Sneakerjagd was selected for the 2022 European Press Prize shortlist. 

The widely acclaimed “Sneakerjagd” (Sneaker Hunt) is a large-scale, serial and cross-media investigation by media partners FLIP, ZEIT and NDR that made a splash at the end of 2021. Our team of reporters wanted to find out: What happens to our old shoes after we dispose them of? Can we trust the sustainability promises of manufacturers and retailers? What consequences does our shoe consumption have for the environment, our health and the rest of the world?

For this we concealed GPS transmitters in the soles of old sneakers worn by eleven celebrities, fed them into various disposal channels, and tracked them around the world for more than five months and many thousands of miles. It was a hunt in which we ourselves did not know in advance where it would lead us.

We disposed of the GPS sneakers in different ways. We threw them into textile collection bins and we returned them to major retailers and manufacturers. At a Nike store, we threw them into a brown box that said “Recycle your old shoes.” A similar box at textile giant Zara said, “Give the clothes you no longer wear a new life.” These are prompts that suggest to customers: You can still do something good with your old shoes. But is that really true?

It’s a big question that little was known about until our investigation. Every year, around 1.4 billion pairs of sneakers are sold, twice as many as in 2012, and corporations make around $70 billion in revenue from them. More and more shoes are produced – and eventually discarded because they are worn out, don’t look so chic after all, or the shelf is already full to bursting. In Germany alone, over 380 million pairs of shoes are thrown away every year, almost five pairs per person.

For the first time, “Sneakerjagd” has shown in detail what happens to our old shoes. Among other things, we uncovered that Zara took donated, well-preserved shoes directly to a waste disposal company. We were able to prove that Nike was destroying brand-new shoes under the disguise of its widely promoted “Nike Grind” recycling program, potentially violating German law, according to the German government. And we were able to document the export of our old sneakers to African countries where they cause huge environmental problems. In Kenya, for example, we followed our sneakers to apocalyptic and illegal waste sites full of old textiles.

Because “Sneakerjagd” tells many stories, we have published this major investigation as a cross-media serial over several weeks. NDR contributed various films and podcast/radio, ZEIT larger texts. FLIP took care of GPS tracking, social media strategy and newsletter. FLIP also developed the central project website, an interactive world map where you can follow the route of each sneaker. In the end, “Sneakerjagd” has reached around 10 Million people – ranging from celebrity Insta stories to Germany’s main news show “Tagesschau”.

The idea and concept stem from Flip Co-founders Felix Rohrbeck and Christian Salewski. Salewski was also in charge of the overall project. With all participants, the team finally comprised 20 people in the following roles:

Idea & Concept: Felix Rohrbeck, Christian Salewski

Head of Project: Christian Salewski

Editors: Felix Rohrbeck (FLIP), Dietmar Schiffermüller (Strg_F / NDR Fernsehen), Jürgen Webermann (NDR Info), Karsten Polke-Majewski (DIE ZEIT / ZEIT Online)

Reporters: Manuel Daubenberger, Benedikt Dietsch, Johannes Edelhoff, Willem Konrad, Anne Kunze, Felix Rohrbeck, Christian Salewski

GPS-Technology: Felix Rohrbeck, Christian Salewski, Christoph Scholl, Oliver Strecke

Development Project Website: Christian Sothmann (Lead), Moritz Klack, Fabian Dinklage, Lorenz Jeric, Christian Salewski, Simon Wörpel, Sascha Venohr

Social Media Strategy: Lorenz Jeric

Camera: Manuel Daubenberger, Willem Konrad, Andrzej Krol

Film Dramaturgy / Editing: Willem Konrad

Podcast: Melanie Böff, Felix Rohrbeck, Christian Salewski

Team Biographies

Melanie Böff is a freelance reporter and works for various editorial departments of the German broadcaster NDR. She is the head and voice behind the podcast on the sneaker hunt.

Manuel Daubenberger is an investigative filmmaker with an affinity for files and places off the beaten track.

Benedikt Dietsch is an investigative journalist focusing on greenwashing and climate change.

Fabian Dinklage is a freelance information designer with a focus on data visualization.

Johannes Edelhoff is an editor at German broadcaster ARD/NDR. He is the go-to interview guy in the team and is well known at Nike’s press office – now.

Lorenz Jeric is a German social media journalist at Flip, a media startup focused on greenwashing.

Anne Kunze is an investigative reporter at the German weekly DIE ZEIT.

Moritz Klack is a web developer with a focus on open-source software and interactive data visualizations.

Willem Konrad is a documentary filmmaker for the public broadcaster ARD/NDR and various production companies. His work involves the conception, realization and post-production of documentaries and newly developed TV formats.

Andrzej Król is a cinematographer with a focus on reportage and documentaries.

Karsten Polke-Majewski is head of the investigation department at DIE ZEIT.

Felix Rohrbeck is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Flip. As a business journalist, he has received many awards for his investigative research, elaborate reporting and cross-media stories.

Christian Salewski is head of Sneakerjagd, co-founder of Flip and a freelance investigative reporter (mostly for NDR and DIE ZEIT).

Dietmar Schiffermüller  is head of STRG_F and “Panorama – die Reporter” at German broadcaster ARD/NDR.

Christian Sothmann is one of the co-founders of Flip and manages all things digital in the start-up.

Sascha Venohr is a data journalist working for the investigative department at DIE ZEIT / ZEIT ONLINE.

Jürgen Webermann is head of the economic department at NDR Info.

Simon Wörpel is an independent investigative data journalist, researcher and leak librarian.

The GPS technology was realized in cooperation with the company Viamon.

The web development agency webkid developed the project website