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November 5, 2021

Puma to pilot biodegradable Re:Suede sneaker

German sportswear company Puma has developed an experimental version of its Suede sneaker to make it biodegradable.

By Beth Wright

Puma says its aim is to meet the growing demand for sustainable products for a better future. The Re:Suede will be made from more sustainable materials such as Zeology tanned suede, biodegradable TPE and hemp fibres.

Designed to help address the challenge of waste management in the footwear industry, Puma describes the experiment as a pilot in circularity that will allow it to take more responsibility when it comes to tackling the ‘after life’ of its products.

The pilot will launch in January 2022, offering 500 selected participants in Germany the chance to join Puma on its experimental journey towards circularity.

In partnership with Puma, participants will wear the Re:Suede for six months to test out the durability of a product using biodegradable materials in real life, before sending them back to Puma via a take-back infrastructure. The idea is to move the products to the next step in the experiment. The sneakers will then be subject to an industrial biodegradation process in a controlled environment at Valor Compostering, owned by Ortessa Groep, a family-run business of waste specialists in the Netherlands. The goal of this step is to determine if Grade A compost can be produced for agricultural use. The findings will help Puma assess the biodegradable process and unpick essential research and development for the future of sustainable shoe consumption.

The Re:Suede experiment is the first circular programme to launch under Puma’s “Circular Lab” – a new innovation hub, which is led by Puma’s sustainability and design experts who work to develop the future of the company’s circularity programmes.

The pilot follows Puma’s first attempt to create a biodegradable sneaker in 2012 as part of its InCycle collection. After four seasons, the sneaker was discontinued due to low demand and the need for further research and development.
Since then, Puma’s innovation department has worked to address the technological limitations of the InCycle collection and apply its learnings to the Re:Suede experiment. Improvements include the use of new, innovative materials such as Zeology suede, which is made using a more sustainable tanning process and ensures better comfort for the wearer, when compared to other biodegradable materials evaluated at Puma. The outsole of the Re:Suede has also been improved to ensure optimal wear.
“In 2012, our circular ambition was bold but the technology wasn’t quite there. As they say, with every challenge there’s an opportunity – and we’ve continued to push ourselves to do better by applying our strengths as well as acknowledging and improving on our weaknesses,” says Heiko Desens, Puma’s creative director.
“We hope that progress made during the Re:Suede experiment: ‘No Time For Waste‘ will help us continue to raise the bar in circularity testing – enabling our consumers to make better fashion choices in the future, so their sneakers can go ‘from Suede to Soil’, without compromising on product style or durability during ownership.”
Rob Meulendijks, CEO of Ortessa adds: “As a family-owned challenger in the waste industry, we pride ourselves in creating surprising innovations and fresh concepts to tackle real waste issues in a different and open way. There is a lot more we can all be doing to help tackle waste management, but taking on that challenge alone can be a difficult task for any brand. We are delighted to be working in partnership with Puma on this special project, where we can apply our deep knowledge and insights on waste, use tried and controlled methods, to assess the biodegradability of the future, next-generation Suede.”
Puma aims to share the results and insights gained from this experiment within the industry to achieve an even bigger impact when it comes to addressing the challenge of waste management in the footwear industry in general. Circularity is one of the pillars of Puma’s ‘Forever Better’ sustainability strategy. By 2025, Puma aims to reduce waste by increasing the level of recycled polyester in its products to 75%, setting up product takeback schemes in its major markets, and developing recycled material options for leather, rubber, cotton and polyurethane.

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