Sustainable thinking is slowly starting to make big waves in sneaker culture. From reconsidering how we treat old garments to rethinking our relationship with new purchases, eco-friendly practices have spiked in popularity both on the consumer and business ends of the sneaker and fashion industries. In fact, the vast majority of major sneaker manufacturers have now, at the very least, dipped their toes into (what’s marketed as) sustainable design in some form.

However, Nike remains the undisputed king of high-profile sustainable footwear releases. In 2020 alone, the Swoosh has made its mark with the significantly hyped Space Hippie line, which uses recycled materials to create innovative knit uppers, Crater Foam midsoles, and Nike Grind (ground-up pre and post-consumer rubber) material in its models’ outsoles. The trend has even touched its mainline Vapormax 2020, a shoe that uses a 75% recycled upper and is comprised of more than 50% recycled material overall by weight.

Nike Space Hippie Collection

These new releases fall squarely within what seems to be a booming industry surrounding environmentally conscious fashion, and nearly all of them have been well-received and eagerly lapped up by consumers. The Space Hippie line, for example, has sold out every single release thus far within minutes of their release.

Nike is not new to this, however; the Oregonians have long been committed to reconsidering their manufacturing practices. Perhaps the most stunning, ahead-of-the-curve example of this is the Nike Considered line, a somewhat forgotten sustainability initiative that made major waves still felt within the company to this day.

To understand Considered, one must begin in 2004. While Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe initiative started as early as 1993, 2004 saw the introduction of the avant-garde, wildly ahead-of-its-time Nike ZVEZDOCHKA. Created in partnership with industrial designer Marc Newson, the shoe was Nike’s first attempt at an ultra-minimal and infinitely recyclable shoe. The ZVEZDOCHKA was comprised of four interlocking parts: an outer cage, a sock-like inner sleeve, a Zoom-equipped insole, and a rugged outsole.

The Nike ZVEZDOCHKA

There was zero glue involved, making for less environmental toxins, minimal processing, and easier disassembly for reintroducing materials into the production process after their lifespan. While the ZVEZDOCHKA was highly futuristic at the time of its release, its assembly process and design ethos likely catalyzed Nike to back a project that truly looked to revolutionize the potential for a sustainable and manufacturing-conscious footwear project.

Enter Nike Considered. As the initial age of Nike ACG (the Swoosh’s line dedicated to outdoors exploration and hiking gear) came to an end, a new design team (including Tinker Hatfield, Andreas Harlow, Mike Aveni, Richard Clarke, Steve McDonald, and more) had room to rethink the line’s mission and what it might be capable of. In doing so, they fused the rugged, mountain-capable design needs of ACG shoes with an ultra-sustainable manufacturing ethos that could be applied broadly throughout Nike’s product lines. Nike Considered began as a rallying cry to use less components, thoughtfully and locally (within 200 miles of Nike’s Thailand factories) sourced materials, and interlocking manufacturing techniques to eliminate environmental toxins and waste-intensive processes as much as humanly possible.

Nike Considered, Season 1 / Photo: @mcsteve

The result was a product line that was essentially unheard of for a major sportswear manufacturer at the time. The first season of Considered (which made its debut in 2005) was spearheaded by the Considered Boot, a shoe that tied together vegetable-tanned leather using a tightly woven hemp shoelace system to form a mid-rise, moccasin-style upper. The shoe’s midsole and outsole were sewn directly to the upper, eliminating the need for glue entirely. The Considered Mule represented a slip-on, low top rendition of the Boot, and it joined the Considered Rock Shoe (meant for climbing and bouldering) and the Considered Gem shoe in the initial Considered release. The collection was rounded out by the Considered Slide, a leather-based sandal for light hiking and outdoor ventures.

While this initial collection was made up of entirely new silhouettes, the Considered team quickly turned their attention to modify existing Nike flagship silhouettes, including the ACG Mowabb and Terra Humara trail shoes. The line also went on to embrace a thoughtful use of futuristic technology like Nike Free soles and synthetic uppers, but it never stopped mining for new ways to pare down the shoes’ environmental impacts. For example, starting with Gen 2 of Considered, polymer midsole/outsole hybrids that could be sheared from the upper and fully recycled started to appear on various models in lieu of Nike Grind rubber.

Nike Considered Rocketpocket (Unreleased) / Source: @mcsteve

While it’s somewhat unclear just how wide Considered releases were at the time, quite possibly one of the best archives of the line exists through retired Nike (and ex-Patagonia, Under Armour, and Burton) designer Steve McDonald’s Instagram. McDonald consistently shares sketches, samples, prototypes, and final products from moments throughout his career, and a large percentage of these hail from behind the Considered curtain. Take, for example, the never-realized Nike Considered Rocketpocket. The model comes in a mule-style, slip-on leather upper atop what appears to be a Nike Free sole. For greater security, an underfoot heel strap made from recycled bike tires could be deployed with ease. McDonald has also shared pictures of Considered bouldering shoes, innovative water shoes and sandals, and even unrealized propositions for a moc-style Considered Blazer.

 

Eventually, Considered’s presence within Nike’s release schedules faded. There’s never been an established reason why this was the case, though the introduction of Nike Flyknit, a once revolutionary and now ubiquitous construction technique that allows for significant waste reduction in footwear construction, likely shoulders a significant portion of the blame. Some murmurs also point to internal conflict or mixed motivations within the company’s headquarters and design labs; weighing profit versus innovation is never smooth, and Considered’s design language and complex, rigid set of rules meant incredibly unique products that might not have always conformed to what the general public has historically expected their footwear to look like.

Regardless, Nike Considered lives on—both literally and metaphorically. Considered shoes still occasionally pop up for sale in various states of use on eBay and other, smaller resale markets; while it’s likely many of the shoes were bought to be worn, it’s a testament to the design and construction quality offered by Considered shoes that even the most ground-down pairs available are still described as both functional and wearable.

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Appreciation for what Considered had to offer has also grown somewhat in recent years due to enthusiasts and archive pages like @Organiclab.zip posting tributes and excavated product shots of old Considered models. ACG-focused pages like @theculturepdx (which serves partially as an inventory catalog for The Culture, a brick-and-mortar mecca for vintage Nike collectors in Portland) have also served as hubs for appreciation of the line, and current owners of old Considered pieces regularly tag their on-feet pics for easy searching.

The questions Considered posed had hardly been asked on such a large scale before its debut, and the answers it came up with permanently pried open the door to future innovations in sustainable footwear. Considered’s mission can be seen shining through new releases like Reebok’s Forever Floatride GROW, an entirely plant-based sneaker made from eucalyptus bark and castor beans, or Sean Wotherspoon’s SUPEREARTH initiative with adidas.

It’s unlikely that we will ever see a formal return of Nike Considered, but in a sense, it never really left. In the end, it’s been the hard work of loyal fans and designers who refuse to let the Considered dream die that has preserved the small cultural memory of such a revolutionary concept from Nike. While the brand itself seemed content to let Considered fade into obscurity around the turn of the decade, the ethos and deep obsession with craft that the line created undoubtedly paved the way for many modern innovations in sneaker sustainability.

Nike Considered was, and likely always will be, way ahead of its time. It showed us that we can (and should) demand more ethical and ecologically responsible manufacturing practices from the people we buy from. Only time will tell how well we’ve actually learned our lesson.

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