Nike and Puma’s latest moves seem dishonest
News broke recently that Nike was going to stop production of kangaroo leather football boots. In the announcement, Nike also mentioned that they had divested of their only kangaroo leather supplier in 2021. This comes only two weeks after Puma had announced that they will also stop the use of kangaroo skin for the Big Cat’s products. This news also comes hot on the heels that the US state of Oregon is set to true introduce a law that bans the import of kangaroo leather products in a similar vein to California’s current law that does the same. Adidas is also expected to follow suit in the coming future.
What is interesting is that these moves have been presented as environmentally friendly and better for the planet. Part of this comes from Puma’s newest King which uses a K-Better synthetic upper of which at least 20 percent is made up from recycled materials. We also see a similar story with the various collab releases between and adidas and Parley, with the latest being adidas’ Parley boot pack, which uses recycled ocean plastic. Puma have also done something similar previously with the collabs with First Mile, another company that uses plastic recycled from beached trash.
However, these decisions are not exactly a recent development. As far back as 2012, the Puma CEO at the time, Jochen Zeitz, was quoted as saying that Puma would ditch kangaroo leather. Adidas promised something similar at the time, with the responsible investment group Co-Operative Asset Management saying that adidas was planning on reducing their k leather sourcing by 98% by the middle of 2013. Both Nike and Umbro (which was owned by Nike at the time) also committed to phrasing out the use of kangaroo leather at the time, according to the piece written on the subject on Footy-Boots.com. But words are one thing, actions are another.
It is not as if there were no decent alternatives to leather at the time, with both Kanga-Lite and HybridTouch already have been released by that point in time that it makes sense to see that the writing seemed to be on the wall for kangaroo leather. But, for whatever reason the brands decided to stick with kangaroo leather, and we can only speculate the reasons why they did not follow through with their promises. A possibility could be that it was too expensive at the time to completely drop kangaroo leather. After all, many synthetics have a high barrier to entry because the initial cost to develop an all new synthetic material is high. The flip side of this is that over time the synthetic becomes cheaper to use since a new synthetic does not need to be re-invented, only tweaked. This is part of the reason knit has been so prevalent in the market for so long as the technology for knit in football boots is moving onto a decade-old now and slight changes to the formula are far cheaper than making something completely new.
As a juxtaposition to this, kangaroo leather costs vary based on what supply is available, as well as import taxes, making the market more volatile versus a synthetic that may have been created “in-house”, meaning developed at the companies themselves. Another thing that needs to be pointed out is that since synthetic materials get cheaper to use over time, this many companies can more easily
manipulate change prices based on other factors within their control. Given that prices are continuing to rise despite the economic reality many people face, it is safe to assume that raising profits is their primary goal. This also means that a lot of companies pass the costs onto consumers, even if the materials or creation cost has not changed.
One of the less obvious reasons for companies to move away from kangaroo leather is a marketing motive. It is an easy tap in for brands to say that they are concerned about the environment and animal welfare and it makes for a feel good story – Look at these brands moving with the times, knowing they have to be more kind to the planet. And of course, you have to support the brands that are doing this, because we all care about the planet. Sure, the positive news coverage helps these companies’ profiles and can lead to higher profits, and definitely helps steer the light away from less unsavory business practices. In reality, this seems to be nothing more than Greenwashing, or the practice of appearing environmentally friendly when in reality being in it for other motives.
First off, let’s understand that a company’s primary goal is the pursuit of profit. While there are some companies that do more, or do try to be environmentally friendly, chasing after profit is still the primary objective for the majority of companies. Another thing to understand is that consumers as a whole have become far more environmentally conscious and companies like AllBirds, Hylo and Sokito seek to meet these new demands for product that is better for the environment. Adidas themselves have even had a couple of collabs with Allbirds. I would argue that the reason bigger sports brands like Nike, Puma and adidas are switching the more environmentally friendly practices is to head off competition from these other brands.
However, there is a major difference between Nike making a synthetic Tiempo and a brand like Sokito making their Devista boots (there even is a version with kangaroo leather, more on that in a bit). Where Nike makes vague promises about how synthetic boots are eco-friendly, and they can be, there is no talk about the end of life cycle. On Sokito’s website for example, they are front and center about how they want to recycle their and other brand’s old boots and use them to create new boots. Given that so many boots and shoes wind up in landfills, surely the impetus is on Nike to something similar given that they are the world’s largest sporting company, but other than some eligible (up to Nike to determine what is and is not eligible) shoes, there is only eight Nike stores in the entire United States take part in the recycle and donation program and only Nike athletic shoes qualify – which leaves a lot more to wind up at the dump.
According to Sokito, it is estimated that 12.5 million pairs of football boots windup in landfills every year, and that is only counting Europe and the US, with each pair potentially taking 1000 (!) years to decompose. This is before we even mention some of the toxins that are used during shoemaking that will wind up in groundsoil. Which brings us to microplastics. Microplastics have been found in Antarctic Sea ice, in marine animals, and even in the food we eat. It sounds good to use recycled plastic, but the reality is that even recycled plastic when washed introduces more microplastics into the environment and according to a study from Boucher and Friot in 2017 Primary Mircoplastics in the Oceans: A Global Evaluation of Sources shows that around 35% of microplastics come from clothing and textiles. So surely a natural material would be the better option at this point.
In Australia, around 2 million kangaroos are culled annually. Kangaroos are seen as pests that devastate local habitats. According to most local and well as national government agencies in Australia, these culls stop the local ecosystems being wiped out. Even including the opposition to such culls, they are still happening and reducing the use of kangaroo leather globally will only increase waste, as the demand for kangaroo leather lessens. This leaves Australia with excess skins that go to waste. Which isn’t environmentally friendly. Kangaroo leather is a natural material it also biodegrades faster than a synthetic boot. Of course, people can point out how much waste there is when it comes to creating kangaroo leather boots, but we do not how much waste is created when developing and producing synthetics.
Another point is that seems fairly hypocritical for brands to talk big about being environmentally friendly through discontinuing their use of kangaroo leather while still using cow and calf leather. Cows emit huge amounts of methane gas and think piece after think piece have written about the massive environmental impact that cows have on the greenhouse gas emissions. It seems most insincere for these brands speaking loud and proud about their pro earth policies while on the other hand continuing the use and creation of products that sit at odds with these goals.
Lastly, if these brands care so much about the environment, it leads one to wonder why they continue to produce football boots in such volume. The market is already over-saturated, and this is easily obvious to anyone who sees how quickly new products are discounted these days. We do not know how much product goes unsold because of the current rate of production. Surely if brands cared so much about the environment, they would focus on reducing the number of releases every year and reduce the amount of price points and silos available.
This is not to say kangaroo leather is perfect. There are issues that need to be raised how leathers in general are created and the environmental impact that the creation process has. We need to reduce are reliance on cattle in general but we already know the impact that kangaroo leather has on the environment, whereas with the creation of synthetics and their end of life is a black box that the public in general does not have access to.
Looking at the arguments presented, it can be presumed that instead of actually being environmentally friendly, Nike, adidas and Puma are instead seeking to appear eco conscious while behind the scenes finding new reasons to increase prices and pad their profits. This is not even including the free advertising they get when announcing such “bold” plans that of course the media and bloggers like me, are bound to publish/write about. And again, if an eco-focused brand like Sokito is still using kangaroo leather while others seem to be steering away from it, it seems to say something about where these bigger brands’ motives lie.
Anyways, from a personal standpoint, I think it will be some time before kangaroo leather disappears from the market and it will be down to brands like Mizuno, ASICS, (who both have their own environmentally friendly practices) Adler, Sokito, Ryal and others to carry the torch of making kangaroo leather boots. Do not get me wrong: I am all for boots made from recycled materials and we should absolutely have more boots like this. But the amount produced by big brands and the opaqueness of their creation and end of life practices leaves a lot to be desired. Kangaroo leather boots are here to stay for now, and no matter how the Big Three try to spin it, there are still advantages to using kangaroo leather over other leathers and synthetics.
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Header Image Credit: SoccerBible