US Plant-based material company Natural Fiber Welding (NFW) has developed PLIANT, a 100% biobased material made from plants, not plastic, designed for outsoles.
PLIANT is made with natural rubber derived from the sap of the Hevea brasiliensis tree, harvested from certified, responsibly managed forests combined with NFW’s patented plant-based curative process. This method is said to replace the function of petrochemical ingredients in footwear performance. As a result, PLIANT plastic-free outsoles are said to be the world’s first naturally cured performance rubber soles, paving the way for animal and fossil-fuel-free footwear.
“We’ve created a 100% biobased alternative that eliminates toxic chemicals and microplastic pollution from the equation”
In addition, PLIANT outsoles are mechanically recyclable, described as bioneutral (made only with natural raw materials), and free of toxic chemicals. Furthermore, the material is rapidly scalable, using standard compression molding in the manufacturing process, making it a practical choice.
To further expand its production capabilities, NFW has partnered with Portugal-based company For Ever for the exclusive European production of PLIANT outsoles. With this partnership, NFW aims to meet the growing demand for sustainable footwear options in the continent.
100% biobased alternatives
With 70% of marketed rubber being synthetic, the introduction of PLIANT outsoles marks a new legacy for the sustainable footwear industry, says the NFW. However, PLIANT is just one part of NFW’s circular platform of zero-plastic materials. Its plastic-free materials include sheet goods (plywood and other composite materials), textiles, molded composites, and foams.
The company’s flagship product is MIRUM, a high-quality leather alternative made from natural rubber, fibers, pigments, plant oils, and minerals. It does not contain any polyurethane or coatings, and it is said to offer superior durability. At the same time, it can be safely composted or recycled by NFW at the end of its lifetime. Stella McCartney, Camper, Ralph Lauren, Allbirds, and Bellroy have already launched fashion products made with MIRUM.
Last November, Natural Fiber Welding partnered with automotive interior solutions supplier Sage Automotive Interiors (Sage) to develop animal and plastic-free materials for car interiors.
“From the extraction of the fossil fuels used to make synthetic rubber to continuous microplastic pollution throughout the synthetic outsole’s use, petroleum-based rubber damages the environment at every step. We’ve created a 100% biobased alternative that eliminates toxic chemicals and microplastic pollution from the equation,” says the company on its website.