Eco-friendly clothing innovation

There are times I love innovation for what it does and provides. But I really love innovation that isn’t just to make something new and useful but that actually helps do the environment good at the same time.

The world’s first fully biodegradable shoe definitely falls into the latter category.

Eric Liedtke had nearly 30 years of experience at the Adidas company. In fact, he was widely thought to be in line to be its next CEO. But then he did the unexpected: He bailed on that executive position and moved back to Oregon instead, and founded The Unless Collective, a company dedicated to creating environmentally friendly clothing products.

The Degenerate is the first shoe that they’ve made that is completely biodegradable. Using zero glue or plastics — the ends of the laces have even forgone the decades-standard nib tips and are instead cross-stitched — they are 100% made from natural products and are 100% biodegradable when they’ve worn out their lives as usable shoes.

The major players like Nike and Adidas are taking close note of Liedtke’s success in this venture. You know you’ve made a splash when your work has gotten the attention of companies with a combined value of about $50 billion. Both are reportedly actively trying to get to the same stage of eco-friendly footwear, though it’s a challenge for them to forego the long-lived plastics that they’ve relied on for so long. All of which puts Liedtke, at risk of a bad pun, a big step ahead.

The Degenerate is a little modern for my tastes, with its trendy chunky sole that will perhaps appeal more to skateboarders than a middle-aged guy making shopping runs. But this is of course the first of its kind, and is surely made to appeal to a younger audience than me anyway; potential customers who. my wife and I have been learning, are genuinely opting for more environmentally conscious purchases anyway.

So I wouldn’t lay down anything, let alone $200, for this particular model of shoes. At least not for myself. But I’ll be watching The Unless Collective closely from now on in the hopes that they produce something soon that’s more my style. And when — hopefully when and not if — that happens, I’ll be more than happy to buy a pair, to help reward the noble work they’re doing, and just to do the right thing for the world I’m leaving for future generations.