While recent years have seen practically all major sneaker manufacturers ramping up their sustainability initiatives, each brand takes its own spin on what it means for a shoe to be eco-friendly. Reground soles, recycled knit yarns, and post-consumer plastic have been common avenues for designers to take when injecting sustainable design into their shoes, but it’s been so far less-common for companies to interrogate the impact of color dyeing, a process which often uses immense amounts of water. New Balance is here to change that.
In the lead up to this weekend’s release of a gorgeous, entirely undyed New Balance 327, Modern Notoriety was lucky enough to hear from the model’s designers on how the shoe came together and how they saw its place in the current landscape of sustainable fashion.
MN: We saw the use of vegan-friendly leather alternatives with JADEN’s Vision Racer, now the forgoing of dye in this new 327. What other methods of sustainable manufacturing have been discussed?
NB: One of the best things we can do is to design footwear in a way that reduces the impact before we even begin. The 327 is a great example of a design that reduces the number of parts in the shoe and allows for uncomplicated materials as with un-dyed. Choosing better materials is a big focus across product, whether that’s regenerative cellulosic textiles, better leather like chrome-free chemistry or sourcing from LWG-rated tanneries, or using materials with a high recycled content. I think having the passion to learn about sustainability and to make the right design choices is a huge part of it; our designers are excited about innovations and materials that can reduce impact and it’s exciting to see it come to life with projects like un-dyed and the Vision Racer.
– Alex Carlson, Senior Designer, Materials Innovation & Sustainability
MN: The 327 has seen a lot of exciting color experimentation already. What was the inspiration for making an undyed model?
NB: Looking at the vibrancy of colour used in running product from the 70s, this led me to think about the impact intense dying processes have on the environment. ‘Can a colour-less colour-way be created?’ was a question I asked myself, and the result was the Undyed pack. We are constantly pushing ourselves to think more responsibly when it comes to materials, and this was the perfect opportunity to celebrate these materials in their natural colour.
– Charlotte Lee, New Balance Designer
MN: The 327 was influenced largely by archival models in the New Balance catalog. Is there any part of the shoe that you feel like could have only been pulled off with modern technology?
NB: To ensure the 327 had an authentic feel, I used materials that were available and used in the 70s on the upper panels. EVA midsoles were a relatively new running innovation at this time, and designers were exploring ways to shape midsoles/outsoles for the best performance. I exaggerated the buffed midsole shaping for the 327, and the midsole was created in a moulding process which was not available at that time. As the midsole and outsole is one of the elements that sets the 327 apart from retro running models we still make today, I think that without these technologies this model wouldn’t have had the same impact.
– Charlotte Lee, New Balance Designer
MN: How do you see New Balance as being uniquely positioned to integrate more sustainable manufacturing processes?
NB: At New Balance we are always striving to innovate and create the best product, whether that is developing new manufacturing techniques in our 5 owned factories; working with global partners on materials and sourcing; or, our collaboration approach that allows us to explore new designs with thought leaders. Our culture of independence and innovation gives us the runway needed to explore new ideas and integrate more sustainable processes into development, design and manufacturing.
-John Stokes, Head of Global Sustainability