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Would you consider renting your running shoes? Wait, it’s less gross than it sounds. On Running, the high end Swiss running shoe brand, has a revolutionary idea for the fall of 2021—a recyclable running shoe subscription service. For $30 per month, you get a new pair of shoes whenever you need them (kinda, more on that in a sec), provided you send the old ones back, which On will recycle into new running shoes. You may remember we covered Houdini’s plan for recyclability and circularity in manufacturing last week, and they are trying to figure out how to ensure a customer sends clothes back to be recycled at end of life; On’s subscription service is one possible answer. If customers get on board.

The shoes, the model is called the Cyclon, are made partially from castor beans. They have a one-piece knit fabric upper (this is where the oil from the beans comes in), and a foam sole. On’s marketing copy suggests they feel every bit as high performance as their regular shoes, but, well, that’s marketing copy for now, we haven’t had a chance to try them yet.

The program estimates that you’ll want to send the shoes back once you put about 400 km in them, or roughly 250 miles. If you run 20 miles per week, that means you’d send the shoes back for recycling after about 3.5 months. Roughly speaking. So, figure 4-ish exchanges per year. At $360 per year for the service, that seems about right in terms of cost. If you’re running that often, you’re likely replacing your shoes a couple times per year anyway, for somewhere between $100 – $150 a pop. So, it more or less equals out.

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The program doesn’t start until fall 2021, and On Running is trying to establish 5,000 customers per region to pull the program off.

The idea raises some questions.

One, is this better than simply making shoes that are far more durable? Clearly, there are some materials and landfill savings, and, potentially a net-zero in terms of new plastic creation, but there’s also a lot of shipping and packaging to fulfill orders for tens of thousands of people. Of course if a dedicated runner is going through a couple pairs, at least, of shoes per year, then all that same shipping is potentially going on anyway, assuming the average runner is buying most of their shoes online.

Two, does this encourage the idea that things like shoes are largely disposable? Probably impossible to answer, and running shoes notoriously break down incredibly quickly, given the obsession over super light foams and knits in recent years, so perhaps many already consider their shoes something like disposable.

Finally, are you interested in an outdoor goods economy where ownership is optional? We’ve considered the idea of renting overland vehicles rather than owning, with the argument in favor being that it’s likely an overland-dedicated vehicle is only driven a few times per year, at most, so why not rent?

Well, it’s not exactly an Olympic-level leap from that idea to renting backpacks, tents, sleeping bags, since these are often items people only use a few times per year, often on trips planned far in advance. So, why not rent? It’s certainly a pillar of a potential future of far more responsible consumption of outdoor gear.

We’re eager to see how this program does, though we’d prefer to see shoes designed to last a bit longer than 250 miles.

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Photo: On Running screen grab

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