In its newest sustainable sneaker, Louis Vuitton pays tribute to its late creative designer, Virgil Abloh.
Bearing a symbol created by Virgil Abloh—the LV monogram-turned-recycling-logo—Louis Vuitton’s newest LV trainers are a nod to its sustainable future and an homage to the beloved late designer. The shoes are made from corn-based vegan leather and recycled materials including polyester and polyurethane.
“Today’s luxury fashion consumer is demanding transparency and authenticity from the brands they buy from, even going as far as to abandon the brands that don’t align to their core values. It is no longer enough to just produce high-quality products,” Scott Clarke, vice president and consumer products industry lead at consultancy Publicis Sapient, told Vogue Business.
Abloh passed away tragically last November at the age of 41 after a private battle with cancer. During his time with the label, the designer was instrumental in ushering Louis Vuitton toward a sustainable future by incorporating upcycled and bio-based materials. He put deadstock on the runways and worked to develop internal processes that would help the label reach its goal of fully sustainable designs by 2030. And he helped design the Sustainable Development logo, as the brand calls it internally.
Last August, the French luxury label launched its first unisex sneaker—the Charlie—its most sustainable offering at the time, as part of Abloh’s mission to bring the brand to the forefront of the sustainability shift happening in fashion.
Abloh developed the emblem that features the label’s monogram to help orient consumers toward its environmental commitments. Anything bearing the logo must contain at least 50 percent recycled or environmentally-certified raw materials. And that’s reflected in the new shoe. It features a corn-based plastic called Biopolioli, which was also used in the Charlie sneaker that launched a year ago.
The new sneakers include 90 percent of the corn leather as well as a high percent of recycled polyurethane. “We succeeded because we were working hand-in-hand with our suppliers. We are once again testing and learning, testing and learning,” says Louis Vuitton’s global head of sustainability Christelle Capdupuy.
But despite the commitment to increase its sustainable offerings, producing them is another matter.
“We really need durable, high-quality materials and we are struggling to find innovative raw materials, to be honest,” Capdupuy says. “We would like to be in a virtual closed loop with having raw materials last forever. The thing is that today, industrial processes result in losing quality. We would love to find innovative industrial processes that will be able to preserve all the mechanical properties.”
Despite the challenges, Capdupuy says it’s an opportunity to continue toward progress. She says the brand’s drive to innovate is buoyed by consumer demand as well as the label’s learnings and access to sustainable materials. “This year, we’ll design new pairs of shoes because we have this expectation from customers and we want to express this kind of creativity—and the way we will produce them, the raw materials we will use, will be coming from what we learned last year.”
In the spring, LVMH announced it was exploring lab-grown fur as a more sustainable and ethical option for its labels. It’s one of the only major luxury brands to not announce a ban on fur. But there too it’s looking for a solution that’s sustainable in more ways than just material.
“We’re not interested in the hype of a new fibre for the sake of a new fibre. We’re interested in new, radical, sustainable fibre,” said Carole Collet, design professor at Central Saint Martins and director of Maison/0 who is working on the material development. “We’re far from being sustainable in the way nature is. The more we look at how nature works, the better.”
Capdupuy says the shift has never been more urgent as the planet is being pushed past its limits; climate change and biodiversity loss are no longer questionable. They’re undeniable truths.
“Our commitment is that sustainable development is the DNA of our brand now,” Capdupuy says. “It’s not about communicating. For Louis Vuitton, it’s about commitment.”
The new sneakers will be available next month.