Adidas – ‘The Clean Classics’ product line

overall rating:



Matthew Ball
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Adidas AG is a German multinational sportswear company, producing both clothes and footwear. It’s the second largest sportswear manufacturer in both Europe and the world, being beaten only by Nike. 


Their line of products titled ‘The Clean Classics’ takes established shoe models and other clothing pieces and redesigns them in a ‘sustainable’ manner, with a focus being on reducing plastic waste by incorporating it into the material mix of their products.   


Adidas’ line is a refreshing take on recycled clothing - notably, not alienating the products through applying the manufacturing processes to new models and designs, but rather taking established ‘cult classics’ and changing their material components. Furthermore, the price of the items is comparable to their traditional counterparts - diverging from the common trend in fashion now of ‘sustainable’ or ‘vegan’ alternatives having huge mark-ups, often justified by ‘higher manufacturing costs’ yet Adidas proves that this doesn’t need to be the case. The line has - largely - flown under the radar, possibly because of Adidas sticking to what’s been done before, yet it’s something of a hidden gem in the fashion world and is a very promising prospect for what’s to come in the sphere.


Adidas are also remarkably open about their manufacturing materials and process - seeming to take pride in their work and innovation, which again is extremely refreshing and is a welcomed addition to their press release on the line specifically. This being said, there remains specific concerns surrounding Adidas’ manufacturing processes - outside of the materials used. Notably surrounding worker’s rights and working conditions. It beckons the question of how sustainable a company with questionable background practices can truly be, irrespective of how sustainable their designs are.


In summary, Adidas’ ‘the clean classics’ line, is exactly what it says on the tin. It’s clean, it’s relatively sustainable and it’s extremely exciting for sustainable fashion more broadly. Much more needs to be done regarding Adidas’ manufacturing processes, yet with this said, it can’t detract from the amazing innovation that Adidas has achieved with the product line.

What it's made of:


As previously mentioned, Adidas are welcomingly open about the materials that constitute the shoes the ‘clean classics’ line (the majority of the products sold). Specifically these are: 90% natural rubber, 10% recycled rubber (for the shoe soles), liners are made from either recycled OrthoLite or cork, with BLOOM foam (made from algae harvesting technology). The uppers of the shoes are made from 70% recycled materials, and are vegan - yet not much more is stated on this. Finally, the boxes are repurposed from stock boxes that can’t be used due to defects or damage. 


Overall, despite a few aspects that lack detail - the materials that go into the shoes are all either recycled or are renewable materials (minus the 30% that make the shoe uppers) - which alone is a huge testament to the innovation behind the design of the shoes. Furthermore, there isn’t a simple reliance on ‘renewable’ options and materials. For example, natural rubber is a renewable resource, albeit with associated environmental disturbance, yet Adidas go one further to begin working recycled rubber into the soles and also incorporate recycled materials where possible - rather than pursuing further production to fulfil the necessities of the shoes’ design. 


Furthermore, the inclusion of algae harvested BLOOM foam is perhaps the most interesting and exciting prospect of the entire material breakdown. To incorporate a relatively new and experimental technique into shoe design is a huge step forward and, as stated before, to ensure that this doesn’t dramatically impact the overall product price is a huge step forward. It also highlights how far sustainable fashion has come and how itself can be used to help tackle key environmental issues such as plastic waste pollution.


Overall, for What It’s Made Of, the ‘clean classics’ line gets a 2.5/3. The 0.5 removed is representative of the overall uncertainty regarding some aspects of the materials and design, yet I can’t sing the praises enough of how well this shoe line has been theorised.

How it's made:


The ‘clean classics’ line begins strong in this category, notably with their process of pattern design, which eliminates cutting and therefore wastage of material. This is a huge step forward in regard to the overall sustainability of fashion, as it ensures that all of the produced materials are used in final products - or at least aim to be used. It also requires a smart approach to the material designs themselves, relying on sharp edges in the majority of cases, or curves that are mirrored on other panels as well. 


Beyond this though, Adidas falls short. As noted before there have been numerous issues regarding Adidas’ manufacturing process. Practically all of Adidas’ manufacturing is outsourced - therefore removing a level of direct responsibility for the working conditions of the factories where their products are made. Looking to the 2022 Factory List - provided by Adidas themselves, which itself is a huge pro in regards to transparency and accessibility of data - there is an overwhelming concentration of factories in Asia and more generally Low Income Countries. This is suggestive of strategic factory location choices in order to maximise profit - by way of less workers rights regulation in different countries across the globe. In recent years there has been a trend away from primarily China based manufacturing - dropping by 50% from 2010 - yet this has simply been taken up by Vietnam, which itself isn’t renowned for promoting workers rights. 


Finally, there is the immediate complication that a Germany based company, which although worldwide in influence - mainly dominates the European sportswear scene - is manufactured in Asia. This means that there’s increased greenhouse gas emissions associated with the transport of goods between the two continents - that localised manufacturing wouldn’t see the same intensity. This being said, Asia based manufacturing is a global norm, encouraged by Asian countries historically - and therefore to levy criticism on this topic entirely at Adidas would be harsh. Furthermore, Adidas also sports a range of European based factories in its manufacturing mix - and therefore, could certainly be worse. As a result, it receives an overall value of 1.5/3. Notably raised by the design elements in place to help combat material waste, and then knocked back down due to the primary geographical location of its factories and associated shipping emissions.

Who makes it:


Finally, we approach ‘Who Makes it’ centering on the background to the manufacturing and Adidas’ own ethos and philosophies that underpin the company. 


To begin, there is a respectable gender diversity within the factory workers - stats again published by Adidas themselves - with the majority of the factories only just being male dominant in the workforce. Regarding these very workers however, Adidas has previously been criticised for the working conditions they are subject to. Notably, they have been criticised for failing to pay their workers living wage - keeping it at the bare minimum possible to maximise profits. There is the obvious implication of off-sourcing within this however, yet the main criticism stems from Adidas failing to speak out and ensure that conditions improve for said workers. With the current state of working conditions vague at best, there should be a focus for Adidas to try harder in this area to ensure both the safety and financial security of their workers.


This being said, in 2017 Adidas were singled out for praise for its transparency regarding its supply line - a trend still seen in 2022, given the sheer amount of data and ease of access available to the public - with specific note surrounding actions to address forced labour. On a historic front there has been a huge improvement from the early 2000s which saw Adidas synonymised with ‘sweatshops’ and extremely poor working conditions - outside of pay - which for the most part seem to have dramatically improved since. 


Turning to human and workers rights, while Adidas does future a page on the topic - at first it seems rather elementary and ‘placeholder’ at best, yet it does feature extremely useful and relevant information. It begins with generic statements surrounding the importance of workers rights etc., yet goes on to outline the work of Adidas specifically on the matter through their human and labour rights program which began in 1997. The main take away from it all is that Adidas accepts that their manufacturing processes are not the most sustainable, yet do their best to manage the situation - which is somewhat commendable, albeit leaves a desire for more drastic action to be taken on the topic.


Overall, Adidas shows a clear respect for transparency and an up-front approach to the realities of sportswear manufacturing. While they are not reinventing the wheel, as would perhaps be most desired, they are self-aware and are taking action surrounding this awareness, which should be praised regardless. This section receives a 1.5/3 again. The underlying processes and methods that Adidas employs limits this score, which although is helped by their action and awareness, more needs to be done to ensure that the company is truly sustainable in this area.