Reincarnation of a Sneaker

October 16, 2007

A friend of mine recently went all-out eco conscious. She started researching organic clothes, chastised coworkers for wasting plastic when they used water bottles and trashed all of her old toiletries and makeup for organic stuff. (Her reaction was “Organic is much more expensive but my face feels and looks so much better”. Her favorite new product: Dr. Hauschka's Translucent Makeup). She even taped a piece of paper to her 'blue' recyclable trashcan that reads "Please recycle!! 100% paper. All staples removed" because she was afraid the cleaning staff just chucked all of the stuff in the blue bin into the normal trash. But when it came to her running shoes, she was perplexed. She found a green running shoe, Should she get it? She came to me for advice. 

The shoe she had in mind was the Brooks Cascadia 2, which uses earth-friendly elements in the rubber instead of traditional petroleum. Some shoe brands, like Patagonia and Teva, use recycled materials. (I'll do a blog on eco-friendly, non-running shoes another time.) But for someone who's remarkably dedicated to her Asics, buying a different brand was scary. And so I told her what I thought, and the advice may actually surprise you. You see this isn't a girl who wears sneakers to do errands or to walk on the treadmill a few times a week. She's a marathon runner. And while I'm still thinking about what to have for breakfast, she's already clocked 10 (or 14 or 16) miles in the park. During training time, she may even run twice a day. And so my advice to her was to stick with her favorite sneakers. Wanting to help the planet is important, but so is someone's health. Her Asics fit her arches and support her ankles perfectly. I wouldn't want her to damage her knees or tear up her calf muscles in an effort to be eco-friendly.

Instead, I had a different solution for her. Just because they were no longer shock absorbent for running, doesn't mean they're useless. Shelters across the country (or any place that takes clothing donations, such as the Goodwill or the Salvation Army) donate sneakers to those who can't afford them. Athletic shoes can get a whole new lease on life when worn by someone trying to get back on their feet again.

You'll never see me in a Nike sneaker. I don't agree with the way Nike produces its shoes in extremely less than ideal factory situations. Sure, other shoe companies may be just as bad. But Nike is the biggest out there, and thus the one with the most power, influence and financial means. It's really up to them to turnaround their own factory situation. But just because I refuse to spend money on them, doesn't mean I wouldn't use them on my own terms. Nike has the biggest shoe recycle program in the United States. The program takes any brand of used athletic shoes and recycles the different materials to help build basketball courts, running tracks, playgrounds and more for youth around the world. So I guess the only time you'd see me enter a Nike store is not to come out with something new, but to get rid of something old.