Despite its groundbreaking premise, the Sugar & Spice hasn’t been the roaring success that Patagonia had hoped it would be. The first—and so far, only—shoe of its kind in the ethical activewear brand’s stable, the otherwise unassuming Mary Jane features components that snap together and use minimal glues or cement. There are a couple of reasons why it never quite took off, theorizes Les Horne, senior product manager of Patagonia’s footwear division and one of the designers behind the disassembling shoe.
LOST IN TRANSLATION
“It’s great to have an eco-friendly story,” he told Ecouterre over the phone, “but the bottom line is people buy shoes for the aesthetics.” The Sugar & Spice, he admits, is on the heavy side, and the fact that it isn’t feminine (or conversely, masculine) enough doesn’t boost its case. “We went for a more unisex style, instead of making two different molds,” he says.
It’s great to have an eco-friendly story, but the bottom line is people buy shoes for the aesthetics.
Still, the shoe, which made its debut last fall, presented a great learning curve, says Horne, who notes that the project was less about eliminating glues and more about ease of deconstruction for recycling—something that Patagonia doesn’t have in place for footwear but is willing to explore.
IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCEED
Inspired by the apparel division’s Common Threads Recycling Program and Nike’s foray into sustainability, the Sugar & Spice took more than a year to develop because the different components had to fit together seamlessly, leaving no room for error. “We had to do them over and over again,” Horne says.
The shoe took over a year to develop because the different components had to fit together seamlessly.
Patagonia is revisiting the concept, which is sound in theory if still lagging behind in execution. If one of the trio of main components (upper, thermo polyurethane frame, outsole) wears out faster than the others, you can replace it without purchasing a whole new shoe. After all, the most eco-friendly shoe, Horne says, is one that “lasts a really long time.”