The Raw Materials for Vans Canvas Old Skool Shoes
As we know shoes like any other product have to go through an extensive process to be converted from the raw materials that they are made of into the final product. In terms of consumer demand,the popularity of a shoe will determine how much of the Earth’s raw materials are used up in the shoe process. In particular, Vans Old Skool Canvas shoes have started to become more popular among college students, maybe because they are a simple and minimal shoe that can be combined with just about any outfit despite their potential to be of negative impact to our environment. There are many different materials that go into making these Vans Old Skool Shoes.Vans official website states these shoes are made of a “durable canvas upper, padded tongue and lining, metal eyelets and Vans original Waffle Outsole”(“Canvas Old Skool”), however where do we get these materials and the other’s not mentioned? Within this paper, we will look at the various raw materials that go into the extraction or creation,production,and transportation of the Vans Old Skool Canvas shoes and how these materials are altered along the way to reach the final product. By doing so we can hopefully get a better understanding of what our products are made of so that hopefully we can make smarter decisions as consumers to reduce the environmental damage that production causes.
One of the most important materials in making the Old Skool Vans is the rubber.Rubber is needed to make the gum sole and rubber foxing tape that goes around the main shoe. According to Neil Shoemaker, “lead designer of skate shoes for Vans” (NewComb 1), he says that the mixing “process starts by taking a certain percentage of raw gum rubber and raw synthetic gum rubber”(NewComb 1 ). Since Vans shoes were initially made to support the growing skateboarding culture of the 1970s, using two types of rubber would allow for better grip on the bottom of the shoe sole with the grip tape of the skateboard. In addition, using a mixture of the two rubbers is cheaper and more efficient because natural rubber is more expensive and takes longer to harvest. (NewComb 1).Natural rubber comes from a plant called the Hevea brasiliensis also referred to as the rubber tree.This rubber tree is primarily found in the rain forest of Amazon region of South America which include locations such as “Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia”(“Species Profile”). The tree produces a white liquid sap called latex, when part of the bark is detached. (“Species Profile”). However, when natural rubber (latex) is acquired you also have to go through process known as vulcanization. During this process the rubber undergoes heat and pressure to form it into usable material.On the other hand, synthetic rubber is initially mixed with oil,coal and other hydrocarbons. The resulting product called naphtha is then combined with a natural gas which I was not able to find.(“Production of Synthetic Rubber”)The naphtha is then polymerized with a monomer such as propylene then those two are polymerized with steam and a catalyst to form the solid rubber which in our case would be polyisoprene rubber (“Production of Synthetic Rubber). The synthetic rubber used is most likely polyisoprene because “Mineral-filled polyisoprene finds applications in footwear, sponges, and sporting goods”(“Polyisoprene”). Afterwards, the synthetic and natural rubber go through a compression molding process. In compression molding, “the rubber strips are compressed around a mold under pressure and vulcanized to form to the mold”(Freudenrich 1). Since rubber is considered to be weak in its natural form, sulfur is added along with applied heat to create a “crosslink between chains”(“How To Vulcanize”) and increase the resistance and strength of the rubber. Other substances used in the vulcanization process involve zinc oxide or stearic acid as activators, thiazoles and xanthate as accelerators (a salt)(“Materials Engineering”), as well as color pigments. However, I was not able to find what particular dye the Vans shoes used.Nonetheless, there are many materials that go into the top portion of these Vans shoes and we shall now see that the other major material called plastic provides the structure on which the top part lies.
The plastic used in these particular set of Vans shoes is important because the plastic material provides for the shape that the shoe will take on. In general plastic is “produced by the conversion of natural products or by the synthesis from primary chemicals generally coming from oil, natural gas, or coal”(“Plastics” ).Within my research however, I found out that open cell foam which is made out of Polyurethane plastic is used “in the tongues and collars of shoes” (“Foam For Shoes”) so I assume Vans uses this kind of foam plastic for their shoes. This particular foam is made out of polyurethane and originates from crude oil (fossil fuel) otherwise known as petroleum. The origin of crude oil are the leftover “remains of prehistoric algae and zooplankton whose remains settled on the bottom of an Ocean or Lake”(“Dept,Editorial”). Now we need to look at the foam inside the shoe that comprises the midsole of the shoe. It is safe to assume that since “Midsoles of shoes are all made from closed cell foam”(“Foam For Shoes”), Vans shoes also use this kind of foam. Although I could not find the particular closed cell foam that is used for the Vans Old Skool Shoes, I generalized that Vans uses a foam called ethylene vinyl acetate because “EVA foam materials are one of the most popular material as shoe insole”(“EVA Foam Material”).The reason for this is because this foam has “excellent cushioning & shock absorption”(“EVA Foam Material”). Continuing along, the ethylene vinyl acetate is commonly abbreviated as EVA. Ethylene is derived from the steam cracking of ethane and propane” (Lazonby).Vinyl acetate is “prepared from ethylene by reaction with oxygen and acetic acid over a palladium catalyst”(“Britannica”).Within the production of plastic, we also have materials such as calcium carbonate and talcum powder, zinc oxide, and stearic acid that are added along with heat and pressure to transform the EVA into the final plastic. Now that we have looked at the structures that make up the base of the shoe we move upwards to the outer appearance of the shoe that make the design of the shoe most known to people because of the famous Vans wave logo.
The top portion of the shoe consist of a raw material called canvas otherwise known as cotton cloth. The origins of cotton come from the seeds of a plant called Gossypium hirsutum. Cotton primarily grows in Mexico and Central America and “has been developed for extensive use in the United States, accounting for more than 95 percent of U.S. production”(“Cotton Incorporated”). Cotton is a natural raw element; however, it does require additional moisture, and heat to produce the final material. The process of transforming cotton uses a large amount of water such that “some experts contend that cotton is the largest user of water among all agricultural commodities” (“Cotton”).After extraction, cotton goes to the factory to undergo ginning where it “goes through dryers to reduce moisture content...and then through cleaning equipment to remove foreign matter”(“Truents”). Also we need to consider pesticides such as “aldicarb, phorate, methamidophos and endosulfan”(“Cotton & Pesticides”) that are used to maintain cotton.Although I could not find the exact raw materials used in the pesticides process, I found that the most common materials used to make pesticides include “Chlorine, oxygen, sulfur, phosphorus, nitrogen”(“Pesticide”). Since phorate is a liquid pesticide it is safe to assume that the cotton that Vans used contained kerosene or petroleum particles.(“Pesticide”).Along with cotton, the top portion of shoe also consist of laces made of polyester that are of equal importance to the upper part of the shoe.
Now we come to the polyester laces that are of important because they provide the user a way to adjust to their specific need of tightness. The laces that Vans uses are a synthetic made polyester fiber. The most common synthetic fiber is polyethylene terephthalate (PET). The process used to make synthetic polyester involves using”coal, petroleum, air and water”(“How Polyester is Made”). The primary raw material principle “used in the manufacture of polyester is ethylene which is derived from petroleum”(“Polyester”). Although I was not able to find what process Vans uses to make their laces, according to Craftech industries, a chemical reaction involving high temperatures "within a vacuum is the most common process in making polyester. (“How Polyester is Made” ). After this process a “petroleum byproduct, alcohol, and carboxylic acid are mixed to form a compound known as monomer or ester” (“How Polyester is Made”). After polymerization, the material is stretched using heat into long fibers to strengthen the durability between the polyester fibers. In addition to the laces themselves, we should also look at the material that holds the laces together, since they too require a whole new different material that is quite important for the structure of the shoe.
The metal eyelet although often neglected as a part of the shoe, allows for the user to adjust their shoe and make sure their shoes don't slip off their feet. The metal eyelets used in our particular shoes could be composed of a variety of materials because some metals that are often utilized to make eyelets consist of aluminum, iron,steel, silver, or copper. (“The Basic”) Although, metals arent found in the final form that is needed for production, they are found “buried in rock with deposits of other metals and they exist not as pure elements but oxides”(“The Science of Metals”). The metal ore is first extracted and then goes through refinement to separate the unwanted metal from the useful one. This is usually done by mechanical processing “using water to wash away unwanted materials, acid treatment, heating and electric processing”(“The Science of Metals”).Unfortunately I was not able to find the particular acid that is used for the process.Now that we have looked at the overall process of constructing the shoe, now these shoes are ready to go to the market;however, before the shoes are ready to be shipped some new raw materials have to gathered to construct the boxes for the shoe.
Within the packaging stage, we need to make sure the shoes are presentable and secure in their box before they are transported. It is likely that vans shoe boxes are built with corrugated cardboard because corrugated cardboard use more layers and are “durable, lightweight,and cost effective” (“Packages”), thus saving Vans Inc money and protecting their product’s better. I found that “pine trees provide the primary raw material used to make corrugated cardboard”(“Corrugated Cardboard ”).The process begins with placing tree bark chips in a “high-pressure tank called a batch digester” (“Corrugated Cardboard ”) where they are mixed with a solution containing sodium hydroxide, and other ionic compounds such as sulfates, sulfides, and sulfites(“Corrugated Cardboard ”).Afterwards, cornstarch glue is used to combine the cardboard to the liner sheets. In addition, we also need to look at the wrapping paper inside the box. I found that the paper typically used in shoe boxes is called a translucent wrapping/tissue paper. The tissue paper is typically “produced in special mills from wood pulp” (Wrapping Paper 1 ). The trees used to make the paper are categorized as softwood trees which come from gymnosperm trees,”usually evergreen conifers, like pine or spruce”(“Hardwood vs Softwood”). Now that the boxes have been formed, these Vans shoes are ready to be transported to the customers.
Now we come to final stage of the process which involves transporting the Vans shoes to its designated location. The vehicles utilized for transportation ,use gasoline which is derived from crude oil. Crude oil is “liquid obtained from the refinement of petroleum”(“Gasoline”). The crude oil is stored within “porous rock, or reservoir rock”(“Gasoline”). After the oil gets extracted, the oil undergoes a process known as catalytic cracking.Within this process a “catalyst, high temperature, and increased pressure”(“Gasoline” ) are used to alter the composition of the petroleum. The process uses “aluminum, platinum, and processed clay”(“Gasoline”) , as catalysts in order to convert the large molecules into smaller ones suitable for gasoline. I found that aluminum primarily comes from a ore(rock) called bauxite.Caustic soda (sodium hydroxide) is used to “dissolve the aluminum compounds found in the bauxite”(“Aluminum”). Other chemicals such as sodium, fluorine, and carbon are used in the metal smelting process. Finally, after all of these processes have been done, Vans Old Skool shoes are ready to be delivered to their desired location.
As we have noted there are many different materials that go into the making of these shoes;however, we need to consider the fact that many people do not know where they come from, thus it is important to be informed of what our products are made of. By getting informed of a product’s life cycle and materials, we can hopefully become more cautious of what we are buying because there are certain things like Vans shoes that for the most part are not recyclable.Although Vans has recently started to offer options for people to drop off their shoes to existing store locations so that the shoes materials can be restored or used for the making of other shoes.(“Vans Skate”)for the most part they are not recyclable.Vans shoes and shoes in general are often thrown out because shoes are not often popularized as a recyclable product. Hopefully by investigating the materials that go into our shoes we as consumers can slowly begin to make wiser decisions on our buying habits so we can help the Earth from getting depleted of all its natural resources for product’s like Vans shoes that have very little reusable qualities after its usage.
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