While Cole Haan is best celebrated for its modern-meets-timeless business casual attire, it continuously sneaks in everyday casual gear into its, well, sneaker roster. The latest in the lineup: the Generation Zerøgrand II, billed as Cole Haan’s first-ever sustainable shoe.
The sneaker release comes on the heels of the brand’s announcement that it will commit to using at least 25% recycled or naturally derived materials by weight in all products labeled “sustainable.” What that looks like on the Generation Zerøgrand II is a patent-pending outsole made of natural dandelion rubber — called FlowerFoam by the brand — which claims to absorb impact on the joints during daily use.
That’s not a bad idea given that the manufacturing and raw material extraction components of the footwear industry are said to contribute to 1.4% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to a study from sustainability consulting group Quantis. For context, that’s just shy of the aviation industry’s contribution of 2.1% of all global carbon emissions.
Here’s what to know about how the newest shoes adhere to Cole Haan’s sustainable goals, and whether they’re worth the $130 price tag.
What are the Generation Zerøgrand II’s?
The sneakers are part of Cole Haan’s Zerøgrand athletic shoe collection that launched in 2014, marrying both style and function. The shoes feature an upper made with vegan microfiber suede and felt fabric made of recycled water bottles. The laces and fabric topsheet are both made of recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET), and the footbed, which Cole Haan calls Ortholite Hybrid, fuses recycled rubber and foam for that airy bounce in your step. The shoes come in men’s and women’s sizes in numerous colors like blue, black and white (what I chose for its versatility), and retail for $130.
Had the brand not been kind enough to send over a pair to test out, I don’t think I would have given them a second glance on shelves or online. It’s a shoe that looks sleek and minimalist at first, yet possess numerous surprising details once you put them on and squint. The Generation Zerøgrand II doesn’t have a tongue like a standard sneaker — instead, it’s more of a continuous opening that sits on the same plane as its eyelets, much like a slip-on shoe. Unfortunately, the tab at the back was too small for me to latch onto, forcing me to use my fingers as a horseshoe just to get my foot in. Cue finger cramps.
The eyelets are all dotted in a metallic silver patch of material that sits in stark contrast to the heather gray felt stripe above the heel. The heel flares out slightly wider than the backstay and counter at the back of the foot, creating just enough of a Balenciaga or Alexander McQueen “dad shoe” effect to keep them looking modern over matronly. These aren’t functional qualities so much as aesthetic ones, which are elements I consider when looking for an ideal sneaker. After all, they need to be able to match with most outfits in my closet for them to get any wear time. There’s no doubt these shoes are versatile enough to tone down dress pants and a blazer or add structure to joggers and a hoodie. They look like a shoe you’d see a celebrity wearing at the airport or a tourist wearing on an all-day walking tour.
Putting it to the test
As the Generation Zerøgrand II is a performance sneaker, I put them to the test in multiple scenarios to get a full picture of how they hold up.
The shoes felt so light in my hands I was almost worried about how they’d fare in a high-intensity setting. I first took them for a spin on a spinning bike to get a sense of how they felt when I continuously stamped my weight on them for 45 minutes. The heel and ball of my foot tend to experience pain quickest when I work out, but the cushion-y soles on these shoes successfully prevented that from happening. The spinning bike pedals were also slightly loose on my foot, but I didn’t mind because there was so much traction on the bottom of the shoe, they stayed put the entire time. The breathable mesh instep kept my feet dry the entire time.
I wore them on the treadmill with a thin sock to get a true feel for the sole, which had a lovely curve to it that hugged my arches while providing ample room for my toes to wiggle around. Had I known they would have felt that big on me, I would have opted for a thicker sock or sized down. I opted for my usual size 6 but believe a 5 or 5.5 would have cradled my foot a bit more tightly. Even so, I refused to take them off even after my half-hour walk indoors because they served as a viable alternative to slippers. Yes, they’re that comfortable.
When it comes to weight training or resistance training, you’re not looking for a lot of bounce at the heel, since it can potentially compromise your body’s ability to produce force on its own. These sneakers were light enough to allow my body to do all the work, while still providing ample arch and ankle stability. Those flared-out heels I was referring to earlier? They became a godsend at helping me feel stable on my feet, the way a truss might support a building or a bridge. This might be an issue for you if you’re looking to work on your own stability.
Big fans of sneakerhead culture (aka me) will also go out of their way to avoid any movements that can potentially create creases in the shoe. Luckily, dorsiflexion (bending my foot with my toes pointing towards my shin) during moves like lunges, plank and weighted heel raises yielded not a single crease in the shoe, making them a low-maintenance option.
The bottom line
If you’re planning on investing in a sneaker that can take you from your workout to a walk and everything in between, the Generation Zerøgrand II’s are a solid bet. They boast enough class and structure to be appropriate for everyday wear (yes, even a business-casual meeting), and they’ve gotten the stamp of approval in the fitness department from yours truly, a certified personal trainer.
At $130, they aren’t cheap, but they’re in line with the national average sneaker cost of $121.21, according to running shoe resource RunRepeat. While I can’t speak to how well they’ll hold up over time, and I don’t consider them my personal style, they did teach me not to judge a shoe until I’ve walked a mile in it — or taken it for a proper spin.