It seems that everywhere we look there’s news reminding us of climate change and the increasing threats to our planet. Is it any wonder that in order to reduce our carbon footprint we need to look down at what’s on our feet?
Reports say that the footwear and apparel industry accounts for about 8% of global climate impact – that’s more than air travel. 10.5 million tons of textiles were sent to landfills. And Americans throw away 85% of their clothing each year.
While sustainability is growing in importance to consumers, brands must still achieve the high quality standards they are known for. When sustainability is thrown into the material mix, can brands still satisfy all the demands being made in the marketplace?
Sustainability that doesn’t sacrifice quality
It can often be a challenge for brands to employ such responsible standards of production, especially without compromising other aspects of the product. “I think typically if somebody starts talking about sustainable or recyclable materials, there’s something that you’re giving up in order to use that material,” says Erik Hernandez, a 13 year veteran of the footwear industry who has worked for big names like Vans and Adidas. Most recently he joined his wife at her footwear design agency, Studio Noyes in Portland, OR.
For every brand, there are many factors to consider in addition to sustainability. According to outdoor footwear company KEEN, every product made must meet a trifecta of criteria: safety (for both humans and the environment), effectiveness, and affordability to the consumer. KEEN administers strict production policies to meet their standards for safety, including the exclusion of harmful chemicals and using environmentally preferred-leather.
“We have requirements that [new materials] have to meet if they’re going to go in our library,” says Chris Enlow, Corporate Responsibility Director at KEEN. “We go through some very vigorous chemical and physical testing. The chemical test is around the idea of eliminating toxicity and bringing in green chemistry.” For KEEN, even the most sustainable materials must still meet their other requirements.
“At the end of the day we have to get to a price that makes sense,” says Chris. “For us to get to safe, effective, and affordable, we’ve realized that sometimes when we start a new product or add something new, it’s more expensive. But if we make an investment, we want it to transcend all of our products.”
One approach is repurposing a tried-and-true product, ensuring quality is never compromised and that the investment is worth it. Terra is Ariaprene’s new materials line that’s a zero-waste approach to sustainability. The product of our own unused foam trimmings, Terra is made in-house from Ariaprene’s own recycled materials. This ensures the same quality that’s always expected of every AP material line, from durability and support to comfort and breathability.
Answering the demand for sustainable brands
In all of Erik’s experience, he’s seen many trends come and go, but one he’s noticed footwear brands adopting in recent years has been around sustainability. “Sustainability is definitely a topic that comes up on nearly every brief from brands now, and it’s good to see,” says Erik. “Consumers are becoming more aware of the need for this, and so brands have to take it upon themselves to answer the question that everybody’s asking, ‘What are you doing to take part in the movement?’”
Chris has also noticed a trend towards brands paying attention to sustainability, particularly at a trade show he recently attended in Germany. “There’s a big shift in focus on the materials and what they’re doing through the lens of their product and sustainability.”
This shift may be in response to what brands have noticed about consumer demand. Studies are showing that consumers tend to prefer sustainable brands. According to Nielson’s consumer report, 66% of consumers say that they would even pay more for a brand that’s sustainable. That number is even greater for millenials – 73% are willing to spend more on eco-friendly items.
Many brands are working to integrate more sustainable practices into their processes, including KEEN. “We’re focused on integrating in more recycled content in our textile uppers,” says Chris. “We’re phasing that in specifically across all of our products that have webbing or certain uppers that we can weave from recycled plastic PET bottles.”
At Ariaprene, we’re committed to implementing new practices in an effort to help the environment. Our extra trimmings that would have produced waste have now become the next generation of Ariaprene: Terra. “Ariaprene’s new line is a great step in the right direction,” says Erik. “It’s something that is very acknowledging and hopefully something ongoing that continues with not just Ariaprene, but any brand that makes materials that are synthetic but in reality can be just as sustainable and renewable as any other material.”