By Mary Mazzoni on Mar 5, 2013

Brand Creates Fashionable Footwear from Uncommon Materials

Created by three friends who were influential in some of the most successful fashion footwear brands, such as Converse, Puma and Fila, Unstitched Utilities blends style and sustainability in a way that’s truly tough to beat. Earth911 sat down with co-founder and lead designer Kevin Crowley to learn more about how it all started for Unstitched Utilities and what the innovative upcycled brand plans to do next.

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Made from recycled and recyclable materials, each pair of Unstitched Utilities shoes is a one-of-a-kind marriage of style and sustainability. Photo: Unstitched Utilities

An inside look at Unstitched Utilities

Unstitched Utilities was founded by former Converse designer Kevin Crowley, longtime Puma president Jack Steinweis and former Shane and Shawn sales manager Mark Kane and  brings upcycled materials and time-honored fashion trends together in a truly show-stopping way.

After spending years working with some of the most successful fashion footwear brands, the three friends say they were tired of big-time corporations holding them back from doing what they felt was right, so they decided to set out on their own.

Starting with Tyvek material, a recyclable thermoplastic, the partners launched Unstitched Utilities in 2009. The vegan-friendly line has since expanded to include innovative materials such as upcycled rice bags, biodegradable fabrics and material made from recycled magazine and newspaper pages.

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Evolving from a pipedream into an emerging fashion sensation, Unstitched Utilities has come a long way in a few short years. But lead designer Kevin Crowley has his sights set on something even better – a 100 percent recyclable, cradle-to-cradle shoe.

“It would be great if we could make a shoe that would go 360 rather than go back into the landfill,” Crowley tells Earth911. “I’d love a cradle-to-cradle shoe…but that’s something we’re still working on now.”

While the idea is still in the early planning stages, Crowley describes his closed loop shoe concept as similar to the neon colored jelly sandals common on grade-school playgrounds. These old-school kicks are made with injection molds, meaning they can be created with only one material for easy recyclability.

Other concepts he’s considering include attaching decorative elements with chain-stitching (similar to the closures on pet food bags), so one component of the shoe can be removed and recycled before tossing the rest.

“Maybe the whole shoe can’t [be recycled] right off the bat,” Crowley says. “We’re trying to adapt to existing equipment, materials and machinery, but the idea would be that something is better than nothing.”

You Asked, Earth911 Answered: What Does ‘Close the Loop’ Really Mean?

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Incorporating material made from recycled magazine pages, these street-fashion kicks are one of Unstitched Utilities’ top sellers. Photo: Unstitched Utilities

While pursuing his dreams of a cradle-to-cradle shoe, Crowley is steadily expanding the portfolio of upcycled and eco-friendly materials in the Unstitched Utilities line. Keeping his eyes peeled for the next big innovation, the designer dutifully attends trade and materials shows across the U.S. – examining everything from air conditioning ductworks to gardening materials to see if they could be put to use in a shoe.

“We’re trying to take creativity and fashion and hook it up to an environmental need,” Crowley explains.

Some of the brand’s most popular designs incorporate a cutting-edge material made from recycled magazines and newsprint. With an eye-catching look and an eco-friendly feel, Crowley says the company’s recycled magazine kicks practically fly off store shelves.

“The material from a fashion point is just drop dead gorgeous,” Crowley said of Unstitched Utilities’ magazine shoes. “They’re really high fashion. Everybody loves those shoes.”

More Uncommon Style: PHOTOS: Street Fashion Made From Old Umbrellas

The trio has plans to expand their line to include accessories like jewelry, backpacks and hats, as well as launch a boutique collection made from upcycled thrift store sweaters.

“I don’t think you do this sustainability thing in one swat, in any product or brand,” Crowley says. “It’s a balancing act you’re doing all the time, but we’re doing better today than we were three years ago.”

For more information on Unstitched Utilities, check out the brand’s website or pick up a pair of their sweet upcycled kicks at the company’s web store or one of our favorite online sellers, Ethical Ocean.

Want to score a pair for free? Ethical Ocean is giving away a bunch of awesome upcycled products right now, including a pair of sneaks from Unstitched Utilities. Click here to enter!

Homepage Image: Unstitched Utilities

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