When we think of algae, we think of the slimy green plants that you find in lakes and rivers. Like with anything, in small amounts algae is a vital contribute to our environment’s eco-system; providing vital nutrients to fish and insects, as well as being a source of oxygen (World Atlas claimed that algae is responsible for producing 30% of oxygen globally that animals rely on for survival).
However, algae is currently causing a global crisis, there is too much of it forming in our bodies of water as a result of pollution and climate change, which is ultimately impacting our eco-systems, wildlife, water sources and fishing industry.
So, what has this got to do with footwear? SHU DA explain how the footwear industry is leveraging this natural material to help clean up the world’s waterways, as well as create sustainable footwear that is kinder on the planet using natural materials.
What are algae blooms?
Algae blooms are a dense layer of tiny plants that occur on the surface of bodies of water like lakes and canals. Algae is considered ‘blooming’ when it is densely populated in the water, and can be identified clearly due to its green/yellow colouring.
Algae blooms are produced through a variety of factors including sunlight, temperature and nutrient pollination. In particular, excessive amounts of the chemical’s phosphorus and nitrogen in waters are a main factor of causing algae blooms. These chemicals are mainly used as fertilizer in the agricultural industry and come from running off of crop-fields and live-stock lands into lakes and rivers.
When the algae become too dense, it prevents sunlight from shining through and underneath the water’s surface, which is needed to help animals and plants thrive. This ultimately has a detrimental impact on the wildlife and organisms living in the water. As the plants in the water die, they fall to the bottom and start decaying, which then reduces the amount of oxygen in the water, having a knock-on effect for other plants and animals who need oxygen in the water to survive.
Algae and footwear
So, now we know how bad algae blooms are for the environment, how do we begin to get rid of them I hear you ask? Well, the answer is…..start turning algae blooms into footwear midsoles!
SHU DA has partnered with Bloom, a company that specializes in harvesting algae bloom for repurposing into footwear soles.
Bloom claim that if this process of turning algae into soles was adopted annually by only 5% of the footwear industry it would offset the equivalent CO2 of 23,000 passenger vehicles.
One of the primary raw materials used in footwear is EVA. (This is the foam-type material used in soles for comfort). Footwear-makers like it because it doesn’t breakdown easily, causing it to last longer. However, the production of virgin EVA is not good on the environment, which is why algae harvesting is seen as a good alternative to producing virgin EVA.
So how is harvesting algae a good alternative to making virgin EVA? Well, when Algae is put under heat and pressure, it turns into a bioplastic resin, which has similar properties to EVA and has a foam-like quality to it. It can then be moulded and manipulated to form the insole and midsole of the shoe.
By harvesting algae bloom to produce 1 pair of bioplastic soles for footwear, it is estimated that you would be putting 62 gallons of filtered water back into the environment (algae free!). The algae bioplastic production process also has 20-40% lesser impact on the environment than producing virgin EVA.
Do algae bloom soles perform as well as regular shoe soles?
Algae bloom soles aren’t just better for the environment, they also have many performance benefits!
Algae has natural thermoplastic qualities, meaning it can be manipulated and moulded in a similar way to synthetic foam. This means you can still achieve a squishy, soft texture in the sole so your feet will feel just as comfortable underfoot! This rivals the qualities of synthetic EVA.
The soles are also certified hypoallergic and dermatologically tested.
Below is an example of SHU DA’s algae bloom soles (the blue part is the algae bloom!). You can see the algae bloom makes up the part of the sole underneath the heel, giving you a soft, cushioned and supported feel on your feet.
So now you know how and why algae blooms are becoming the most sort-after natural material in footwear, and when you next buy a pair of shoes with algae bloom soles, you will know you are investing in the clean-up process of getting our world's waterways clean again.
Look out for SHU DA’s SS23 footwear launch, coming soon, featuring our own custom algae bloom soles!