How Allen Edmonds created an eco-conscious brand

May 13, 2024
Emmy Liederman
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The Allen Edmonds recrafting story starts with a shocking math equation.

There are nearly 8 billion people globally, approximately 16 billion feet, and the average shelf life of most shoes is only 8 to 12 months.

If every person needs approximately two new pairs of shoes (I currently have 30 😬), then the industry produces around 16 billion new shoes annually.

Stats show the number of new pairs of shoes made each year falls within this range—anywhere from 14.5 to 19 billion. There are also no signs of shoe production slowing down. Statista projects that the footwear industry will grow by 4.83% every year from now until 2025.

Consumers love shoes—for a good reason. Shoes make activities like running, dancing, hiking, tennis, cycling, going to the beach, etc., not only possible but comfortable.

Here’s the main problem.

Not only are we obsessed with buying shoes, but it's also a common practice to discard shoes without a second thought. The US Department of the Interior reports that Americans alone throw away at least 300 million pairs of shoes annually.

These shoes end up in landfills, and decomposition takes years. Leather shoes can take anywhere from 25 to 40 years to decompose. Ethylene-vinyl acetate (the ingredient used in most midsoles) can take up to 1000 years to decompose.

To put that in perspective, if members of the Song Dynasty were wearing Nikes, their shoes would only now be returning to dust. Yikes.

Thankfully, some fashion brands recognize this problem and are making changes to become more eco-friendly.

Allen Edmonds, in particular, has dedicated time, energy, and resources to building an eco-conscious recrafting program—a program that makes it possible for customers to honor Mother Earth without giving up luxury, leather footwear.

What is shoe recrafting?

Recrafting is exactly what it sounds like. Once you’ve worn out a pair of your favorite Allen Edmonds shoes, you don’t throw them away. Instead, you send your shoes back to Allen Edmonds. The brand then rebuilds your shoe, making the pair as good as new.

“There are few products you can buy, wear, beat the heck out of, then send back and basically get a brand-new product delivered to you. Rather than throwing those shoes away in a landfill creating more waste, it’s one of the ways our customers can do their part around sustainability,” says Robert Steffes, the VP of Manufacturing at Allen Edmonds, about recrafting.

As part of its commitment to promoting this eco-conscious program, Allen Edmonds makes it easy for consumers to participate. Participating in recrafting is an easy four-step process that takes around 4 to 6 weeks from start to finish. Consumers can expect the following:

  • Step 1: Ship or drop off your worn-out shoes to a local Allen Edmonds store.
  • Step 2: Wait for an email confirmation from an Allen Edmonds craftsperson confirming receipt.
  • Step 3: Craftspeople go to work to carefully recreate your shoes, keeping you updated every step of the way.
  • Step 4: Get another email confirmation that your good-as-new shoes are on their way back home to you.

Participating in recrafting is straightforward for consumers, and awareness about the program is growing, according to Keith Duplain, the St. Louis Brand Portfolio President.

“We recraft between 55,000 and 75,000 pairs a year. Over 90% of our styles can be recrafted. In 2016, we celebrated our one millionth recraft,” says Duplain.

 The best news about the recrafting program is it focuses on extending the longevity of the shoe, and shoes can be recrafted more than once.

 When asked how many times a shoe can be recrafted, Duplain says, “It depends on the frequency of use, but we have shoes that have lasted for three generations thanks to recraft. It is not unusual for a customer to send back a pair that belonged to his father or grandfather to be recrafted so he can wear them again. Most shoes can be recrafted two times, and on rare occasions, a pair can go through the process a third time.”

 For Allen Edmonds, recrafting is only one part of building an eco-conscious shoe brand.

Allen Edmonds is committed to the craft of luxury shoe-making—and re-making

While Allen Edmonds recrafts up to 75,000 old shoes a year, it’s important to note the story of eco-consciousness starts well before consumers ship their favorite pair of Allen Edmonds shoes in for recrafting.

Eco-consciousness starts with building high-quality, long-lasting shoes in the first place instead of fast fashion throwaways.

Unfortunately, many fast fashion companies focus on producing more inventory at lower costs—even at the expense of workers or the environment. 

According to the House of Common Environmental Audit Committee, clothing production is the third biggest manufacturing industry and contributes more to climate change than international aviation and shipping combined. And even though the fashion industry is responsible for 8% of carbon emissions, the effort that fast fashion brands put into sustainable product measures is decreasing, according to the Global Fashion Agenda.

Allen Edmonds knows that thinking of shoes as short-term tools, rather than long-term investments leads to waste, overconsumption, and environmental problems.

Ever since the company’s inception in 1922, Allen Edmonds has focused on creating high-quality, timeless, and long-lasting shoes.

Remember how the average life cycle of a shoe is one year? Not an Allen Edmonds shoe. “A typical [Allen Edmonds] shoe lifecycle is 7 to 10 years with proper care and use,” explains Duplain.

The care that goes into the initial craftsmanship of the shoe is one explanation of why Allen Edmonds has survived the Great Depression, WWII, a factory fire, and why the brand will continue to thrive post-pandemic.

Recent research shows that 65% of consumers plan on buying more durable clothes post-pandemic, according to a July 2020 McKinsey & Company survey. Allen Edmonds is one brand that’s durable products stand the test of time.

Allen Edmonds isn’t about fast fashion or quick fixes. The brand is about passing tradition—and shoes—from one generation to another.

Allen Edmonds recrafting process continues to evolve 

When Allen Edmonds started in 1922, building a quality shoe was part of the business plan, but recrafting wasn’t.

However, Allen Edmonds has stayed in tune with relevant global conversations and adapted its plan to become more eco-conscious throughout the years. Hence, the introduction of the recrafting program and its continuous evolution.

As of now, over 90% of Allen Edmonds’ styles can be recrafted. “There is a small number of our styles we don’t offer recrafting for. It is usually because of the type of construction of the shoe, material availability, or we don’t have the machinery needed to do the job right,” says Duplain.

But that doesn’t mean Allen Edmonds will stop taking steps to offer more styles for recrafting.

“We continue to evolve our program to support our customers’ shoe choices. Today we even recraft select Allen Edmonds sneakers, something that is not typically offered by other brands,” says Duplain.

Duplain continues by explaining the additional services Allen Edmonds has added to the recrafting plan in recent years. He says, “The Prestige service was added early on, and several years ago, the sole conversion/upgrade to switch soles was made available.”

Fans can expect more eco-friendly and customer-centric services from Allen Edmonds in the future.

“We are excited to roll out some additional changes on our website soon that will allow customers to create and pay for their orders online,” says Duplain.

Sustainability and beyond!

While recrafting is certainly about sustainability, it’s also about promoting responsible consumerism. In other words, it’s about making it possible for consumers to buy something of quality and have it last throughout the years.

Allen Edmonds promotes responsible consumerism by creating high-quality products and leveraging tradition and eco-conscious practices to make shoes meaningful. 

If you browse the Allen Edmonds website or talk to a customer, you quickly learn that the shoes are more than something you wear to look good at a business meeting. The shoes are an experience—even sometimes a family tradition where a father might bring a son into the store for his first fitting.

This focus on creating an experience sparks a sentimentality that makes it difficult to toss the shoe out, and recrafting fits perfectly into the narrative. 

Duplain says, “There are so many reasons we see Allen Edmonds customers participating in our recrafting program. Some ask for their shoes to be recrafted for sentimental reasons. Perhaps a shoe belonged to a beloved family member or friend,” says Duplain.

For more than three decades, Allen Edmonds has had a team of artists dedicated to rebuilding timeless shoes. Recrafting allows customers to give new life to their favorite shoes and highlights the Goodyear-welt construction that customers have adored since 1922.

This commitment to quality and the repurposing of favorite shoes resonates with consumers. It motivates them to participate in recrafting instead of simply throwing old shoes out and buying something new.

“Some [customers participate in recrafting because they] love a particular style that isn’t available anymore. Some customers prefer to change out a sole, going from a leather outsole to rubber as preference changes.”

A brand that can create—and recreate—high-quality shoes that last decades is a brand that cares about sustainability. And that’s a brand worth supporting.

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