Give Old Sneakers New Life—with Oranges, Walnuts and Flour?

Innovation

Yes really! Join Nike footwear designers as they share three ways to use natural ingredients in easy, at-home actions that'll help your sneakers last longer.

Last updated: April 4, 2022
7 min read
Give Old Sneakers New Life with Natural Ingredients

Hands On is a series where you'll learn tactile techniques from expert innovators.

"I'm an A+ vegetarian—and an A- vegan", jokes footwear design specialist Aja Zarrehparvar, in reference to the plant-based sneaker dye recipe she's about to share with us.

Whether it's what to eat for lunch or how you take care of your shoes, we're all on our own journey to becoming more sustainable citizens. But can individual actions really add up to societal change?

Aja thinks so: "The culture determines what's quote-unquote 'cool'", she says. "If the culture continues to encourage revamping your shoes—customising, saving things—we can make sustainability an undeniable pillar of what's cool!"

Give Old Sneakers New Life with Natural Ingredients

Meet your host Aja Zarrehparvar (right) and guest Indah Nur.

While dunking your shoes into a vat of hot water steeped with beets might not feel like an intuitive climate action for most of us (yet!), it's all in a day's work for Aja.

"I'm here to help inspire designers across the company to explore, dream, discover and remain excited about new processes and approaches", she says of her job at Blue Ribbon Studio, Nike's on-campus maker space. "Sometimes mistakes happen, but that's where happy accidents take place—that's where problem-solving happens!"

Ready to solve some practical sneaker problems through innovative thinking (and a little elbow grease)? Scroll down to learn ways to clean, dye and glue your shoes, featuring sustainably minded methods that Aja and fellow footwear designer Indah Nur use at home. Let's go!

Note: You'll be working with hot liquid for some of these, so adult supervision is required, as well as the use of safety goggles and gloves.

1. How to Keep Your Sneakers Fresh—Using Items Around the House

Whether you strive to keep your sneakers box-fresh for as long as possible, or prefer a lived-in look that gets better with age, one thing's for sure: "If you take good care of your stuff, it's gonna last longer", says Indah, who specialises in designing sneakers durable enough for hard-playing kids. If you're overwhelmed by all the opinions and techniques out there, start with the basics—and start close to home, with tools you might already have in your own kitchen and bathroom! Watch the clip above for detailed pointers.

Fun fact: Nike Air bubbles, like many
plastics, can get foggy over time due to
oxidation. But don't worry, we included
a tip to get them shining like new.
Check it out!

Extra credit: Rotating which sneakers you wear isn't just good for your outfit—it can help keep your shoes fresher for longer. According to Nike quality engineers, the foam midsoles in most shoes will take 24 to 48 hours to decompress after you've worn them for a day. So, when you can, practise active recovery by rotating between two or more pairs.

2. How to Naturally Dye Your Shoes—and Give Them New Life

Ever come across a pair buried deep in your wardrobe that are dingy and discoloured, or maybe you're just plain tired of them? Before you donate or recycle them, consider rejuvenating them with a colourful new look! Bonus points if you try a natural-based recipe like the one above. "Dyeing shoes gives them new life no matter what", Aja says. "But dyeing with turmeric, coffee or food scraps is an artistic circle of life!"

Fun fact: Beets are red, coffee is
brown … but what colour dye do you think
avocado stones make? Find the surprising
answer in the video above.

Extra credit: Know your materials! Natural dyes like the ones discussed above work best on natural materials, like cotton, canvas, suede or wool. Synthetic materials (think plastic, rubber, polyester), which a lot of shoe components are made from, won't absorb natural dyes in the same way. To recolour those, try a more powerful dye from your local craft shop.

3. How to Make DIY Shoe Glue—and Save Damaged Sneakers

"It's about the story of getting them, or the feeling I have when I put them on", Aja says of her many favourite shoes (including the sentimental pair seen above). "They all have this magical aspect that I can't quite put my finger on, even after all this time!" If you've got cherished sneakers that have components starting to separate, don't be afraid to get in there with some glue—just make sure you watch the clip above for tips on what's fixable, how best to apply the glue, and even a recipe to make your own at home.

Fun fact: Flour glues like the one
demonstrated above have been used
since ancient times (i.e., thousands of
years ago) for various arts like book
binding, découpage and more.

Extra credit: Are there more advanced glues out there? Of course! And Nike chemists are inventing better ones all the time. But even industrial-strength glues can degrade over the course of decades. Excessive moisture or heat can accelerate that process, so try to avoid those. And if your pair is really past it, you can always recycle them at participating Nike stores.

Meet the Sneaker Experts: Aja + Indah

You heard their tips above—now get to know our hosts for this instalment of "Hands On".

Give Old Sneakers New Life with Natural Ingredients

Aja
Footwear Design Specialist,
Blue Ribbon Studio @ Nike

What is Blue Ribbon Studio?
"BRS is the cultural, creative and community central node for Nike design. We are the epicentre for Nike design creativity. It's a place where designers can come to play".

Tell us about your job.
"Being a BRS footwear design specialist means I'm here to help support other designers. To hop on these creative frequencies with all different flavours and textures and shapes. I think of myself as the milk in the cereal bowl. Non-dairy oat milk, that is".

What led you to this point?
"I studied architecture at undergrad and grad school, and first found my way to Nike as a 3D footwear designer about three years ago".

What personality traits do you bring to work and life?
"I am up for exploring and diving in head first! I am constantly curious, I love learning new things, and try to bring a bit of levity to everything".

Give Old Sneakers New Life with Natural Ingredients

When did your love for sneakers start?
"I wore Air Jordan 4 Retro 'Mars' 2006 in 7th grade basketball. Something changed getting that first pair, and I've never looked back".

What are some of your favourite pairs lately?
Air Jordan 1 'Not For Resale': "The 'please crease' messaging on the toes is so good—it's talking exactly to the culture of shoes".

ISPA Flow: "They have a really wonderful translucent upper. They're fun to walk in, just like a whole different experience".

Blazer Jumbo: "So thoughtfully designed. I was like, 'This is how you improve a classic'".

Give Old Sneakers New Life with Natural Ingredients

Indah
Materials Designer,
Kids' Footwear @ Nike

Tell us about your job.
"My role is to make sure that I really understand our consumers' needs so we create products that are desirable—solving problems by bringing creativity, sustainability, circularity through the lens of materials".

When did your love for sneakers start?
"My connection to sneakers is enjoying time with my family. When I moved to Los Angeles from Indonesia in 2005, I didn't speak English, and my cousins didn't speak Indonesian—but somehow, we were able to bond through sneakers. They would take me to go camp out for drops, and I would make new friends while we were there. It's all about the community that makes me feel welcome".

What personality traits do you bring to work and life?
"I'm easy-going, outgoing, a Capricorn. I like trying new food, exploring new vintage shops, thrift stores, etc. That's why my shoes have to be comfy, I'm always on the move!"

Give Old Sneakers New Life with Natural Ingredients

What are some of your favourite pairs lately?
Air Jordan 4 x Off-White: "It means a lot to me because it's a women's release. The more worn-in it gets, the better—on my team, we always talk about finding materials that look better as they age".

Air Jordan 1 Mid Fearless 'Melody Ehsani': "My friend gave me this pair as a gift. A lot of people talk down Mids, but to me they are so comfortable and one of my fave. Designed by women, the storytelling, colourway goes crazy".

Air Jordan 3 'A Ma Maniére': "Another women's release shoe that I tried very hard to get, and luckily did. I love the premium material, quilted liner (so comfy), the suede, the 'work harder' printed lace tips".

Give Old Sneakers New Life with Natural Ingredients

Aja
Footwear Design Specialist,
Blue Ribbon Studio @ Nike

What is Blue Ribbon Studio?
"BRS is the cultural, creative and community central node for Nike design. We are the epicentre for Nike design creativity. It's a place where designers can come to play".

Tell us about your job.
"Being a BRS footwear design specialist means I'm here to help support other designers. To hop on these creative frequencies with all different flavours and textures and shapes. I think of myself as the milk in the cereal bowl. Non-dairy oat milk, that is".

What led you to this point?
"I studied architecture at undergrad and grad school, and first found my way to Nike as a 3D footwear designer about three years ago".

What personality traits do you bring to work and life?
"I am up for exploring and diving in head first! I am constantly curious, I love learning new things, and try to bring a bit of levity to everything".

Indah
Materials Designer,
Kids' Footwear @ Nike

Tell us about your job.
"My role is to make sure that I really understand our consumers' needs so we create products that are desirable—solving problems by bringing creativity, sustainability, circularity through the lens of materials".

When did your love for sneakers start?
"My connection to sneakers is enjoying time with my family. When I moved to Los Angeles from Indonesia in 2005, I didn't speak English, and my cousins didn't speak Indonesian—but somehow, we were able to bond through sneakers. They would take me to go camp out for drops, and I would make new friends while we were there. It's all about the community that makes me feel welcome".

What personality traits do you bring to work and life?
"I'm easy-going, outgoing, a Capricorn. I like trying new food, exploring new vintage shops, thrift stores, etc. That's why my shoes have to be comfy, I'm always on the move!"

Give Old Sneakers New Life with Natural Ingredients
Give Old Sneakers New Life with Natural Ingredients

When did your love for sneakers start?
"I wore Air Jordan 4 Retro 'Mars' 2006 in 7th grade basketball. Something changed getting that first pair, and I've never looked back".

What are some of your favourite pairs lately?
Air Jordan 1 'Not For Resale': "The 'please crease' messaging on the toes is so good—it's talking exactly to the culture of shoes".

ISPA Flow: "They have a really wonderful translucent upper. They're fun to walk in, just like a whole different experience".

Blazer Jumbo: "So thoughtfully designed. I was like, 'This is how you improve a classic'".

What are some of your favourite pairs lately?
Air Jordan 4 x Off-White: "It means a lot to me because it's a women's release. The more worn-in it gets, the better—on my team, we always talk about finding materials that look better as they age".

Air Jordan 1 Mid Fearless 'Melody Ehsani': "My friend gave me this pair as a gift. A lot of people talk down Mids, but to me they are so comfortable and one of my fave. Designed by women, the storytelling, colourway goes crazy".

Air Jordan 3 'A Ma Maniére': "Another women's release shoe that I tried very hard to get, and luckily did. I love the premium material, quilted liner (so comfy), the suede, the 'work harder' printed lace tips".

Brought to you by Move to Zero: Nike's journey towards zero carbon and zero waste to help protect the future of sport.

Films: Ariel Fisher
Words: Gail Dorwin

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