Thanks to the millennial generation, the environmental movement is seeing a renewed burst of interest among footwear brands, and Bed Stu hopes to be a leader in that effort.
The Camarillo, Calif.-based label has been taking steps toward sustainability over the past few years, and in spring ’17, it launched the Organics Collection, a series of shoes and boots made using eco-conscious materials and production techniques.
The move came as a result of consumer demand, said COO Andrew Forbes.
“A number of millennials have asked us to offer authentically sourced shoes, and when I meet with them, that seems to be something that comes up often,” he said.
“We knew, in talking to our consumers, it started to be about a value system. You find that from everyone — suppliers and vendors. This is more about doing what’s right than appealing to a marketplace.”
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Indeed, recent studies from Deloitte and Nielsen have found that millennial shoppers are willing to pay more for products that are considered sustainable or that come from socially or environmentally conscious companies.
“We looked to where we saw the market shifting to make this move,” Forbes explained.
And the brand is doubling down on the effort for spring ’18. According to Forbes, Bed Stu aims for 80 percent of its products for the season to be organic.
“We’re in transition,” he said. “We plan to move [entirely] to Bed Stu Organics, where our leathers are organically tanned with natural elements such as tree bark.”
The path to this point wasn’t easy. Bed Stu’s development process took nearly three years and included global searches for vendors that are committed to using only natural components.
“It was harder to achieve than we expected,” Forbes explained. “We started down the path a couple of years ago, and as you start to source out, you look at how you assemble — how do you reuse the leathers? From EVAs to natural latex rubbers, it’s a continuous [search].”
Among its goals, the label set out to eliminate materials and processes that incorporate toxins such as formaldehyde and chromium, which have been listed as human carcinogens by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This meant adopting a more natural vegetable-tanning technique for its leathers.
While more time consuming than treating leather with formaldehyde, the process aligns with Bed Stu’s artisanal craftsmanship.
“We do it the preindustrial way, like how the Native Americans did it,” said Forbes. “We use a pit with lime and also naturally occurring elements and barks. We’ve tried to go back old-school.”
Other components of the Organics Collection include sustainably sourced Chilean pine, used for wood bottoms; glues that are primarily water-based and solvent-free; and on some shoes, the midsoles are made from natural cork and recycled leather shavings.
Forbes noted that a big challenge with going organic is that it kicks o a wide-reaching array of questions throughout the supply chain.
“When you think about tissue paper in the box, now we have to have it printed on recycled paper, and the next question is, who is printing it?” he explained. “We’re very eco-conscious, but nobody’s 100 percent there yet.”
However, the brand is committed to the cause, and its retail partners are supporting the effort. Currently, all of Bed Stu’s 600 retailers are stocking some of the organic shoes, including Free People, Garnet Hill, Sundance and Zappos.com.
Camille Ewing, contemporary footwear buyer for the e-tailer, said: “Zappos loves to support sustainable initiatives that help bring awareness to environmental topics and help reduce our carbon footprint.”