Rapper Kanye West has turned his attention to environmental sustainability, revealing a pair of prototype Yeezy shoes partially made from algae.
West and Yeezy head designer Steven Smith unveiled the algae Yeezy on Thursday at the Fast Company Innovation Festival. Though the shoe is still partially made from petroleum-based ethylene-vinyl acetate, or EVA, this will be blended with foam made from harvested algae.
“Eco concerns are intersecting with what we do, and this is just the beginning of the future that Kanye envisioned for us to start working on and creating and challenged us to,” said Smith.
Making shoes from algae helps the environment in multiple ways. Not only is algae a renewable resource, unlike petroleum, but due to factors such as rising temperatures and nutrient runoff we often have so much of it that it actually becomes a problem.
When algae dies, the bacteria that eats it also consumes oxygen in the water, meaning fish can suffocate and die off in large numbers. Algae blooms can also block sunlight from aquatic plants, as well as release toxins into water which have been linked to human health issues.
Yeezy may not be harvesting its algae from public lakes and reservoirs, though. West said that Yeezy has moved its headquarters to Cody, Wyoming, where it has several properties including a 4000-acre ranch. This land will be used to grow materials such as cotton and hemp “so we can see every element,” and include a hydroponic farm.
“We’re going to be farming and going seed to sole,” said West.
West is also looking to return manufacturing to America within the next two years, the prototype shoe having been made in Atlanta.
While the algae Yeezy’s environmental concern is a big plus, the prototype doesn’t look terribly fashionable just yet. The pair shown at the festival were an unappealing, washed-out beige that is unlikely to tempt anyone who cares about their aesthetics. Fortunately, West said they are working on addressing this issue.
“[We’re] getting into how we can have less impact with the dyes, because our color is a big signature of the brand, but also dyeing is one of the main things that’s impacting the planet in the fashion industry,” said West. “So just being responsible from A to Z in what happens.”
This isn’t the first time shoes have been made out of algae. Last year VIVOBAREFOOT announced the Ultra III Bloom, an amphibious shoe partially made with the algae-based Bloom Foam. According to VIVOBAREFOOT, “Every pair helps to re-circulate 57 gallons of filtered water back into natural habitats and prevents the equivalent of 40 balloons full of CO2 being released into the Earth’s atmosphere.”
Though Bloom Foam has worked with other shoe manufacturers, Yeezy aims to make its own algae foam instead. Few details have been given, but it’s fair to assume it will follow a similar process to Bloom Foam: drying algae, grinding it to powder, compacting it into pellets, and then expanding them with foaming agents.
West didn’t say when the algae Yeezys will be available for sale.
Update Nov. 7 10:21PM ET: The official Yeezy Twitter has announced the algae shoe is called the Yeezy Foam Runner. They will be available for $60 in early 2020.
Update Nov. 8 1:44AM ET: Yeezy has deleted its initial announcement tweet and posted a new one, amending the price up to $75.