Nike has introduced a new material made from at least 50% recycled natural leather fibers, the sports apparel company announced. Called Flyleather, the material is designed to mimic athletic full-grain leather for shoes.
Normally during leather manufacturing, as much as 30% of a cow’s hide gets discarded, Nike says. For Flyleather, the company gathers leather scraps from tannery floors and turns them into fibers. Using a powerful hydro process, those fibers then get fused with synthetic fibers. After undergoing a finishing process that may include pigmentation, the material goes onto a roll to be cut, the company explains. Having Flyleather on a roll also improves cutting efficiency.
Leather has the second-highest environmental impact on the company’s carbon emissions and water usage, according to Nike. The manufacturing process for Flyleather uses 90% less water and has an 80% lower carbon footprint than traditional leather manufacturing, the company says. A pair of shoes made with the specially engineered material also has around half the carbon footprint of ones fashioned from regular leather.
“Unlike with traditional leathers, Flyleather can be produced with a consistent grade across a broader range of product,” Tony Bignell, Nike’s VP of footwear innovation says in a press release.
Nike has a history of putting its manufacturing process under the microscope to reduce waste. Nearly a decade ago, the company released Nike Trash Talk basketball shoes that incorporated scrap-ground foam and footwear outsole manufacturing waste. More recently, the formfitting, lightweight Flyknit shoe uppers also represented a pivot away from scrap generation.
The Flyleather introduction comes at a time when sustainable apparel continues to gain momentum. This year, clothing giant Primark launched its first line made from sustainable cotton and major retailers like Target and H&M are putting more clothing produced from recycled materials on their shelves.