Cole Haan’s First Sustainable Sneakers Are Made From Dandelion Flowers

For its first sustainable shoe offering, New York-based footwear brand Cole Haan has tapped an unusual source material: dandelions.

With its second iteration of the Generation Zerøgrand sneaker in just two years, aptly named the Generation Zerøgrand sneaker II, Cole Haan is continuing its efforts to reach a younger demographic. But this time, it’s stepping into the booming world of sustainable sneakers, with its first sustainable, gender-neutral sneaker featuring biodegradable rubber made from dandelion flowers.

“[Younger consumers] believe very strongly that climate change is man-made, and that we all need to do our part. You don’t have to look far to understand that,” Cole Haan’s brand president, David Maddocks, told Retail Brew. “So we really want to live up to our customers’ expectations.”

Generation Zerøgrand sneaker II

The new shoes are the brand’s first foray into sustainability—a process it says took two years od research and development. Twenty-five percent of the shoe’s outsole is made from dandelion rubber, a patent-pending material Cole Haan calls FlowerFoam.

Maddocks told Footwear News that the science behind the Flower Foam technology dates back to World War II. “It hasn’t been used in footwear as far as we’re aware of, so we’re very excited about pioneering this,” he said.

“First [we] go to nature, see if there’s something found in nature that can deliver the benefits or expectations. Second, go to recycled materials,” Maddocks said. “And then third, if necessary, go to materials that are available, [what] we’ve been using for some time.”

The shoes feature other sustainable materials including felt that contains 85 percent recycled plastic bottles, a vegan microfiber suede that contains 21 percent recycled fiber, and the footbed is made from 20 percent sustainable materials. The shoe’s laces are made from 100 percent recycled plastic.

Cole Haan Change Forward

The shoes are part of the brand’s new sustainability initiative, Change Forward, which represents the brand’s goal “to better themselves and the world around them.” At a minimum, it will be introducing sustainable shoes with at least 25 percent naturally derived or recycled content by weight in that product, the company’s website reads.

The Change Forward program outlines a development process: “Our product creation team will concentrate on high performance, low impact design, and engineering. As always, we will focus first on the consumer, the wearing occasion, and how we can bring differentiated performance to their lives. As we innovate solutions, we consider 360° design, engineering, and materials to fully realize everything we create.”

Cole Haan is arriving to an already active sustainable shoe category. The global vegan footwear market is expected to reach $32 billion by 2027, according to recent data.

Adidas has been the eco sneaker category leader, with plans to shift to making more than 90 percent of its offerings sustainable by 2025. Its introduced leather alternatives and materials made from upcycled plastic.

Nike has also released a number of sustainable offerings including its Happy Pineapple line released last summer. It used vegan pineapple leather in sustainable versions of its most iconic styles including the Air Max 95 NRG, Air Force 1, Air Max 90 LX, and Air Zoom-Type shoes. It also partnered with vegan singer Billie Eilish on vegan Air Jordans last year. Likewise, Reebok, New Balance, and Puma, among other sneaker brands have launched sustainable shoes.

The sustainable sneaker category has also seen a groundswell of competitors, including leading luxury brands; Gucci, Prada, Valentino, and Missoni have all recently launched sustainable sneakers.

“This is early days for us,” said Maddocks. “We’re going to listen. We’re going to learn. I’m sure we’re going to make some mistakes along the way. But our intention is to continue to look through this lens and deliver great innovation, comfort, style, and versatility to our customers while also doing it in a way that says we’re going to do our part.”

Cole Haan’s new Generation Zerøgrand II sneakers are available now in multiple colorways for $130, on Colehaan.com and in participating stores.

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