There is so much opportunity in being a big business that there’s no excuse for not doing the right thing, says Christopher Raeburn comparing his British-born Raeburn brand with the global scale of Timberland, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast.
Raeburn has been creative director at the latter since late 2018, where he says he is focusing on putting responsible, innovative design at the centre of its strategy. But it’s through his work and experience for the smaller Raeburn business that he’s able to do so, he explains.
“One of the ways I’ve always looked at Raeburn is almost like a Remora – those small fish that clean sharks… sometimes they can clean the teeth and everything like that. I think it’s a really interesting analogy, because by swimming alongside sometimes those big big fish in the ocean, A) you have the opportunity to clean them, and that’s exciting because they want to be cleaned. B) you have the opportunity to talk to them a little bit and then maybe you can start to really steer them. And if they want to be steered and it’s a really good partnership then you’re going to go in the right direction together,” he says.
Raeburn, which was founded in 2009, has built up its business focused on three key areas that all come under the circularity header: reduced, remade and recycled. But that was the case long before sustainability itself became a “trend”.
“I never really set out to start a responsible company. It was more a company that started from common sense. And it fascinates me, as I say, that there is all of this stuff out there. And why can’t we reuse and remake it before we even need to buy anything new,” Raeburn notes.
Join us as we also explore why scaling such a model is essential for the future of our industry, how much opportunity is coming down the pipeline from what we currently consider trash, and the role business has to play in education today.
Earth Day, an annual event designed to demonstrate support for environmental protection, has seen brands from Adidas to Ralph Lauren introduce new sustainable products this year.
Such announcements come alongside a wave of many marketing-led initiatives. New product lines such as t-shirts and canvas bags are being promoted with proceeds going to various non-profit organizations dedicated to climate change or the environment. While these moves are valid in many instances – apparel brand Tentree for instance will plant one tree for every 10 likes it receives on social media with a goal of 500,000 trees – many others feel too close to pushing the button of consumerism on a day that should be encouraging otherwise.
Here we’ve highlighted five examples where we believe strongly there’s more behind the promotional story. That’s because a new kind of consumerism is being pushed focused on circularity. In all of these announcements, the big focus is on recycled materials, with innovations ranging from an entire shoe made from one single material, to reducing the impact of water, energy and waste, as well as removing plastic bottles from landfills and the oceans.
Arguably none of these are simple in their execution, which is what makes them worth paying attention to as we celebrate this year’s Earth Day.
Adidas presented the “Futurecraft Loop” sneaker, a running shoe made from one single material: 100% recyclable virgin synthetics. This compares to the usual running shoe where 12-15 different materials would be utilized, meaning the same number of recycling techniques would be needed. Here, what we’re looking at by comparison is simplicity when it comes to moving towards a circular economy (hence the use of the word “loop”), because the entire shoe can be recycled in one single process.
When customers return a pair to Adidas, the shoe will be broken down and reused to create new performance running sneakers. The Futurecraft Loop took almost six years to develop, and is set to be released in spring/summer 2021.
Ralph Lauren launched a version of its iconic polo made from recycled plastic bottles and dyed with a zero-water process. Each “Earth Polo” takes an average of 12 bottles to create, it said. In addition, Ralph Lauren has committed to removing at least 170 million bottles from landfills and oceans by 2025.
Everlane announced it will launch a new sneaker called “Tread by Everlane”. Rolling out on April 25, the shoe is made of recycled polyester laces and lining. Its soles are a combination of natural and recycled rubber for a sole that’s 94.2% free of virgin plastic, in contrast with the average sneaker sole made almost entirely of plastic.
Everlane’s sneakers are also carbon-neutral. The brand partnered with a third-party firm to calculate the emissions and says it is working with NativeEnergy to support its goal of offsetting 100% of the carbon emissions from its production.
Nike announced a new sustainable collection called the “Earth Day” pack, which includes new releases of the Nike Air Force 1, Cortez, and Blazer Low sneaker using Nike Flyleather, a material made with 50% recycled natural leather fiber. Flyleather, which was first introduced fully to market in late 2018, uses less water and has a lower carbon footprint than traditional leather manufacturing. It’s also makes use of a more efficient process, resulting in less waste. Each of the new shows released in this collection also feature special Earth Day designs by artist Steve Harrington. The graphics show the planet Earth being hugged, carried or “warming” due to exercise.
Nike has further announced it will have more sustainable designs coming out this year. In the summer, it will launch the new VaporMax 2 “Random”, constructed from excess FlyKnit yarn that would have ended up in a landfill.
Sustainable footwear brand Allbirds also released a limited edition sneaker line for Earth Day. Dubbed “Protect Our Species”, it comes in five new colors in honor of climate-endangered birds. Each pair costs $95, and all income from the collection will be donated to the Audubon Society bird conservation organization.
Allbirds is already known for creating sneakers from renewable materials like eucalyptus, sugar and wool, and for continuing to push the sustainability agenda in fashion. For Earth Day, it also committed to going carbon neutral in 2019, placing a tax upon itself. This means for every tonne of carbon it emits, it will pay to then take it out of the atmosphere again.
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Elle UK has dedicated its entire September issue to sustainability, hoping to encourage the fashion industry to follow suit by teaming up with several important voices in the field.
It is also proposing its own manifesto to encourage meaningful change internally.
The issue, which is printed on 100% recycled paper, features conversations with important designers, authors and experts within the sustainability field, such as designer Stella McCartney, actress and activist Pamela Anderson, and author and climate change advocate Naomi Klein.
“The fashion industry has been using the same 10 materials for the past 200 to 300 years — come on guys: the food industry is changing, the fashion industry is doing the same old stuff, and getting away with it,” says McCartney.
Another contributor is Livia Firth, founder and creative director of Eco Age and executive producer of The True Cost, a documentary exploring the impact of fashion in its supply chain.
“When you look at the #MeToo campaign and the concept of feminism, you think, ‘How can we just be feminists in our little world?’ When you are a feminist, you have to consider women everywhere,” says Firth. “When you get dressed, you are wearing the story of another woman who is getting exploited. If you are a true feminist, #MeToo also has to apply to them. You have to make the connection and remember those stories.”
In this issue, the publication is also proposing a series of changes in order to be more ethical. This includes working with suppliers to improve its practices; using its multi-media platform to raise awareness to climate issues; highlighting campaigners and designers who are worth paying attention to or shopping from; and from a day-to-day perspective, using recycled set props as much as possible and eliminating single use plastics both on photo shoots and at the office.
For this initiative, Elle UK conducted research to better understand attitudes and awareness of sustainability in fashion among young women in the country. It uncovered findings such as that 90% of women want to know more about sustainability in the industry, while 51% want to know what they can do to become more sustainable.
The education piece is also key, as 62% of those surveyed were unaware that the fashion industry is one of the world’s biggest polluters. Additionally, 55% found it important or very important to know where the clothes they buy come from and whether they are ethically made.
How are you thinking about innovation? We’re all about helping you build innovative integrations and experiences. TheCurrent is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology, powered by a network of top startups. Get in touch to learn more.
L’Oréal Australia has teamed up with manufacturing company Avery Dennison and local waste management company Wasteflex to introduce a recycling scheme for its labels.
This initiative will help the brand stay committed to its sustainability goals and aim to reduce packaging waste across its international product ranges.
The program, which was developed in coordination between the three companies, will keep a specific part of the label application process (called a glassine paper liner) out of landfills, instead giving it a new life as recycled paper. Up to six tonnes of the glassine paper liner waste could potentially be recycled as a result.
David O’Leary, national logistics manager of L’Oréal Australia explains: “The savings from this program have been significant, but the biggest benefit for L’Oréal Australia is being able to meet our zero waste to landfill through the services and expertise of Wasteflex and Avery Dennison.”
This is not the first time L’Oréal has partnered with Avery Dennison. In 2015, the American branch of the beauty group collaborated with the manufacturing company to leverage its materials science expertise and find a solution for decreasing the waste of its Global MDO product labels. The effort reduced the materials needed for its labels by half, decreasing solid waste by 40%.
With the circular economy becoming an increasingly important topic across fashion and beauty, this initiative exemplifies how innovative new processes and global cooperation can reduce material costs, while also pushing the industry towards a more sustainable business model.
The North Face has launched a new product line that uses recycled material sourced from three US national parks to support the sustainability within the parks themselves.
The Bottle Source collection, which includes t-shirts and tote bags made from cotton and recycled bottles, will donate $1 for every item sold, which will go back to the parks through the National Park Foundation to support upcoming sustainable projects.
So far, the Bottle Source program has collected more than 160,000lbs of plastic bottles sourced from waste at Yosemite, Grand Teton and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks. Donated funds will in return go into the development of projects such as bear-proof recycling bins and reusable bottle filling stations.
“Bottle Source is a fitting next step in our materials innovation,” said James Rogers, director of sustainability at the brand. “This collection helps fund sustainability efforts in our national parks as more and more people enjoy these stunning places.”
“The North Face partnership inspires people to think about sustainability in a whole new way,” added Katherine Chesson, vice president of grants and programs at the National Park Foundation. “The Bottle Source program not only helps reduce waste, it is also a source of funding for important projects at national parks.”
This collection joins a series of other efforts the brand has been developing to improve the environmental impact of their products. Since 2016 The North Face uses only 100% down certified under the Responsible Down Standard across all product lines, while a 10-year-old partnership with bluesign has seen the brand make efforts towards helping their mills reduce their impact by using water and energy more efficiently.
Other sustainable products include the Reaxion line and the Denali jacket, both of which use recycled polyester, and the Cali wool beanie, that uses regenerative farming practices to produce wool to pull carbon into the soil.
Adidas is aiming for all of its products to be made from recycled plastics by 2024, according to Eric Liedtke, head of global brands at the company.
The initiative is a follow on to the brand’s partnership with Parley for the Oceans, which has already resulted in one million pairs of shoes sold created from recycled plastics recovered from the oceans. In 2018, it is expected to hit five million.
Each pair of shoes uses the equivalent of 11 plastic bottles, meaning Adidas is recycling some 55 million plastic bottles this year, Liedtke explained on stage at SXSW this week.
To put the trajectory ahead into context however, the company makes 450 million pairs of shoes every year right now, meaning that goal really is a moonshot. “You think five million is a lot but it’s not, it’s a drop in the bucket,” he said.
In the context of the 270 million tonnes of plastic in the ocean right now, not to mention the further eight million tonnes being added every year, he explained how important it is to get to this point. “The growth of plastic just doesn’t stop. It was a great invention, but it was made to never go away, so all that has been made is still floating around the world today. It becomes a real call to arms to fixing that.”
And the fact is that plastics are not only insidious, but everywhere. Most of the shirts Adidas produces are made from polyester, which is another name for petroleum based plastics. It’s also in the micro pellets in our shower gel, and of course in the plastic bags we receive. Adidas has already eliminated use of both of those latter two.
Liedtke says the next step is to “turn off the virgin plastic tap”. The aim is to get to the point where no new plastic is made at all, because the resource is already there – all that’s needed is for the existing plastics in the system to be used again and again. From cradle to grave to cradle, he explained. “We need to redesign the problem.”
Importantly, however, is the fact doing all of this also makes good business sense, Liedtke added. “I want to prove to the world that it is good for the bottom line. This is not philanthropy. It’s good business. This is what is critical.”
He added that the consumer is expecting and demanding it more than ever as well, especially when you look at the younger generation. “Gen Z wants to give back. They’ve grown up in a world that is highly stressed… they’re looking for trusted brands they can rely on – there’s a huge opportunity for us to step in. Authenticity is going to be core for this,” he said. “People don’t just buy what you make, they buy what you stand for.”
Adidas’ mission with Parley is to enter into full-time collecting and recycling ocean plastics to enable a fully sustainable supply chain, not just for its own brand but anyone interested. The worst problem the industry has right now is inaction, he added. “Everyone has to opt in, put their hand in the pile and play.”
Update: The original version of this story reported live from SXSW quoted Eric Liedtke stating that Adidas was aiming for all of its products to be made from recycled plastics recovered from the ocean by 2024. It is in fact to use 100% recycled polyester in every product and on every application where a solution exists by that year. This ambition is not tied specifically to ocean plastic.
Underpinning the fashion and luxury industries right now is both a tough retail environment and a landscape of intensifying competition – from Amazon to the bevy of new direct to consumer players. While sales are steadily on the rise, with The McKinsey Global Fashion Index projecting global industry growth from 3.5 to 4.5% in 2018, there are still big challenges ahead.
As we’ve seen time and again, survival is no longer a guarantee merely based on heritage; innovation in an age of rapidly evolving consumer expectations is what will drive staying power.
However, while that word – “innovation” – means newness in a literal sense, when it comes to looking at trends for the year ahead, we are very much talking about evolution not revolution in terms of what matters for retail and fashion brands.
For 2018, then, the big areas of focus will continue to be around augmented reality, artificial intelligence, the voice interface, blockchain, the circular economy, new materials, customisation and fulfillment.
Those tech terms tie into some big overarching trends shaping the future of the industry too; namely the sense of an increasingly frictionless shopping experience, more personalised and relevant consumer interactions and the drive of a serious sustainable agenda.
Here are the things you need to be thinking about…
In 2017 we saw the launch of Apple’s ARkit and Google’s ARcore, making augmented reality development on the devices we all use everyday incredibly simple. This push into the mainstream has led to a forecast of 900 million AR-enabled smartphones by the end of 2018, according to consulting firm Digi-Capital. With that of course comes increased consumer expectation – research from Digital Bridge shows that 69% of shoppers now want retailers to launch AR apps within the next six months.
We’ve already seen the likes of Ikea, Anthropologie and Burberry doing so to both facilitate shopping and make for some fun experiential use cases. As Apple CEO Tim Cook told Vogue: “Over time, I think [these features] will be as key as having a website.” 2018 then is your year to tool up. What is your AR strategy going to be?
Big data strategy is more of a reality for retailers and brands than ever thanks to the role of machine learning within artificial intelligence. Now, decisions can be made based on detailed and real-time consumer insights. The largest benefit for businesses at this point lies in providing greater relevancy or personalisation to the consumer – from tailored recommendations to highly individualised messaging.
There will be an estimated 1.8 billion users of voice assistants – like Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri – by 2021, according to Tractia. That kind of progress is already well underway, hot on the heels of simple facts like Amazon’s Echo devices being the biggest sellers on its website this holiday season. Last year we saw retailers starting to figure out where their place was in this landscape – Walmart teamed up with Google Home; others like Perry Ellis launched a fun personal styling app through Alexa.
Based on the simple mantra of needing to be where your consumers are, it’s time for the rest of the industry to start exploring how they too can use voice. At some point we’re going to see such technology assistants as the gatekeepers to shoppers, turning traditionally targeting and messaging on its head.
Blockchain is another tech word that’s been bandied about nonstop of late, but the chips are starting to fall as to what this can really mean for the industry. While cryptocurrencies are having a real do or die moment, the more relevant applications of blockchain for fashion brands lie in authenticity and transparency. Authenticity is about anticounterfeiting above all else, while transparency sits alongside sustainability. Both are about validating supply chain data, with blockchain by its immutable nature supporting that very fact.
London designer Martine Jarlgaard recently led the charge in terms of transparency, turning to storytelling to showcase each step of her supply chain through blockchain company Provenance. Expect 2018 to see more of these types of initiatives on a marketing level, as well as a broader movement to start thinking from the ground up in terms of integrating such technology into the foundations of the organisation.
The circular economy
On the subject of sustainability, the drive for less waste, and the move towards a true circular economy is also gaining headway. In 2017 we saw H&M announce its goal to be fully circular by 2030 and to only use recycled or other sustainably sourced materials. No small task, but a bold statement highlighting the work that’s got to go in between now and then.
The key, according to Nielsen, is that 72% of millennials and 73% of Generation Z say they would pay more for brands with sustainable offerings, meaning doing good is also key to strong business today. It’s not possible to be in this industry without thinking about this side of things in some way or another as a result, making this year a critical time for all involved. Strategy around the three R’s: reduce, reuse and recycle, will be a big focus for 2018, from new innovations shaping the possibilities around recycling techniques themselves, to a continued focus on areas like the sharing economy and resale sites.
Other names like VitroLabs are also worth keeping an eye on, as well as those experimenting with different fibres produced from the byproduct of harvests including pineapples, mushrooms, oranges and grapes. If last year was about experimentation, 2018 gives us the opportunity to move towards application and real commercial viability.
If you pull together some of the above trends – personalisaton and sustainability fundamentally – there’s little escape from the idea of customisation as a penultimate thought for 2018. If you can make something tailored to the individual, waste is lower, usage lasts longer, conversions are higher… the list goes on.
This is not new – we’ve been monogramming for decades – but the continued roll out of flexible manufacturing options from start-ups like Unmade, or with Shima Seiki printers as the likes of Ministry of Supply have used, as well as large scale automated systems like the Speedfactory from Adidas, are making this both quicker and more possible at scale. If that wasn’t enough, beware the A word once more: Amazon recently won a patent for an on-demand manufacturing system for apparel. That could be a game changer.
In case Amazon hasn’t yet been mentioned enough above, one final point to note continues around just how to make your time from order to delivery faster than ever. With the e-commerce juggernaut setting the precedent amid a consumer landscape of instant gratification in the on-demand economy world, it’s become somewhat of a race to the bottom for fulfillment.
The fact is, if we’re offered 30-minute drone delivery down the line, or even more realistically the 90-minute arrivals of our Gucci wares from Farfetch, as we saw launch in 2017, we’re more than likely going to take it. The question of need no longer comes into it. This space is ripe with start-ups offering all manner of assistance – from types of delivery options to opportunities for simplified returns. So what are you doing to pick up the pace? Time is quite literally of the essence.