Nike’s New App Reveals The Sustainability Of Every Clothing Material You Can Think Of

Making helps people understand the tradeoffs between using down or hemp or cotton or anything else you might make a shirt or shoes out of.

Last year, Nike made its dataset of sustainable materials–developed over an eight-year period–available online for the public to use. The big reveal was part of the company’s Open Challenge for Sustainable Materials, which asked visitors to “select materials beautifully, simply, and accurately, based on sustainability.”


This month, Nike made that challenge just a little bit easier with the Nike Making app, now available through iTunes. The app is essentially a portable version of the database that has been available for a little over a year. Designers can look at 22 product materials–including silk, down, cotton, and polypropylene fabric–and find out their environmental impacts in four categories: waste, water use, energy, and chemistry. Performance and aesthetics are also taken into account.

As we noted when the Open Challenge for Sustainable Materials launched, choices aren’t always straightforward as they seem at first. Take a look at the Nike Material Choice and Impact website. While a women’s cotton hoodie is high on waste impact and low impact on everything else, an organic version of that same hoodie also has a high waste impact–in addition to a higher energy and chemistry impact. Organic isn’t always better.

Even within the app, it’s easy to see how choices could become difficult. Down ranks near the top in most categories, but other materials aren’t as straightforward. Hemp, for example, ranks third out of all materials for chemistry but 18th for energy and 16th for water.

The next challenge, which the Making app doesn’t take into account, is factoring in suppliers. If organic cotton is available from a much higher-quality supplier than non-organic cotton, for example, that’s something to consider.

Nike’s materials index is just one way that the company is approaching sustainability. Hannah Jones, Nike’s VP of Sustainable Business and Innovation, told Co.Design: “There’s always one set of arguments that say we should all consume less. The next says let’s make better, longer, more durable products. The third is the one I think is most interesting. How do we actually close the loop? How do we create products that could be infinitely recycled?”

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.