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What you didn't know about fashion's current shoe obsession

by Ana Wang

March 12, 2014

There are only a few types of footwear for women that can be considered iconic and classic in the modern era: stilettos, ballet flats, boots and sneakers. Of the bunch, sneakers have traditionally been the least appealing for the sky-high reaching fashion crowd. Offering functionality and comfort more than anything, sneakers are relegated most often to the running track and weekend hikes. But, if you’ve seen any street style photos over the last few seasons, you know that sport-chic is back with a vengeance. Sneakers have been spotted all over street style blogs, on outfits most definitely not for the gym.

My footwear of choice hands down is a pair of sneakers. As I’m writing this, I’m retiring my overworn, overworked pair that I first got 8 years ago (I remember because my German Shepherd teethed on the back of the right foot when he was a pup). I left them at my hotel room in NYC, and switched them for a pair of Nike Frees.

Yeah, yeah: Sneakers are comfortable, practical, you can walk a million miles in them, and they’re now a bonafide fashion statement.

But here’s what you might not know about Nike, the company leading the pack in fashion sneaks right now: they’re also industry leaders when it comes to sustainability and environmental responsibility. When you think about Nike, you might remember the unethical business practices that came to light about 15 years ago, when Nike the brand became synonymous with sweatshop labour. Since then, Nike has made huge strides from one of the worst to one of the best, and are continually improving their sustainability, social responsibility and environmental footprint.

“We have very consciously moved away from the concept of corporate responsibility as a risk and reputation management approach to one that stresses sustainability as an opportunity for innovation and business growth.”

Among Nike’s initiatives: phasing out various toxic chemicals often used in the production process of athletic footwear, being one of the first companies ever to publish a corporate social responsibility report (they were even awarded the honour of having the “Best Sustainability Report”), moving towards global transparency and fair labour in their supply chain (we all remember their disasters in the 1990s – see this article on Business Week titled “How Nike Solved its Sweatshop Problem” if you need a reminder of Nike’s tainted past), and developing innovative materials that reduce hazardous chemicals, energy consumption, and are environmentally conscious.

The company recognizes that they still have a long way to go, but what’s notable and commendable is that they’ve adopted sustainability as a long-term strategy that improves business on all levels, rather than simply a way to negate bad press (as seems to be the favoured strategy among fast fashion giants facing similar allegations). This is what all corporate giants should be doing, but aren’t. As Nike is aiming to prove, sustainability is ultimately about more than just the planet and its people: it’s just good business sense for planet, people, and profit.

Hey, if I can keep a pair of runners for 8 years and wear them almost every day, I’d say that’s one giant step away from disposability. A big cheers to Nike – their infiltration onto the feet of the fashion conscious is just one of another string of victories for the corporate giant.

For more, check out Nike’s sustainability timeline. What do you think of sneakers on the street?


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