Today is World IP Day, and this year’s theme is all about sport. After previously exploring the fashion industry’s solutions to the trend of ‘fast fashion’, here’s a look at some of the best, most sustainable sportswear trends, as the sports apparel industry looks to the more green practices and eco-friendly products that modern consumers demand.

It’s estimated that 300 million pairs of running shoes are thrown away in the UK each year — so while running might be great for your health, it’s not always so good for the planet. Since the sports industry is known for its high achievers, with ‘faster, stronger higher’ being the motto of the ultimate sporting event, the Olympic Games, it seems that innovators in the field are tapping into this same mindset to address the issues of sustainability, traceability and circularity. By combining science and technology, brands both old and new are creating incredible products that are certainly worthy of IP protection.

The rise of graphene and strong materials

Inov-8, a UK company, has become the first sports shoe manufacturer to use graphene, the world’s strongest material. The company has developed patent-pending technology to fuse graphene with rubber to create the soles of its trainers. Combining that with Kevlar (the stuff of bullet-proof vests) on shoe uppers creates hard-wearing, long-lasting products which are far less likely to end up in landfill. Kevlar and graphene are also used, along with ceramic, by twin brothers, designers and athletes Nick and Steve Tidball in a range of products from their company Vollebak, which claims to produce “the most advanced sports gear you’ve ever worn” (and certainly looks the part!).

Sustainable shoes

The innovative new AlphaEdge 4D from the Adidas by Stella McCartney collection is a real leader in sustainability. Its design was guided by years of data from elite athletes and features 4D-printed soles and a recycled polyester sock lining. Thanks to her dedication to ethical fashion, Stella McCartney’s name has become synonymous with problem-solving. Her collaboration with Adidas goes back nearly 15 years, maximising both parties’ commercial revenue through licensing agreements and building credible goodwill for both brands.

Going one step further, Adidas has just this week launched a shoe which, instead of containing the usual combination of a dozen materials and many individual parts, uses one single material — thermos plastic polyurethane (TPU). The trainer, which is 100% recyclable and creates zero waste, only became possible thanks to a breakthrough by engineers in modifying TPU so that it can be spun into fabric-style strands. The use of cutting-edge laser technology to weld the components together has meant that Adidas can completely remove glue from the product, making recycling even easier.

Interestingly, a relative industry newcomer, Allbirds, has taken the step of imposing a carbon tax on itself of USD 10 cents for each pair of trainers it produces, to offset the carbon generated in its manufacturing process — a truly bold and exciting move.

Reuse, resale, recycle

Elsewhere, Nike has launched Grind, a recycling scheme which takes old shoes to make sports flooring, and newcomer Viviobarefoot has constructed shoes using repurposed algae. Reusing and recycling materials is one way that brands can have a real impact on sustainability, but another is by instigating resale initiatives. The RealReal and StockX lead the way for the sourcing of recycled sporting goods. StockX takes this one stage further by being transparent around the pricing history of trainers it sells and its popularity has led to the online resale marketplace being valued at more than USD 1bn. Adidas and Reebok are also leaders in transparency, according to the latest index released by Fashion Revolution.

Tackling fast fashion

Longer-lasting products are one way to tackle the trend of disposable fashion, but another way of addressing the consumer hunger for newness while embracing sustainability is through fashion rentals. Vintage sports clothing is one market that’s certainly tapping into this, enabled by the returning popularity of athleisure, which has revived a number of 80’s brands including Champion, Fila and Russell Athletic. This is fundamental proof that trade marks can retain their value even after production ceases.

Sports brands are also harnessing new technology to promote their goods. Social media has prompted traditional brands to lend their weight to tech-savvy start-ups, resulting in successful penetration of the fashion media while developing brand awareness and visibility of both trade marks. Adidas has taken technology one step further and recently airdropped one of its latest collaboration efforts to festival-goers. Once a customer accepted an airdrop, an invitation was sent for them to collect the product from a designated place at a designated time. On a larger scale, if this can be combined with product supply-chains, overproduction could be reduced.

The future really does seem bright and sustainable for the fashion and sports apparel markets — and it’s great to see innovation and creativity at the heart of the green movement.