When Stratham, N.H.-based Timberland Co. launched its Earthkeepers sustainable product initiative for fall ’07, it consisted of one boot silhouette for men and two for women. Going into its third year, there are more than 40 styles for men and kids (women’s will relaunch in a future season) — and within the men’s category, Earthkeepers is the company’s fastest-growing label.
While Timberland hasn’t changed its mission for the $85-to-$180 line — using the most sustainable materials and the most recycled content to make stylish, casual footwear — Earthkeepers is in constant evolution. This fall, Timberland has teamed with Hudson, Ohio-based Green Rubber to be the exclusive footwear partner for Green Rubber’s new product, a 50 percent-recycled rubber sole made from revulcanized used tires and virgin rubber material.
Timberland is also working to reduce the environmental impact of its shoes with a deconstructable boot called Earthkeepers 2.0. Here, Timberland VP of men’s product Brian Moore tells Footwear News about the company’s plans for Earthkeepers and why green is good in a down economy.
FN: The Earthkeepers line has expanded dramatically. What’s new for fall?
BM: [This spring], we shifted our strategy for Earthkeepers to be a full collection of merchandise — not a sub-brand, but a significant initiative for Timberland. The idea is that [every season] we add one more environmental bar we have to clear. Before, “recycled content” was the primary message. For fall, we still have those same metrics, but we added two more. First, every rubber outsole would use Green Rubber. But we also wanted to tackle the idea of an [end-use strategy], so we invested in Earthkeepers 2.0, where we challenged our team to create a boot that can be taken apart [for easier recycling].
FN: What does that entail?
BM: In the Earthkeepers 2.0 product, the hardware can be taken off, and we used a feedbag stitch to attach the leather to the rubber, [so with the right tool] you can pull the two apart. We’ve used recycled materials. The next big step was to demonstrate that you can make a boot that can be disassembled so you can replace any one part or recycle it, or return a part and have it resold, for example.
FN: What’s your ultimate goal with the 2.0 boot — is the company thinking of getting into the recycling game?
BM: Internally, we’re interested in the idea of cradle-to-cradle. We’re not going after Cradle to Cradle certification on the Earthkeepers 2.0 product, but we’re going after that concept of minimizing raw materials and the impact of manufacturing, as well as simplifying our material choices and making something that can come apart for recycling. We’re trying to make a shoe that can be recycled. In terms of who recycles it, that’s still to be figured out.
FN: Are you planning any other expansions to the line?
BM: For spring ’10, there’ll be a much bigger launch, with women’s and kids’. We want Earthkeepers to be fully branded across the board.
FN: The economic slowdown has been weighing heavily on a lot of consumers’ minds. Are you nervous about expanding the line at a time when cost-cutting might overshadow going green?
BM: We really focus on trying to get value from our values: using green to make our products better and not just because it’s the right thing to do. And actually, the greener materials are some of the better-looking ones we’ve found. It makes for some of our most attractive product, and that’s made it easier — the collection is more competitive from a cosmetic standpoint.
From a pure product standpoint and a revenue standpoint, it’s a very good time to be working on sustainable product. People are more conscious now, they’re being a bit more responsible. The styles are industrial-quality — with more performance than you’ll ever need — and our product comes in at a good price. It just adds another layer of being responsible. We’re pretty bullish on it.