Fashion

How Nike Champions Sustainability

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Photographed by Tom Schirmacher; Styled by Sarah Zendejas

This spring in Paris, when Nike rounded up an inspiring roster of female athletes—including U.S. Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, Olympic gold medal–winning gymnast Simone Biles, and former U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team member Brandi Chastain—to unveil the brand’s 2019 World Cup uniforms, the message wasn’t just one of girl power. Sustainability was also at the forefront. Nike has become the industry’s number one user of plastic bottles, which it transforms into a fine yarn to craft its uniforms and other apparel (each uniform kit contains at least 12 bottles’ worth).

The Oregon sportswear giant has a decades-long history of being ahead of the curve when it comes to all things green. Back in 1994, the company began its Grind program, which turns used sneakers and surplus materials into running tracks, among other uses. And since 2010, Nike has diverted 6.4 billion plastic bottles from landfills, thanks in part to products such as the Nike Air VaporMax Flyknit shoe, which is made with more than 75 percent recycled materials.

For the Paris event, Nike tapped French designer Christelle Kocher—who’s known for upcycling soccer jerseys into sporty-chic gowns for her label, Koché—to collaborate on pieces including Muhammad’s sparkling look (above), which she paired with sustainable Flyleather sneakers for our shoot. Muhammad, who was featured in the brand’s Pro Hijab campaign, has been sponsored by Nike for the last three years and appreciates its focus on inclusivity. “Our views on activism are so closely aligned,” she says.

Perhaps Nike’s most surprising project, given how closely fashion brands typically guard their design processes, is the way it’s working to make its green knowledge available to all. This past May, the company unveiled its Circular Design Guide (a collaboration with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London, and the Global Fashion Agenda) at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, one of the top sustainability conferences for the industry. It hopes that fashion students, academics, and even fellow brands will use it as a kind of handbook for their own eco-friendly innovations. “We really see the value of stimulating innovation,” says the brand’s chief sustainability officer, Noel Kinder, “and being able to give that to the rest of the industry in an open-source way.”

Implementing renewable energy within all of Nike’s facilities is also a priority for Kinder, with the goal being 100 percent renewable energy by 2025. (“Right now we’re at 75 percent, so we’re actually ahead of schedule,” he says.) Nike has also partnered with Central Saint Martins on a sustainable design challenge centered around its Flyleather material (the four finalists’ work was shown at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit). Maybe they’ll find the next Kocher—who will go on to dress the next great Olympic hopeful.

Dress, Nike x Koché. Nike Pro Hijab, Leggings, Classic Cortez Flyleather sneakers, All, Nike. Rings, Bulgari. Makeup by Maki Hasegawa for Jurlique; Special thanks to To Welcome MGMT and Pier59.

This article originally appeared in the July 2019 issue of ELLE.

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