Luxury designer Louis Vuitton has stepped into the sustainable fashion market for the first time, following years of pressure from activists and rival luxury brands. The fashion house announced its new Charlie sneakers will be sourced from corn and crafted from 90 percent recycled and bio-based materials, bringing a Louis Vuitton design into the sustainability spotlight. LV incorporated a new sustainable material called Biolpolioli – a corn-based plastic –that will make its market debut with the Louis Vuitton shoes.

The company’s Charlie sneakers will surpass all its current selection in regard to sustainability. The corn-based shoes also feature several accomplishments in the sustainable footwear sector. The shoe’s laces use 100 percent recycled fiber and the soles contain 94 percent recycled rubber. Alongside Biopolioli, Louis Vuitton also created the tongue patch using Econyl – a renewable nylon fabric. Soon, consumers will be able to purchase the brand’s most eco-friendly sneaker that doubles as its first unisex design and is packaged in recycled cardboard.

Louis Vuitton faces criticism for delaying a ban on fur, but the luxury fashion house started developing sustainable designs and manufacturing practices over recent years. Last year, the company conducted a life cycle analysis to determine the best method to improve its sustainability. The initial result is the Charlie sneaker, making its market debut on November 12.

“This allowed us to identify the levers to reduce the environmental impact of our shoes,” Louis Vuitton Global Head of Sustainability Christelle Capdupuy said to WWD. “The Charlie is the result of all this scientific, technical work that has been done.”

Louis Vuitton started introducing upcycling programs for its fashion collection in 2019, and since then, has enhanced these efforts to meet sustainability standards in place from its parent company, LVMH (Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton). The brand currently intends to transition to 100 percent ethically sourced materials and to switch to 100 percent renewable energy across its production and corporate sectors.

“It’s not easy to change the way we do things,” she said. “So at some point, it’s very interesting to test yourself on a product. The Charlie is the result of a collaboration between marketing, the environmental division, our production site in Italy, and our suppliers. It’s allowed us to test and source the most ambitious raw materials, in terms of environmental impact, and now we’re learning.”

Vegan footwear is rapidly spreading across the entire industry. A report from Future Market Insights valued the vegan footwear market at approximately $24 billion, predicting that it would continue to grow at a 7.2 percent CAGR over the next decade. The production of sustainable footwear is increasing as new startups and tech companies develop sustainable materials adopted by big companies like Adidas or other fashion giants like Gucci and Chanel.

Outside of luxury fashion brands, brands such as Adidas and Nike have paved the way for sustainable and vegan footwear. Earlier this year, Nike partnered with the sustainable material company Ananas Anam to introduce the Pinatex to several of its signature designs. The “Happy Pineapple” collection features five different shoes with fully vegan materials sourced from pineapples. Some iconic designs include the Nike Air Max and Air Force 1s, rolled out with specialized tropical colors.

Another recent study from Future Market Insights revealed that the demand for vegan footwear is soaring as more customers begin to search for environmentally- and animal-friendly options. The report also highlights how Millenials and Gen-Z shoppers also feel more willing to spend more on sustainability across the fashion industry.

“Keeping in mind shifting preference of consumers, most companies are expected to focus on sustainability. Some of them will also include plant-based materials for manufacturing shoes to gain competitive advantage,” an FMI analyst said.

Celebrities like Billie Eilish and soccer star Paul Pogba also help fuel the vegan shoe craze. Eilish collaborated with Nike to debut two new vegan Nike shoes, including a “Ghost Green” Nike Air Jordan that features the vibrant green signature to the pop star. Pogba partnered with Stella McCartney to release a brand new Predator Freak P+ soccer shoe with Adidas. The vegan soccer shoe will be the most sustainable soccer boot on the market – changing both the footwear market and its athletic sector.

Louis Vuitton’s Charlie sneakers are currently available for $1,080 for the low-top variation, and $1,130 for the high-top design. The sneakers mark the brand’s first attempt to enter the vegan footwear market, but with its overall sustainability commitments, consumers can expect it will usher in a sustainable luxury shoe line in the coming years.

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