Hong Kong sport shoe start-up Lane Eight is taking on the big players in the footwear industry by adopting a more sustainable approach to its shoes while targeting “everyday athletes”. Founded by Josh and James Shorrock in 2017, the company saw an opportunity to create a versatile shoe for recreational fitness enthusiasts, something major brands were not doing. The Shorrocks are also hoping to make a mark on the industry by using more sustainable materials to reduce their carbon footprint. “Whereas the big brands focus on elite athletes, we’re here to serve our everyday customers. The versatility of our product – the fact that you can work out in it, you can do short runs in it – means you don’t have to buy two or three different shoes,” said James Shorrock. “On a sustainability level, it means instead of three shoes, you just have to buy one.” There is a growing demand for earth friendly footwear as green consumption takes off, according to a report published by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council Research on the footwear industry in Hong Kong on March 26. “Shoes made of recycled and natural materials and free from animal‑derived substances are increasingly popular,” it said. Industry giants Adidas and Nike have also made strides in using environmentally friendly materials. Adidas has partnered with non-governmental organisation Parley for the Oceans to create shoes using upcycled marine waste. These include its Ultraboost x Parley shoes. Nike has launched shoes made with Flyleather, a new material made with a least 50 per cent recycled leather, and Flyknit, which incorporates materials such as recycled plastic. Sustainability is going to be the norm for businesses going forward, said Shorrock. “We feel that five, 10 years from now, it will be the expectation. If [brands] were to invest a little bit in doing it, I think they would find that customers are actually receptive to it.” Hong Kong-based TAL Apparel to launch masks that are effective even after 100 washes Lane Eight decided to make the switch to sustainable materials a year after the launch of its first shoe in August 2018. “It actually started with people asking us – are your products vegan?” Shorrock said. Lane Eight took the first step by removing all animal products from its shoe, replacing the leather suede with a vegan microfibre. Since then, the company has replaced the standard polyester yarn used in the upper with recycled yarn made from plastic bottles. Each pair currently uses the equivalent of 11 single-use plastic bottles, which are shredded and spun into the yarn, which is then knitted to form the upper, Shorrock said. Digitalisation the way forward for global apparel makers in post-coronavirus era as bankruptcies reshape industry Lane Eight has also been on the look out for alternatives to standard materials used by footwear makers. It has partnered with Bloom, a US-based company that harvests algae from polluted lakes around the world, to incorporate algae into the shoe’s midsoles. The amount of algae used in each pair releases 31.5 litres of fresh water back into the environment, while removing 64 cubic metres of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which is captured in the midsole. Following its shift to sustainable materials, the size of the company’s business has increased, growing three times over in 2020 from a year earlier, despite the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Lane Eight’s business in Hong Kong, which is its second-largest market after the US and accounts for about 40 per cent of its sales, has become profitable this year. The company hopes to expand its market presence with the launch of more physical stores in the city, and a new model later this year with a more accommodating fit and more environmentally-friendly materials. Struggling Hong Kong apparel retailer I.T’s top shareholder, private equity firm in bid to take firm private “With that shoe we’re looking at using more natural materials, so instead of the recycled plastic, we’ll be using a wood-derived fibre,” Shorrock said. “I think the world has enough plastic, as it is. We don’t need to be creating more. For us, it’s really focusing on sustainable, renewable materials that are low impact, while still being good for performance.” More companies are dipping their toes into the sustainability space, which is encouraging to see, said Nissa Cornish, executive director of Redress, an environmental NGO working to reduce waste in the apparel industry. “And if we as consumers respond to that positively, like spending our money where we see companies making good changes or producing things that are more sustainable, it will be a trend that will grow more quickly,” she said.