END’s laces and webbing in the upper portion of the shoe are made from recycled plastic bottles; its interior linings are made from bamboo-infused nylon. Its sandals will boast cork-infused bottoms.In addition, Estey says, the shoes use less cement and glue and about one-third less time and labor to assemble than its competitors.Four independent footwear designers who checked out END’s Stumptown trail runner at The Oregonian’s request said they were impressed with its look, its solid yet lightweight feel and its construction. They noted that the shoe’s logo and other aesthetic features were embroidered, screen printed or die-cut, instead of welded on, a process that generates more plastic waste.“That’s a step in the right direction,“ said Carl Jonsson, a former footwear designer at Nike now at New, a Portland industrial-design firm that counts Simple Shoes among its clients. „You’re adding reinforcement but not a lot of junk.“
„It’s like an old, old Nike, maybe even lighter,“ said Toren Orzeck, owner of Portland industrial-design firm Fuse ID. „It feels like it’s like a throwback, but a throwback in a good way.“Yet, sustainability experts questioned one of Estey’s claims: that END’s midsoles and outsoles contain up to 20 percent and 30 percent recycled rubber, respectively.Athletic-shoe soles don’t perform well with more than 7 percent used rubber, said Phil Berry, former footwear sustainability director at Nike who now owns consulting firm Sustainable Product Works. With higher recycled content, running-shoe soles become prone to ripping apart, slipping on wet surfaces or losing cushioning more rapidly.“This is a really good-quality shoe,“ Berry said after examining END’s Stumptown 12. But, he added, „I question how good-performing their product can be at those levels. The physics just doesn’t work.“
Estey acknowledged those challenges. Just before producing its first line, END reduced the proportion of recycled content in its midsoles to 15 percent after they compressed too much during wear tests, Estey said this week.He emphasized that END’s primary focus is reducing the waste, materials and energy used in making shoes. „The biggest thing that we’re trying to do is the reduce part of it,“ he said. „It’s all about doing more with less to simplify the manufacturing process.“Like most footwear manufactures, END makes its shoes in Asia — a big strike against it from a resource-consumption standpoint.