On the move since 1949

How one of Germany’s most traditional brands leads the field in innovation

Founded in post-war Germany, Adidas has risen to become a global player in sportswear. The company combines both - tradition and innovation, with a bold R&D department that doesn’t shy away from exploring new terrain over and over again. Materials from oceanic plastic waste made the headlines recently, and that’s just one example for the company’s pioneering efforts in the Advanced Materials and sustainability field.

The vision of Adidas’ founder Adi Dassler was simple: to make athletes better. So while the sports person’s performance and comfort has been at the core of the company’s product development, Adidas has expanded its aspiration by also finding ways of positively influencing the environmental footprint of their sneakers.

The two areas in which this can be achieved are the manufacturing process and the materials used. That’s one of the reasons why Adidas has been at the forefront of innovation and technology. The company has incorporated a DNA that enables and supports disruption and change not just as a one-off phenomenon within a business plan, but as part of their constant culture.

Ultimate repurposing approach leads to material and manufacturing innovation

“Parley for the Oceans” shows how a sustainable concept can turn into a commercial success story. Adidas read the signs of the times and teamed up with Parley 2015 as one of the founding members. Until today, more than five million pairs of shoes have been sold containing recycled ocean plastic. In the course of 2019 the company has planned to produce a total of 11 million pairs and states it is committed to using only recycled polyester in every product and in every application where a solution exists by 2024.

Another reason that gives the sneaker guru’s an advantage in the market and makes them a role model for other branches: They don’t shy away from questioning the own industry and products. As running shoes and sports shoes in general often have a short life cycle, they produce a lot of waste. That’s why Adidas has recently announced FUTURECRAFT.LOOP: a 100% recyclable performance running shoe which can be returned to adidas, broken down and reused to create new performance running shoes. What sounds like a simple product could become a leading concept in the shoe and fashion industry: taking responsibility for the whole life of a product and creating a “loop” to keep materials in use. Repurpose is the key word.

“Taking plastic waste out of the system is the first step, but we can’t stop there,” says Eric Liedtke, Executive Board Member at Adidas, responsible for Global Brands. “What happens to your shoes after you’ve worn them out? You throw them away – except there is no away. There are only landfills and incinerators and ultimately an atmosphere choked with excess carbon, or oceans filled with plastic waste. The next step is to end the concept of ‘waste’ entirely. Our dream is that you can keep wearing the same shoes over and over again.”

FUTURECRAFT.LOOP is a transformative approach to designing performance shoes that are made to be remade from the outset, by using one material type and no glue. Each component is made from 100% reusable TPU - it’s spun to yarn, knitted, moulded and clean-fused to a special midsole using another of Adidas’ own technologies. Once the shoes come to the end of their first life and are returned to Adidas – they are washed, ground to pellets and melted into material for components for a new pair of shoes, with zero waste and nothing thrown away. Each generation is designed to meet the adidas sports performance standard, without compromise. The official launch of the off-white sneaker has been scheduled for spring/summer 2021.

3D printing: Mass-customization to perfectly fit the feet and meet design demands

Another tech sector that Adidas has explored early on is 3D printing.  In 2017, their first 3D printed commercial sneaker model hit the store shelves, followed by the “Alphaedge 4D” one year later. The technology will heavily influence the mass manufacturing of shoes and allows for unseen design freedom and personalization. Adidas has already explored plans to scan the customers feet in store. In “Forbes”, Vice President of Strategy Creation for Adidas, James Carnes, says: “That’s how retail will be shaped in the future.”

You get “some sort of physical assessment, whether it’s your fit or movement specifications, that translates to your actual needs. Somebody with the same size will run or walk differently (from you). It’s completely personal to you.” In addition, production with 3D printing is 100 times faster than traditional manufacturing technologies and might turn the latter on its head. With 3D printing, Adidas could e.g. produce shoes locally and save on storage, shipping and other supply chain costs

Making athletes better - a vision that has clearly shaped the company’s path and accelerated its own pace. And who’d have thought that the sneakers athletes wear, don’t only make them better in terms of performance, but more than 60 years after Adidas’ founding also when it comes to their contribution to a better world.