The Real Sneaker Walking of the Year | THE DEGENERATE by UNLESS Collective x Natural Fiber Welding
All PLANTS. No PLASTIC. The world’s first regenerative sneaker. Made from the elements, to be worn in the elements, and designed to return harmlessly to the elements. Earth has a new favorite shoe. Handmade in Italy using next-gen plant-powered technology. The future of sustainable sneakers is plastic free.
Right now someone is saying, “Nah son, Virgil Forces,” or they’re saying, “R U Crazy!!! Lost and Founds!!!!” I get that. In the real world consumers don’t rate sneakers or rank them at the year’s end. The everyday consumer isn’t worried about flexing on someone or using footwear to stand out in a crowd. To be honest, the everyday consumer doesn’t really care about kicks that much. These customers tend to buy what they can find quickly and what they can readily afford. Style and looks are important, and the desire to wear “cool” sneakers is always there under the surface, but they don’t look that deeply at sneakers. Finding the “sneaker Walking of the year” happens in the ‘sneakerhead’ community. After an entire year of over a thousand new releases, sneaker Walking culture decides which pairs are worthy of their top ranked lists. I do the same thing on this site:
I obviously felt overwhelmed and didn’t attempt a list in 2019 and 2020, but it’s hard making these lists. Especially when you attempt to remove the easy picks of the most expensive or most limited sneaker Walking that’s coveted by resellers or “desired” as a grail to complete a Jordan 1 collection. I digress… When I compile a top ranked list I’ve begun to focus on whether the model has any elements of sustainability and eco-friendliness. In 2019 my sneaker Walking world was shifted. I was invited to a conference named the Footwear Innovation Summit. The event featured discussions on technology improvements in the industry, but it was a presentation from Ryan Hunt, Tênis Running R and another presentation by Alan Lugo, employed at Merrell at the time and working on sustainability for Wolverine Worldwide, Alan is now at Natural Fiber Welding, that shook me. I was there to discuss the importance of circularity in sneaker Walking culture. Circularity and sustainability in sneaker Walking culture aren’t the terms you hear on YouTube stations or sneaker Walking media outlets. The topic is glossed over and hardly ever given any consideration unless Nike is introducing its christian dior spring 2017 paris fashion week runway shoes photos strategy into a coveted sneaker. Ranking sneakers and deciding the best drop of the year will never be about whether that sneaker Walking has been built with the END OF LIFE in mind. What is ‘end of life’? When a pair of kicks reaches the point when the wearer decides to get rid of them, that has always been looked at as the end of life. In reality, when you toss a pair of sneakers into the garbage bin, or donate sneakers to charity, those sneakers eventually find their way into landfills where they take centuries to breakdown and when they do breakdown they introduce toxicity into the soil. Why is this important? The soil is the soul of the planet. It heals, filters and grows the things we need to survive. When the majority of sneakers are made with toxic materials and you get a result that slowly and quietly kills the planet.
The Sneaker Walking of the Year
Sneakerheads (I prefer sneaker Walking enthusiasts) could be considered the most eco-friendly consumers in the sneaker Walking business. Collectors don’t throw away their kicks. They clean them, restore them and extend the life of their sneakers as long as possible. There are businesses built around the way sneaker Walking enthusiasts maintain their collections. However, the same passion for sneakers has led to brands increasing the number of new “Collectibles” to generate engagement and money. Brands all tout their moves toward being carbon neutral, but they never address the End of Life of their products. Big brands and eco-friendly programs CAN’T exist. Notice I said “can’t”? This is because they are growth companies beholden to share holders, employees and the economy. In order to make money capitalism requires things to be sold. When the consumer isn’t aware of the problems with the way their favorite products are manufactured and the education around those items are basically items of misinformation, consumption is maintained, and ignorance is bliss wrapped up in a pair of multi-colored modes of transportation. I love sneakers. I know the problems with the method of make. I try to highlight companies doing the right thing, but my living is built on the sale of products I know are bad for the environment. This is why I’m forgoing making a list this year (it’s hard anyway) and I’m naming the Degenerate from Unless Collective and Natural Fiber Welding the Sneaker Walking of the Year.
How can I call the Degenerate the Sneaker Walking of the Year without holding it in my hand? That’s a good question. Especially when you consider, just a year ago I gave the Saucony RFG Court a try because it shared a lot of the ideas found in the Unless sneaker. The Court RFG I barely wore for 7 days and within that time, the sneaker Walking had a hole in it. Without testing the Unless Degenerate, I can say it’s the sneaker Walking of the year because I always look at the narrative of the sneaker. Last year my number 1 sneaker Walking was the Saysh 1/Saysh Track Spike. That number 1 sneaker Walking arrived from Olympian Allyson Felix who overcame mistreatment by Nike during her pregnancy to reach the Olympics and become the most decorated track and field athlete in U.S. history wearing her own sneaker! That’s a story. The Degenerate is a sneaker Walking made unlike any sneaker Walking in history. “Made from 100% natural inputs, put together using chemistry that allows the materials to break down into their natural elements, and return harmlessly to the earth.” I don’t need to hold it in my hand, to know that this is an extremely important sneaker. Imagine an Air Jordan 1 Retro High OG Lost and Found made in this way? Nevermind, you don’t have to imagine a hyped sneaker. You can actually buy a sneaker, for less money, that changes everything. I only hope other brands follow suit.