The entire upper of New Balance’s new sneaker, called newSky, is made from a fiber called Eco-fi, which is 95 percent post-consumer recycled plastic bottles. It takes about eight plastic bottles to make one pair of the sneakers, which will be available in October. Eco-fi is made by Foss Manufacturing which chops the bottles into flakes, heats the flakes and molds them into fiber. Eco-fi is strong and durable, but is breathable and comfortable, making it perfect for shoes. It is also 10 percent lighter than cotton and keeps out cold better than wool or nylon, plus it repels water. In addition, the Eco-fi fiber used to make the shoes was treated with Fosshield, which inhibits the growth of bacteria, mold, mildew and fungus.
While developing newSky, the designers used elements from another New Balance sneaker, NB Minimus. “For the design intent of the upper, the same philosophies are applied—minimizing the amount of materials used so you’re not over-building the shoe, but making it as comfortable as possible,” said Design Lead for Wellness, Drew Spieth.
“It was a big goal to keep it functional and looking stylish,” Spieth said. “At the end of the day, it looks like an interesting shoe and also looks great on the foot.”
The decision to use Eco-fi fabric to make the upper proved to be a hurdle and an opportunity for innovation. “A typical shoe has a lot of different types of materials,” said Drew. “What’s really interesting about this is, aside from the foam and the little rubber components [on the outsole] and a little bit of water based glue, the only material here is the recycled fabric.”
New Balance Senior Designer Christine Hall describes part of the process the designers went through while developing the newSky sneakers. “As you mold it, the material becomes very rigid, so it has a really interesting look to it, but it’s kind of hard,” said Hall. “In our own design ethos, one of the things we talk about a lot is comfort and something that feels really nice and soft.” The designers decided to use a more traditional stitching technique, which allows the Eco-fi fiber to be soft, pliable and comfortable on the foot.
According to Dave Rowell, Executive Vice President of Sales for Foss Manufacturing, Eco-fi has the potential to be used in all sorts of products. “Potentially, anything made out of polyester can be made out of Eco-fi polyester,” said Dave Rowell, Executive Vice President of Sales for Foss Manufacturing. “It actually has a higher strength than most of the polyester you’d find in your clothes.”
It is good news that Eco-fi fabric has multi-uses. In 2009, only 28 percent of PET bottles and jars were recycled, according to the EPA.
Photo: from New Balance website