When three experienced sports industry players asked themselves why running shoes were always evolving, but seemingly without considering the impact of manufacturing on the planet, the idea for a plant-based innovation was born. Zen Running Club’s shoes are made from eucalyptus, rubber and sugar cane, but do not compromise on performance. The brand’s founders tell us more.
You could call Richard Rusling, Andy Farnworth and Dominic Sinnott “sports industry veterans”. They are all certainly self-confessed “sports shoe nerds”. The trio had crossed paths many times over the years and – like many of us – during the Covid-19 lockdowns, all three found they suddenly had time to think. A conversation between friends became some research, which became a prototype, and – many months and test miles later – became a running shoe.
The three founders of Zen Running Club were extremely concerned that the sports shoes they loved were actively contributing to climate decay. A significant percentage of athletic footwear and apparel is made from oil-based materials, and the athletic apparel industry is responsible for a huge amount of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Richard, Andy and Dominic set out to create a running shoe engineered from plant-based materials that can perform to meet the demands of the modern runner – without compromise. They wanted to build a brand on the belief that life is better outside, better with friends, and best of all when leaving as small a footprint as possible. Their mission was to engage with, and inspire, a growing community of like-minded runners who value sustainability, performance and social responsibility in equal measure.
Berlin-based Dominic, Zen Running Club’s brand lead, talks through the company’s ethos. “For a while we had all felt uneasy with how sports shoe production was pretty much unchanged from methods used in the 1980s,” he says.“ We’ve all experienced the huge innovation in how our running shoes perform, and how cool they look, but the way they’re made is still pretty much as it was 40 years ago, when issues of sustainability and the environment weren’t a major consideration.”
Andy, a former elite athlete and expert in developing running shoes, kept abreast of innovations in organic material. The trio realised that they were at the point where a plant-based running shoe, without any compromise in performance, was actually achievable.“ So we went for it,” he says.
The sock-fit upper in Zen Running Club’s shoes is engineered from fibres drawn from sustainably grown eucalyptus trees that are spun into a high-performing thread called Lyocell. Inside the shoe, the sock-liner foam is made from organically grown castor beans. Beneath your foot, the EVA midsole is made from a mix that includes sugar cane, grown sustainably using rainwater. Finally, the outsole is made from natural, responsibly grown, FSC-approved rubber. The process of growing the eucalyptus trees, castor beans, sugar cane and rubber absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere in order to help to tackle climate change.
From the brand’s small office, tucked away off a canal in central Amsterdam, Richard points out that this is very much the start of the journey. “To use a well-worn running cliché, this is a marathon, not a sprint,” he says. “We are amazed with the performance of our debut ZR 01. Firstly, it’s a great running shoe, and that is fundamentally how it should be judged. Then we like to add that it just happens to be made from plants! This shoe takes plant-based innovation as far as it can go right now. It proves what is possible. But, as pioneers, our minds are always focused on how much further we can keep taking this.”
The idea of “no compromise” is the backbone of the three founders’ conversations about the brand. “We’re on a mission to do better,” adds Andy.“From product innovation to the relationships we build with manufacturers and retail partners, to the communities we love to run with. We’re a small team that can’t do everything overnight, but under our mantra of ‘Made from good decisions’ we challenge ourselves to keep getting better, keep giving out a positive influence, one day at a time.”
Welcome to the club.
IN PARTNERSHIP WITH ZEN RUNNING CLUB
Find out more, including details of the new ZR S running shoe, at zenrunningclub.com – Made from good decisions.