylon sourced from abandoned fishing nets.

The 2017 swimsuit line, called Simply Solid, ranges in price from $32 to $85.

“We wanted this collection to be more than beautiful patterns and functional pieces,” Lindsey Roach, head of women’s business at Volcom, said in a statement. “So the fact that it is made with recovered fishing nets creates a natural connection to surf culture, which fully understands the value of keeping the ocean clean.”

Aquafil makes the yarn, called Econyl, from nylon fishing nets collected from landfills and ocean cleanups. The company’s “regenerative system” recovers the nylon, creating material of a quality comparable to virgin nylon. But Econyl can be regenerated an infinite number of times without a loss in quality.

Giulio Bonazzi, chief executive of Aquafil, said global fiber consumption in the textile sector is expected to reach 96.4 million tons by 2020.

“We knew we needed to transform our traditional business model into a circular one in order to fulfill the challenges of a market that is rapidly changing,” Bonazzi said. “It is apparent that the linear waste stream in which products are manufactured, consumed, and disposed of is no longer sustainable.”

Aquafil’s product caught the eye of 11-time surfing world champion Kelly Slater, who left clothing sponsor Quiksilver in 2014 to start Outerknown, an apparel company that uses Econyl technology to weave board shorts out of reclaimed fishing nets.

Bonazzi told TakePart in an interview last year that the company is also working with apparel company Speedo and recycles 10 million pounds of fishing nets annually, mainly to make yarn for carpets. “Kelly’s group has a team that cares about sustainability,” said Bonazzi. “When Kelly Slater had this idea to launch this new start-up producing clothing, it was natural for us to work together.”

Some 640,000 tons of fishing gear are lost or abandoned each year, leading to the deaths of an untold number of fish, sharks, sea turtles, dolphins, and other wildlife.

Europe’s and the United States’ textile industries produce more than 1 million tons of nylon waste each year.

Initiatives like Volcom’s Simply Solid line could help reduce synthetic waste on the production side and remove harmful materials from the ocean environment at the same time.