Sustainable Reinvention: Mojito Bio
SCARPA engineers the industry’s first biodegradable performance shoe
Every year, SCARPA produces 1.2 million pairs of new shoes, says company CEO Diego Bolzonello. The most popular among those pairs is SCARPA’s classic Mojito—a sturdy shoe built for all-around comfort on the trails, casual rock approaches, and urban paths. This upcoming spring, SCARPA will release a new twist on its old classic: The Mojito Bio, a fully biodegradable version. It’ll be the first biodegradable performance shoe to hit the market.
The Mojito Bio a major step in SCARPA’s sustainability mission, and one the company hopes will set an example for materials innovation and creative design—not only within their own company, but also the outdoor industry at large. Everything from the natural-rubber outsole, to the synthetically engineered laces, and the sugarcane-based cushioned midsole is built to naturally break down and integrate seamlessly into the earth once the shoe reaches its end of life.
“In a lot of countries, the Mojito is synonymous with SCARPA,” says Melanie Hood, SCARPA North America’s marketing manager. “So to do this with a shoe that speaks to who we are in this way is really great.”
When the Mojito Bio is ready to hit stores (Spring 2021), they’ll retail for less than $200 and maintain the same performance and durability guarantees as every other SCARPA shoe. As their inaugural biodegradability project, the company chose the Mojito because they wanted their innovation to be as accessible and impactful as possible. “Only a small percentage of the world wears climbing shoes, for example, but anyone can wear the Mojito,” Hood says.
So, what does it take to engineer a completely biodegradable performance shoe? It’s not an easy feat, but don’t take our word for it: We spoke to Bolzonello from the Italian SCARPA offices to learn all about the process, the hurdles, and the successes along the way. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Let’s start with the why: Why did SCARPA envision creating a biodegradable shoe? And why did you decide to pursue such an endeavor?
So, frankly speaking it’s not a new focus this season. For around two years we have been developing this new biodegradable technology. It’s all connected with our attention to sustainability and the process of becoming a Benefit Corporation. We are expecting within the next six or seven months to be a B-Corp, so we have increased our attention to everything that advances our sustainability.
Why the Mojito?
It’s one of the more simple products in our line, and so that’s why we started with it. We have the upper done with a single kind of thread, so we can have a knitted upper. That makes these very breathable, probably the most breathable shoes in our collection. For the lining inside we use the same thread—a biodegradable synthetic thread.
It’s given us a very strong beginning. Now we are developing other things that will be ready very shortly. We have a new approach shoe that will be fully recycled. In the next collection we’ll probably have our first hiking/trekking shoes that are fully recycled.
SCARPA doesn’t make regular shoes—we make technical shoes, so we needed to deliver performance and durability as well. These are not only about sustainability. You have to believe in its performance when you are climbing a rock. You understand that you cannot take risks in your footwear choice. You must have a performance shoe—not a slippery shoe.
We also have to guarantee the durability of the shoe, the life of the shoe. We don’t want these to be shoes that you waste every year instead of having a life of three, four, or five years. So we had to keep the performance, but add on sustainability. That was our main target.
Regarding the shoe’s innovative, biodegradable materials, what was the development and engineering process like, and what were some of the biggest obstacles?
One of the main difficulties was working with the shoe itself, as there are many, many components. It’s not like a jacket—the shoe is much more complicated. You have the sole, the midsole, you have the insole, you have the upper, the padding, the tongue, the laces, the reinforcements. If I showed you the spec sheet for a shoe, it’d be like a drama.
So we had to produce different materials for many of the components. And all these materials need to meet certification requirements. When we are certifying, we have to go material by material because we want to make sure what we are putting into the market are real sustainable shoes.
We also didn’t want to increase the cost too much. If you make a new product like this and double the price, that’s not aligned with our mentality. So we needed good performance with a reasonable price point, and of course figuring out how to put together all the new material technology.
Explain the biodegradability… Can I just throw the shoes into the woods when I’m done with them? (hint: no!)
So you know, normal materials will exist in nature for a long time—we are talking about 40-50 years if you buried them in the ground. That’s because the chemical process that breaks down the materials starts after years and years and years. But it isn’t necessary. Changing the way we make a product, we can have a different result.
Biodegradability is a nightmare from a technical perspective. It has a lot to do with oxygen and the relationship it has with the fibers. We have certifications from one of the primary certification companies in England, and our materials can biodegrade without creating problems in the natural world, but the shoes have to be buried underground.
Once buried underground, different components of the shoe will degrade at different rates (this is also influenced by what kind of ground). We can say that this shoe, if you bury it, in 24 years it’ll become ground itself.
During the shoe’s conceptual development, were you drawing on inspiration from other brands’ projects?
Unfortunately, we are the first to be doing this kind of thing. We produce 100% of our shoes at our own factories in Italy, Romania, and China, so we were able to look at and work with every step of the design and manufacturing process—that made it possible for us to be so innovative.
During the manufacturing process, did SCARPA take extra steps to make the process itself also eco-friendly?
Actually, that’s a very important component. The upper is done in Asia, and it’s knitted by 100-percent electric machines, so that’s no immediate pollution at all. We import the upper, outsole and midsole into Italy. We assemble all the things here in Italy with a water-based glue. And in our factory, 100% of energy is made by a green power.
Are you seeing a demand from consumers for this type of sustainable product?
Yes, absolutely. The demand is increasing like crazy. I think the sensibility of consumers will continue to grow on this point of sustainability.
Emma Athena is an award-winning journalist and fresh-air lover. She writes about adventure and the environment, where humans and nature intersect at their most impactful moments. When she’s not glued to her keyboard or curled up with a book, she’s running in the mountains with her dog or camping with people she loves. To read more of her work and get in contact, visit emmaathena.com.