A couple of months ago I addressed what I call the Pisher Paradox in the fiber world. It came to mind as I read an article online from Bloomberg (3/1/16) titled “Why Shoe Startups are Making Sneakers from Wool.” (Bloomberg is a privately-held company in New York City involved with financial software, data and media. Thor subscribes to the magazine, and a version of the article is available to non-subscribers online.)
Those of us who work with wool just have to love the presumptions painted by Kyle Stock’s article where he mentions five companies who have or are introducing sneakers with wool tops: Allbirds (New Zealand), Baabuk (Switzerland), Mahabis (Britain), Nike (U.S.) and Converse (U.S., now a Nike subsidiary). Stock used phrases – both his and and others’ – referring to using wool in shoe products as “novel,” “innovative” and “new materials.”
Allbirds CEO Tim Brown is a bit late (alarmingly) to the party: He “couldn’t help but notice all the amazing qualities of merino wool. In fact, it made him wonder why such an incredible, sustainable resource had never been used in footwear before.“
Tim Brown’s team didn’t know that felted and fulled footwear have been donned by people for many (many) years?
Would not a little research have revealed Daniel Green‘s manufacturing of felt shoes and slippers starting in the late 19th century U.S.
Baabuk notes that it is borrowing from the past when it states that it combines “old Valenki Russian tradition with innovative stylish designs of today …” (For more information about felted Valenkis, read these interesting articles in The Moscow Times and U.K.’s Daily Mail.)
Mahabis almost tips its proverbial hat to the fact that their felted shoes aren’t really that novel of an idea when it describes their work as “combining scandinavian design principles and european craftsmanship [sic].” The Mahabis felted slipper comes with an attachable/detachable rubber sole, which quickly transforms an indoor shoe to an outdoor one – not to mention it also has a “collapsible heel for easy slip-on and … heel comfort.” (If I can ever find these in the U.S., I would like to try them!)
Converse offers the Chuck Taylor All Star Woolrich: “This season we’ve taken archived, classic Woolrich patterns and reinterpreted them with bold new colors. Wool and rubber combine to create durable, warm sneakers grounded in the classic Chuck Taylor silhouette.”
Nike’s Pendleton Collection and its Warm and Dry Collection offers an array of customizations to sneakers utilizing wool. (That said, they all seem to sport a lot of both leather and rubber.) Nike boasts that its Flyknit sneakers utilize “a proprietary process that knits the upper of a shoe with a single fiber.”
As an aside, two points worth noting from Stark’s article related to the plastic microfibers that I wrote about in my last post:
- Footnote 2: “Nike’s Flyknit sneakers aren’t all natural; they are now woven with polyester from recycled plastic bottles.”
- “Brown [CEO of Allbirds] said big brands like Nike don’t use wool more widely because it is relatively expensive. Spinning up fibers and fabrics from petroleum offers a far better profit match.”
So, microfibers aside, who gets the Pisher Award?