Way back in 2004, Marc Newson and Nike collaborated on the Zvezdochka, a revolutionary sneaker made from four interchangeable parts:
The outer cage, the outsole, the innersleeve and the insole were all user-swappable.
The swappability was done mostly for style, but now Nike's ISPA (Improvise; Scavenge; Protect; Adapt) design team is revisiting the concept in the name of sustainability.
"This season, the ISPA team considered the circular design principle of 'disassembly,' or the ability to easily take a product apart to recycle its contents, one of the more challenging principles to implement in footwear design. A good shoe is flexible and durable. Traditionally, designers use glue and other bonding elements to achieve these aims, but that makes a shoe nearly impossible to disassemble and recycle. Recycling shoes usually requires shredding, an energy-intensive process that limits how the recycled materials can be used. Creating a shoe that can be taken apart would reduce the carbon footprint of the product and open up new possibilities for its life cycle."
The ISPA Link "features three interlocking modules, connected without glue, that can be taken apart and dropped off at Nike stores offering the Recycling & Donation service."
"The midsole is made up of pegs that fit into openings engineered into the upper. This makes for an exceptional fit that is comfortable, is stable and breathes well, according to the 40 athletes who logged some 200 hours in the prototype."
As you'd expect, a shoe made without glue also offers benefits during the manufacturing stage. "A pair of Links take about eight minutes to assemble—a fraction of the average time needed for a traditional sneaker—thanks to a custom-made manufacturing jig and the fact that the shoe doesn't require the time-intensive gluing process to construct its midsole. Finally, the assembly of the shoe is done without the need for conventional energy-intensive processes like cooling, heating and conveyer belt systems."
As crazy-looking as the Link is, the Link Axis goes even further:
"The Link Axis has a 100 percent recycled polyester Flyknit upper that's precisely engineered to fit over the outsole (compared to the traditional cut-and-sew method used for the Link), and its 100 percent recycled TPU tooling was achieved by using scrap airbag material."
The sneaker's cage is made from 20% recycled TPU. Why just 20%? "Because recycling changes some material properties, the cage is an exercise in balancing the desire to use recycled content with the need for durability and traction."
"Designed in partnership with engineering, digital product creation and development, these shoes are completely informed by method of make — it really is a case of form following function," says Darryl Matthews, VP, Catalyst Footwear Product Design. "Our hope is that these ideas and aesthetics become normalized, accelerating our ability to imagine how shoes will continue to evolve in the future."
The ISPA Link will debut this June, while the ISPA Link Axis are slated for release in 2023.
As we mentioned here, recycling is essentially failing in the U.S. To reverse the trend, more manufacturers need to step up like this and not only design their products for disassembly, but also to take responsibility for recycling them, as Nike's doing here.