In late 2021, adidas launched its first ever vegan football boot. The boot was a collaboration with Stella McCartney, with input from Paul Pogba, and adheres to the designer’s strict sustainability standards. Since then, adidas commemorated “Earth Day” with a new take on its Gamemode silhouette, Nike launched the Vapor Next Nature – its most sustainable Mercurial ever – and PUMA used recycled plastics for its First Mile collection. Maybe the football industry is finally taking sustainability seriously, then.
The move to a more eco-friendly football boot isn’t just being led by the big boys, and a new start-up is aiming to drive change within the industry. “The football boot industry needs to start having a more open conversation around sustainability,” explains Jake Hardy, founder of Sokito, a new eco-focused boot brand. “We need to be talking about extending the life cycle of boots and raise awareness around the environmental impact of different materials used in boots today.”
Hardy made the decision to found Sokito based on a trip to Vietnam, where he saw tailors making made-to-measure footwear out of unwanted scraps from big factories. This sparked inspiration for Hardy, which he combined with his previous experience running a football boot refurbishment business. Hardy incorporates both of these influences, although creating professional-standard football boots is a different challenge entirely.
“The Sokito approach was to reverse engineer a football boot and analyze each individual component with three factors in mind: performance, planet and price,” Hardy continues. “When it comes to our football boots, it’s all about the detail. From researching and testing new materials to how we work with our master shoemakers, we put huge emphasis on getting the balance right, so our product delivers the ultimate performance.”
The balance between performance and sustainability is something that major boot brands have also had to overcome. When launching the brand’s First Mile boots, PUMA’s Dominique Gathier spoke about the importance of introducing sustainable materials “without impacting the high-level performance benefits of our signature silos.” A further difficulty comes from the stress boots are placed under when worn in matches, meaning that strength and durability are key. “We’ve tested a huge number of materials, and many plant-based alternatives have not performed to the necessary standard,” Hardy concedes.
Sokito has settled on a makeup that uses Pebax – a material produced from beans – and Tencel from waste paper, alongside scrap nylon and recycled carpet, plastic and rubber. This composition means that the boots all have a minimum of 56% eco materials (69% in Sokito’s custom models). “The overall effect is that our boots have a fairly unique feel compared to other products on the market,” Hardy adds. “Together with our tailored manufacturing process, we have something pretty unique to offer players.”
In its attempt to make the entire football boot industry more sustainable, Sokito goes beyond simply using recycled or alternative materials. Another aspect comes through its boot recycling program, which it believes is the first in the world. “Right now, it’s impossible to recycle a football boot as the tech is not currently available,” Hardy says, adding that research showed 12.5 million pairs of boots head to landfill in the US and EU each year. “So we’re really excited to have developed a pilot scheme to test some new machinery that can break down old boots into materials which can then be reused. We want to divert boots away from landfill and be part of our planned circular model of turning old boots into new boots.”
Another focus is the definition of sustainability, putting fair working conditions on an equal footing with eco concerns. “Sustainability is just as important as taking an ethical approach to doing business, I don’t see how you can have one without the other,” Hardy continues, adding that the brand’s mission is “to do right by people and the planet.”
Hardy is under no illusions about Sokito’s role in the football boot industry, something which has been dominated by the same handful of big names for decades. Unsurprisingly, its advertising and endorsement budgets are a fraction of its competitors, but the brand still hopes it can have an outsized influence through its message.
“I would like to think our presence in the market and future campaigns will accelerate the conversations around sustainability,” Hardy says. You’ve got B Corp brands like Fairphone and Patagonia that are disrupting their industries by talking about and tackling some big issues, so it would be great to emulate the sort of impact they’re having on respective markets.”
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