World’s First Crowdfunded Climate Neutral Sneakers Are…Made With Coffee?

Caffeine lovers may have met their match in a performance shoe that taps coffee grounds, among other more sustainable materials.

Finnish sneaker brand Rens is crowdfunding its latest vegan, climate-neutral sneaker the “Nomad” on Kickstarter as of Tuesday. Pledges to preorder the shoe start at $89 for early-bird backers with the ultimate retail price noted as $179. The sneaker comes in nine colorways. Its upper is made with a 50 percent blend of yarns spun from coffee grounds and 50 percent recycled polyester, averaging six recycled bottles per pair. The outsole is 100 percent sustainably sourced rubber and 100 percent EVA cushioning, with the insole and waterproof membrane comprising fully recycled materials.

Major convenience store chains in Taiwan and Mainland China fuel the coffee grounds supply, and the ensuing process transforms the grounds into a filament by way of polymerization (mixed with recycled plastic pellets).

Due to the coffee material’s natural antimicrobial properties, Rens boasts three times the odor control — an edge typically given by silver ion technology in performance apparel. The brand also cites quick-dry features and advanced ultraviolet protection.

The company was cofounded by 27-year-old Jesse Tran and 23-year-old Son Chu, who after their first shoe launch last year that sold in more than 100 countries were placed on Forbes Europe 30 Under 30 list. This year, the company earned a Red Dot Design Award, which is an international competition for product design.

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“Nomad is targeted at the performance junkie, looking for comfort and most importantly to make a positive impact on the environment through their purchasing decisions,” Tran said.

Between throwaway cups and coffee grounds (which are backyard compostable), coffee is chalking up a sizable footprint. It’s estimated by the National Coffee Association that the world consumes more than 2 billion cups of coffee every day, with millions of tons of organic waste attributed to the coffee industry annually. Based on research from the German Environmental Agency, reusable cup innovations — not unlike the paradigm shift occurring in retail bags — can have untold benefits, like a drastic cut in emissions, water use and deforestation.

“If food waste was a country, it would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world,” said Tran. “Like all organic waste, when coffee is disposed of in landfills, it creates a perfect breeding ground for methane, a 28-times more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. For most coffee waste, the landfill is its only destination.”

To date, the nimble start-up has recycled more than 250,000 plastic bottles and 750,000 cups of used coffee. Working with carbon offsetting firm ClimatePartner, Rens also measures, curbs and offsets carbon emissions at each stage including raw materials, packaging, production, transport and waste.

However, there are blind spots, Tran acknowledged. “Does utilizing coffee solve all of the problems associated with food waste? Of course not, but by looking at the materials we use in a new way, we can not only reduce our impact, but also unlock the full potential of these amazing materials beyond their initial purpose.”

The Kickstarter campaign, too, has its perks, he said. “Crowdfunding gives you better access, more feedback, a cleaner, greener and more affordable product and process, and a better overall sneaker.”

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