Even in today’s marketplace of luminous synthetic uppers, space-age carbon fibre soles and super-light plastic chassis, if you were to ask anyone on the street to draw you a football boot, the chances are you’d get a classic, leather cleat with six studs.
But future generations may well grow up in a world without leather football boots, as Puma chief executive Jochen Zeitz has admitted the iconic sports brand will have to join the rest of the industry in moving away from leather footwear.
Speaking at the UN Rio+20 earth summit, Mr. Zeitz said , “I think eventually we’ll have to look at alternative materials, there’s no question about it. We should eat less meat, all of us, and we should use less leather, I mean that’s reality.”
Puma’s current line-up of footballing footwear includes the K-Leather PowerCat 1.12, evoSPEED 1K and – of course – the iconic Puma King, meaning that of the biggest sports manufacturers in the market at the moment, Puma would be the ones required to make the most drastic shift.
Ahead of the curve, adidas has already made a concerted effort to move it’s footwear away from natural leather over the last two years – with only the Copa Mundial still made using an entirely natural leather upper, whilst Nike’s KangaLite (and Kangatouch for subsidiary Umbro) material has seen them also drift away from natural leather.
Zeitz explained Puma are looking to move away from natural leather as the processing and production of raw materials was the biggest impactor of Puma’s environmental footprint, with cattle ranching draining water supplies and requiring land to be cleared, as well as the harmful chemicals and contaminants associated with leather tanneries.
These factors – plus the sheer volume of footwear produced – makes footwear has the biggest environmental footprint of Puma’s products. A scenario likely similar for Nike and adidas.
Whilst Puma have a number of innovative synthetic materials at their disposal, they currently don’t have a ‘flagship’ synthetic leather in the same way Nike have KangaLite, or adidas have HybridTouch.
Mr Zeitz, conceded hope that, “Maybe there’s an economic way of producing a leather-like product in the laboratory”; a sign that Puma haven’t developed a substitute material just yet – surprising news given Puma’s forward-thinking in this area, like the ‘Eco’ Puma Kings, that have found innovative ways to offset the environmental impact of producing small-run batches of football boots.
With adidas and Nike comfortable in their transition away from natural leather products, and Puma close behind – we wonder whether this will signal the end for the classic leather football boot?
Once the three biggest manufacturers in the world move away from the material, will Mizuno, Asics and others be forced to follow suit?
Let us know in the comments!