October 11, 2023

Vivobarefoot x Circ: Partnering to Pioneer Chemical Recycling for Footwear

Vivobarefoot x Circ: Partnering to Pioneer Chemical Recycling for Footwear

We’re delighted to be partnering with textile-to-textile recycling B Corp Circ, to develop fully recyclable footwear components that inspire more industry action on circularity and help redefine the meaning of ‘recyclable’ footwear.

The challenge of materials and value-chain collaboration

Footwear is notoriously difficult to recycle. Many materials and components – soles, uppers, laces, eyelets and reinforcements – defy traditional textile recycling technologies, and recycling collection infrastructure for customers is poorly developed. As a result, an estimated 20 billion pairs end up in landfill each year. 

This complexity means that finding circular solutions – making new stuff out of old footwear, instead of just tossing it into landfill – requires collaboration between players from across the value chain (the who, what and where involved in making products).

Our work to create a transparent map of our own value chain has taught us how difficult even knowing your value chain is, let alone collaborating across it. Companies being unable, or unwilling, to properly understand their value chain is a highly problematic norm across the apparel and footwear industries, blocking collaboration and hiding the true cost of doing business. That’s why we’re working hard to change it.

In the meantime, though, how do we reduce the amount of footwear clogging up landfill?


The power of circular design thinking

Part of the solution is embedding end-of-use considerations early in the design process, which is why we’re so excited to be partnering with textile-to-textile recycling B Corp Circ.

United by a mission to use business for good, we’ll be working together to design and develop footwear uppers made entirely of a single material, polyester, that can be chemically recycled and reused in new footwear production without the need for added virgin materials.

Some footwear brands are already using mechanical recycling as an end-of-use pathway. This involves shredding and grinding materials for reuse. But shredded materials often require added virgin plastics to maintain their integrity, meaning the resulting products often can’t be recycled again. This ‘downcycling’ – creating inferior products using recycled materials – isn’t fully circular.

Circ’s proprietary technology, on the other hand, breaks cotton and polyester down from textiles into their fundamental molecules, allowing them to be rebuilt into separate streams of high-quality lyocell and polyester that can compete with virgin materials and be recycled multiple times.

 “Our north star goal is to develop performance footwear that is both durable and fully recyclable – and for us that means being able to use our recycled materials to make new footwear,” says Charlotte Pumford, our Head of Regeneration. “This first-of-its-kind collaboration moves us a step closer to that goal, giving us the ability to make product design and development decisions based on science, which we’ve never been in a position to do before.”

New Vivos, new collaborations

Subject to testing and results, we’re super excited to announce that our partnership will culminate in the launch of the Primus Circular line in 2025. 

However, this is about much more than a new product. Making fully recyclable footwear will require substantial collaboration across the value chain, and we want to provide a blueprint for how other industry players can come together to solve design pain points, roadblocks, and challenges. As Circ’s Chief Business Officer, Luke Henning, put it: “Together, we plan to push the limits of sustainable design and drive the necessary innovation for the next generation of circular footwear.”