Sustainable brand? Go one step further.

By Tom Jarvis
26 Sep 2019

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Gone are the days where Corporate Social Responsibility is a boring afterthought. In the last 5 years, sustainability has taken centre stage. Brands have been born out of providing ethical and sustainable goods, from clothes to car washes. And in a world of increasingly fickle customers, sustainability has become one of the key differentiators to achieve brand loyalty.

But what next? How can you make yourself stand out?

A great industry to look at is sustainable footwear. Having boomed in recent years, we saw numerous campaigns with Earth Day last week which has thrown up some trends we can learn from.

Focusing on trainers, it’s worth remembering that they are not only status symbols, but with so many components and the impact of wearing them, they are one of the hardest problems to solve.

After all, “Momma always says there’s an awful lot you could tell about a person by their shoes.” – Forrest Gump

Made to be remade

Adidas launched their first recycled, vegan AND 100% recyclable trainer, Futurecraft Loop. In partnership with Parley for the Oceans, the material is made from recycled ocean plastic. Using intercepted plastic waste from beaches, remote islands and in coastal communities, Adidas is forecast to produce an impressive 11 million shoes this year.

But what’s led “Adidas is making history” to bounce around the internet, is that the raw materials can not only be repurposed, but repurposed into another pair of high performance running shoes. Here, Adidas is taking responsibility for the whole lifecycle of the product, redefining the concept of waste.

The ‘100% RECYCLABLE’ label stamped on the top of an otherwise understated classic, is likely to signal a shift towards more mainstream brands being more loud and proud with their labelling.

Produced properly

The French brand, VEJA, go beyond the product. Their focus; transparency, high social standards for factories and social cooperatives. Founded on principles of fair trade, they ethically source their materials (organic cotton, natural rubber, ecological leather) directly from local communities in the Amazon, Brazil & Peru at a premium. They also upcycle plastic bottles from Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

Their brand story explains that after visiting a factory in which the living quarters were a “25 square metre room where 32 Chinese workers were sleeping together, stacked in 5-level bunk beds” where “in the middle of the room, only a hole that served both as a shower and a toilet” the VEJA founders realised something had gone seriously wrong with globalisation.

They also observed that for normal big sneaker brands, 70% of the cost of the shoe is related to advertising… so they eliminated ads.

Reallocating resources to production, their shoes are 5-7 times more expensive to make, but sold for the same price as competing brands, VEJA say they’re “5 to 7 times more real”.

This won over Megan Markle and in true royal family (celebrity) endorsement style, they’ve recently been named the “world’s hottest shoe” …about time FairTrade became cool.

While they may have no ads, they certainly have a very sexy instagram presence – shifting their communication with customers, from broadcasting to platform communities.

Tax Yo’ Self

There are hundreds more also doing great work; Everland promised to reduce 18% of their carbon emission in production with their long-awaited minimalist ‘Tread’ label last week, Keds are emphasising zero waste and a longer lifespan to “rid the idea of throwaway fashion”, while Timberland are reworking the classics.

But the real winner in my eyes is Allbirds. Also confirmed by a team vote here at Wilderness. Not only is the company founded on ethical practices and natural materials including (extremely comfy) merino wool, but they chose Earth Day 2019 to announce they’re going 100% carbon neutral.

After calculating their own (lower than average) carbon impact, the founders, Tim Brown and Joey Zwillinger, decided to offset their own emissions with an internal tax. The fund investing in tree planting, air purification that extracts greenhouse cases and clean energy projects.

Of course, an exhaustive carbon footprint is not easy to calculate but as reported in Fast Company, it seems they’ve been pretty meticulous in considering their whole supply chain; from raising the sheep that produce the wool to the office air conditioning and their employees bus trips to work.

At a time where extinction rebellion calls for the government to pledge to be carbon neutral by 2025, perhaps it will be brands rather than politicians that will lead the way.


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