Each year, the footwear industry produces 700,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Approximately 34% of this accounts for the extraction and processing of fossil fuels to create synthetic materials like ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) and polyurethane foams for shoe soles. By making more sustainable choices, the fashion industry can reduce its environmental footprint to better support the planet. One way to do this is by adopting materials made from renewable and ethical sources. ReCORK aims to do just that.

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Pair of charcoal colored shoes placed next to a box with three corks lying near the shoes

ReCORK is an initiative organized by the SOLE footwear company in 2008. It launched as a wine cork recycling program and is now the biggest of its kind in North America. The program has collected over 128 million corks and ReCORK’s Research and Development team devises innovative solutions by using cork as a natural, sustainable alternative to fossil fuel-based plastics and foams. The ReCORK team’s most recent innovation is their groundbreaking carbon-negative midsole material. This is featured in ReCORK’s newest footwear collection, the SOLE x UBB Jasper Chukka.

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Cork is an incredible raw material that can be used as a renewable resource and to absorb atmospheric carbon. Cork grows as bark on the cork oak tree and can be harvested without having to cut down the tree. It is also an excellent carbon sink. Its absorption properties mean that despite the emissions pertaining to the manufacture and transport of the SOLE x UBB Jasper Chukka collection, each pair of midsoles has a negative carbon footprint.

A close-up of a person wearing a pair of charcoal Jasper Chukka shoes

Usually, cork-based footwear is not very flexible nor water resistant. It is hard to bend and twist and cannot withstand water or strain. However, SOLE’s new collection is far from this. The midsoles are made from over 75% recycled natural cork, mixed with about 25% of binding agent. Alongside being non-toxic and eco-friendly, the SOLE cork midsoles are very flexible, anti-microbial, water-resistant and sturdy. They also provide great cushioning for arch support and are lightweight.

Pair of dark grey sneakers, one of which is lying sideways to show the bottom of the sole, with a few corks sprawled next to them

While the comfy cork midsoles are a key component, the collection does feature other sustainable materials. These include materials made from renewable carbon sinks, post-consumer recycled items and upcycled waste.

For example, the shoe soles are comprised of the insoles, midsoles and outsoles. The insoles are made from an I’m Green sugarcane-based footbed. These work alongside the cork midsoles to provide cushioning and are also an incredible carbon sink. The outsoles make up the bottom part of the sole and are perfect for outdoor and sporting activities. They are made from sustainably-harvested rubber sap, which allows them to be durable and grippy. Furthermore, their production process uses seven times less energy than outsoles made from petroleum-based rubber.

Two individuals sitting on top of a jeep modeling the new shoe collection. The image is cropped at their torsos to only show their bodies from the chest-down

To give the collection its stylish look, ethically-sourced fibers and waste-minimizing processes are used. The shoe’s upper consists of an ethically-sourced Merino wool knit design. All the wool is obtained from Wool standard-certified, cruelty-free farms and allows for comfort, moisture resistance and temperature regulation. This is complemented by United by Blue’s BisonShield material, which is made from bison hair salvaged from the ranching industry that would otherwise be thrown away. By using a single-knit design, the shoes’ upper ensures that energy requirements are reduced by 30% and waste is reduced by up to 60%. To tie it all together, the laces are made from 95% recycled PET plastic, from items such as single-use water bottles.

Light grey/beige pair of sneakers with three corks sprawled nearby

By combining a range of environmentally-friendly and ethically-sourced materials, the new SOLE x UBB Jasper Chukka collection is a fashionable, carbon-negative alternative to other products in the footwear industry. Its meticulous design minimizes environmental impact without sacrificing comfort and versatility. The shoes come in the colors black, beige and dark grey, and can be an elegant yet functional addition to your wardrobe that does not hurt the planet.

+ ReCORK

Images via ReCORK and SOLE Footwear