Footwear brand Timberland is another company that will soon take back your old, unwanted shoes. Much like other fashion brands that are happy to take back worn clothing, Timberland will accept any of its footwear, apparel, or accessories at one of its retail stores starting this August.

The future of these goods will be a resale platform or be repurposed into new products. This is part of a growing trend that brands are attempting to create some sense of circularity in an otherwise linear marketplace.

The footwear giant has put forward a 2030 goal to have a new positive impact on nature, which would mean that the company gives back more than it takes. Though Timberland has already started to use recycled materials and push for more regenerative farming, they’re thinking more closely about the end-of-life of its products.

One of the biggest challenges is breaking down a single garment or shoe into its various materials and then separating them accordingly so that it can be put to use again. Most products are stitched or attached in a way that makes it hard to do just that: there may be too many components, or recyclable components with non-recyclable components. Recycling, thus, becomes messy, complicated, and expensive. All of this then inhibits our ability to recycle these products or put the raw materials to further use.

Timberland has a new shoe, the Timberloop Trekker, that it hopes will solve this very problem. Expected to launch early next year, the outsoles of the Trekker, the company states, can be removed in one piece, and then put into recycling, because the shoe has been designed with circularity in mind from the get-go.

“We are incredibly excited to bring the Timberloop™ Trekkers to market next spring,” says Chris McGrath, vice president of global footwear design for Timberland. “Timberland has been using recycled materials in our footwear for years, but this design innovation puts us on the path to true circularity, where nothing goes to waste. And with ReCircled, we now have the mechanism in place to close the loop.”

Both projects — the take-back program and the recycling of the Trekker soles — will be done in partnership with ReCircled, a Denver-based company, that is building the infrastructure for all these circular programs and working with brands across the US, Europe, and Asia. Their first factory is based in Nebraska with plans to have another in Prato, Italy in the future. ReCircled is essentially able to provide the behind-the-scenes nuts-and-bolts to Timberland to make mechanical recycling and take-back programs easier.

Whereas fashion has been able to start using industrial waste, or offcuts in manufacturing, repurposing post-consumer waste is complex and limited.

Timberland isn’t the only shoe company working on this problem. Swiss brand On Running has a recyclable shoe in the works too. Though their approach is different. They’re asking customers to sign up for an innovative shoe subscription with a down payment of $29.99. Thus, consumers never own the shoe itself. Rather they’re able to use it for the time needed, and when it begins to wear down, they send it back and it’s recycled. The idea is still in development and due to launch in fall 2021.

But it’s indicating that the industry is beginning to design with circularity in mind. And that in turn, suggests that we may be able to more effectively recycle our shoes (and garments) in the future. Because they’re finally designed to be reused.


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