While many of us up here in the Pac NW breathe a sigh of relief that Nau's grand experiment in green apparel is getting a second chance, another major entrant in the category is just gearing up. END Footwear stands for "Environmentally Neutral Design," and like Nau, it's got an illustrious Nike alum on board, it's got a deep commitment to sustainable manufacturing practices, and it's got a cool logo with three letters in the name. The major difference is that where Nau took high-performance outdoor wear and made it calmer, sleeker and greener, END is working the same voodoo on shoes.
In a brief profile from last week, local paper The Oregonian takes a cautiously optimistic view of END's chances for success. Already in existence for a year, the company hasn't yet sold a single shoe, but has managed to rack up US$1.5 million in investment, and a commitment from major US outdoor retailer REI to carry their line in stores and on their heavily trafficked website.
Interviews with other environmentally-minded shoe guys reveal that there are plenty of obstacles to getting it right. Recycled rubber, for example, makes for a notoriously low-performance shoe, according to one former sustainability director at Nike, meaning that anything with a swoosh on the side tops out at 7% recycled outsole content. END is hoping to push that higher, but it's quite the technical challenge.
Where they do seem to be getting it right is in finding their target market and hammering on it hard. Price points are projected in the $60 to $90 range, making them a viable alternative for the 20- and 30-somethings most likely to let environmental concerns flavor their buying decisions, and the aesthetic is spare and earth-toned without going super-crunchy (see the Men's Stumptown 12oz, above). With some luck and some marketing savvy, these two companies might end up finally breaking sustainable style for the mainstream; they certainly seem to be learning quickly from past obstacles.
END shoes go on sale August 1.