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Mother Nature is under a lot of stress from human activity. Fossil fuels, industrial agriculture, and our endless need for resources are all impacting on the planet.
But there’s one more aspect of our lives that’s having a significant effect on the environment. And that is clothing.
“A large part of global emissions are caused by the clothing industry,” says German designer Emilie Burfiend on her website.
In an attempt to make fashion eco-friendlier, Burfiend has designed a new kind of sneaker. These shoes, however, use a bit more unconventional materials than your off-the-shelf Nikes.
Titled the Sneature – a pun on the words “sneaker” and “nature” – Burfiend’s shoes use all-natural materials. Their sole is made of mushroom mycelium, while the upper is knitted from dog hair.
The sneakers are entirely biodegradable, meaning that you can compost them once you’ve worn them through. Maybe you could use their remains to grow mushrooms for your next pair.
As long as your foot sweat doesn’t start decomposing them while you’re jogging.
Hair of a Dog
The Snature features no laces, and instead consists of one dog-hair sock that you pull over your foot. All in all, there are only three materials that go into making the shoe.
The dog hair is crowdsourced from German dog owners, who donate their pets’ shed fur. The process also puts that hair into good use.
As any dog owner knows, the amount of fur coming off your pet is never-ending and it usually just gets thrown out.
“In Germany alone, nearly 90 tons of this raw material are discarded every year,” Burfiend told Dezeen.
“Compared to animals that are bred and kept solely for fiber production, the domesticated keeping of dogs is no additional burden on the environment but a resource that exists anyway,” she added.
According to Burfiend, the German company Modus Intarsia has developed a method to collect the hair and turn it into a high quality yarn. The yarn can then be processed on industrial knitting machines.
The firm uses 3D knitting to transform the dog hair into a material known as Chiengora. The technology works kind of like 3D printing, just with yarn.
The final product – that is, the Sneature’s sock – is seamless and produced without wasting any of the material. The lack of seams supposedly makes it more comfortable to wear.
Not only that, Chiengora is actually a pretty good option for clothing. It retains heat 42% better than regular wool and was used by Native Americans to weave clothes.
Rubber and Shrooms
The other two materials that go into the Sneature are natural rubber and the mushroom mycelium. The rubber – sourced from the sap of Hevea brasiliensis – is used to create a waterproof mudguard on the sole.
The mushroom mycelium forms the shoe’s sole. The fungus is placed into a mold with a substrate made from agricultural waste and allowed to grow into shape.
The sock and the sole are designed to interlock together perfectly. Perforations on the bottom of the sock lock with the sole, holding it in place and stabilizing the shoe.
A School Project
Burfiend created the shoe as part of her studies at the Offenbach University of Art and Design. So it’s really a school project, but the idea could work even in a commercial setting.
She has not been able to carry out any extensive tests yet on the shoe’s durability. However, Burfiend told Dezeen that based on her estimates, you could wear the Sneature for about two years before it’s worn through.
We don’t know about you, but at least this author has worn non-mushroom shoes down quicker than that.
But, as we said, the shoe is completely recyclable. Once it’s served its purpose, the mushroom sole can be pulverized and reused, while the fabric can be shredded and spun back into yarn.
Alternatively, you could compost the shoe to reintroduce its nutrients back into nature.
Saving the Planet with Shoes
Burfiend says that her inspiration for the Sneature came from the unsustainable practices of modern shoe industry.
“Sneakers are … among the clothing products that are often discarded after a short lifespan,” she says.
“The complicated construction and the use of different materials (rubber, textile, various plastics, etc.) make it almost impossible and unprofitable to disassemble and recycle a pair of sneakers after use,” the designer adds.
According to Burfiend, a traditional commercial sneaker can use up to 12 different materials. Many of these are costly to produce, both in terms of money and the environment.
“Since Sneature is made of biological waste materials, no energy is needed for their production, only for their further processing,” she told Dezeen.
“The energy needed for processing and production processes like spinning or knitting is low compared to the extraction of petroleum-based raw materials.”
Maybe in the future we’ll all walk around clad in mushrooms. Not so sure about the dog hair, though – sound scratchy.