Patagonia introduced their line of footwear late in 2006. Prior to this they had a robust relationship with Merrell, but were concerned about some of the manufacturing, and social standards within the footwear industry. So how does a company go about impacting an entrenched industry? Why they partner with the very company they had been working with in the past, Merrell. Except this time they mandated that the shoes bee constructed in a manner in line with their philosophy; make the best product, yet do no unnecessary harm. So what are the results, well here are some examples of their progress:
The latex they use comes from milk harvested from the hevea tree. They felt using hevea milk had two positive results; firstly the harvesting process was actually good for the trees in that it helped boost the milk production. Secondly they found that the milk itself had a certain microstructure that when cured created thousands of tiny cushioning air bubbles. Now I can attest for the later; the Cardon shoes I have been wearing these past few months are the most comfortable shoe I have worn with respect to impact on my knees and spine. I have done trade shows where I would wear one brand of shoe, but have to switch back to the Cardon as my knees would begin aching from standing on the concrete for long periods of time.
Before sourcing any of their leather, Patagonia really studied the industry. What they found was that all leather does not have the same impact on the environment. To insure that the leather they used in their footwear left the smallest possible footprint, they chose only those tanneries that had ISO 14001 registration. This strict set of environmental standards measures how efficiently a producer uses natural resources, how its processes impact the environment, and how closely the producer adheres to local and international environmental regulations. Patagonia believes that tanneries that measure up to ISO 14001 produce leather that is better for shoes and better for the planet.
Hemp may be one of the most useful, and misunderstood crops ever cultivated. It has a very short growing cycle, requires relatively little water and no pesticides, and is extremely resistant to molds and bacteria. Its root structure even helps prevent erosion. Shoes made of hemp require no break-in period, breathe better and smell better than those made of leather or synthetics, and are less prone to bacterial build up, which is a lot healthier on the feet. Patagonia uses hemp in a variety of ways, including as laces and as well as material for uppers. Check out the Wilkens shoe for their use of Hemp.
During the shoe manufacturing process, scrap rubber is left on the cutting room floor. But that doesn’t mean it has to end up in a landfill. A number of Patagonia shoes, including the Drifter are made with Ecostep, a Vibram formulated compound that uses up to 30% recycled scrap rubber that would otherwise be thrown away. Ecostep is highly abrasive, resistant and provides great traction in all kinds of weather and terrain.
Some of Patagonia’s footwear line, but not all, yet, are made without any animal bi-products. The solvents that are used are water based, and the uppers are synthetic or of natural fibers. A quick example that I can think of is the Tenzing shoe.
Now all of the above are obviously a movement in the right direction as far as reducing the shoe manufacturing industry’s footprint, but even Patagonia admits that there are still further advances to be made. Reducing the amount of water used in the tanning process is just one. Yet the journey can only start after the first steps have been made.
Now why did I take the time to put all of this down? One, I think Patagonia has a good story behind their footwear line; taking an industry that has been historically harsh on the environment and demonstrating that improvements can be made without sacrificing the quality of the product. I only wish that Patagonia was a little less humble, and did a better job promoting this story. The other reason and likely the most important to you as a consumer is that every shoe of Patagonia’s that I have worn has been comfortable and well made.
Just as with the Patagonia clothing they stand behind their product with their Patagonia Ironclad Guarantee: If you are not satisfied with one of their products at the time you receive it, or if one of their products does not perform to your satisfaction, return it to the store you bought it from, or to Patagonia for a replacement or refund. A reasonable charge will be assessed for damage due to wear and tear. They guarantee everything they make. That says something in this day and age!