A U.K.-based footwear company has been making shoes out of algae blooms for the past five years. Now, they’re taking their passion for the issue to the public by calling for support on a petition that pushes UNESCO to encourage governments to take action on those poisoning the world’s waterways.
Vivobarefoot gathered a host of voices, from scientists, doctors, and activists, to help share the Stop Harmful Algae Blooms campaign. So far over 10,000 signatures have been collected in an effort to elevate the conversation around algae blooms globally.
What is an algae bloom and why is it a problem?
Though it can be a natural phenomena, many algae blooms today are attributed to pollution, runoff water laden with pesticides, chemicals, and fertilizers. This upsets the ecological balance in water systems resulting in overgrowth of algae which can negatively affect aquaculture. Across the U.S. this year, from Florida to New England, there have already been reports of excess algae in water systems. Scientists believe it may also be tied to warmer temperatures and changing weather patterns associated with climate change, leading to a higher turnout of algae.
London-based Vivobarefoot was one of the first brands to feature an algae-based polymer in their shoes. Working alongside U.S.-based materials science company, Algix, they’ve been able to incorporate excess algae harvested out of these polluted waters, and put it into the soles of their Swim Run shoes. The material, referred to as Bloom, is a blend of polymers and algae, which co-founder Asher Clark says is not an ideal solution, but it’s a start, and it’s definitely a conversation starter.
A surfer who likes to ride the waves on England’s southern coast, Clark learned about the new material from Kelly Slater’s Firewire, which had launched a line of surf boards using Bloom for a portion of the board. Quickly Clark called up the manufacturer to learn about the innovation and how they could weave it into their collection. Always on the lookout for more new materials, Bloom had a fascinating story for the sea-loving Clark.
“Humans are responsible for excessive amounts of nutrients like CO2, nitrogen and phosphorus leaking into our waterways, lakes and oceans leading to environmental and societal problems,” says Jon Van Drunen of Bloom. “Our idea for founding BLOOM was to transform algae blooms from an environmental problem into a sustainable material that incentivizes capturing CO2 and cleaning water while reducing our use of oil and plastics. Brands that adopt BLOOM materials into their products are supporting lake restoration and environmental protection projects that have verifiable positive impact that end consumers can understand and embrace.”
Despite mainstream brands like Adidas incorporating Bloom, the issue of excessive algae bloom is largely unknown by the public, Clark says. When they reached out to friends of the company to help bring light to the cause, he noted that it’s not something most people are aware of.
That’s why the point of the petition is to simply get the ball rolling, and create more education around the issue. Although some algae blooms do occur naturally, a vast majority of them do appear to be perpetuated by environmental factors—and to stop that, wider awareness and study is needed.
The open letter by Vivobarefoot, which has been put out in partnership with non-profit Oxygen Network, reads, “We recognize and applaud the vital scientific work currently being undertaken by UNESCO and the Intergovernmental Oceanic Commission through GlobalHAB to manage and mitigate the impact of harmful algae blooms.
As an organization that works to conserve the world’s greatest wonders and leads in algae bloom research, UNESCO has a unique opportunity to develop an informed and cutting edge educational program and work with local communities to incorporate regenerative practices to prevent algae blooms from poisoning waterways and communities around the world.”
Referring to the Sustainable Development Goals, the letter hones in on UNESCO’s capacity to create change: “We urge UNESCO to develop and implement a global education program work with governments to end destructive agricultural and industrial practices, especially the use of phosphates and nitrates, and start implementing proven, regenerative, nature-based solutions.”
Beyond just selling shoes made from alternative materials, Clark says that Vivobarefoot is a company that aspires to connect its consumers to the outdoors and be “regenerative” in the long run. This algae campaigns fits into that broader vision and activism.