Before sustainability and diversity initiatives were commonplace in corporate discourse, Deckers Brands was looking for ways to make better product, in a better way. For over a decade, the company has been actively engaged in improving its corporate responsibility and its environmental performance.
Deckers has been members of the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative, since 2016 and was an early adopter of sustainable development goals (SDGs). Deckers recently improved their targets under each SDG to hold themselves accountable and better measure their progress against them in the following areas: materials, waste, water, climate and clean energy, gender equality, reduced inequalities, quality education, chemistry, and human rights.
“It’s one thing to adopt sustainable development goals and they look great on paper,” said Brooke Beshai, director of sustainability and compliance at Deckers Brands. “But you have to be accountable and track the positive impact you are making.”
What has been critical to success has been a top-down directive that sees accountability and a willingness to improve baked into every level of the company. Deckers’ program is really the effort of a large group of cross-functional teams working together to inspire greater change. But change would not be possible without leaders empowering employees to think about sustainability as a priority.
“With the right tone from the top, it’s becoming a flywheel of positive momentum where we’re making better choices every day,” said Tom Garcia, SVP, general counsel, corporate sustainability and compliance officer at Deckers Brands. “And ultimately, it’s the best thing for all constituents: our employees, customers, consumers, shareholders and the planet.”
Much of recent industry conversation has revolved around reducing the environmental impact of production and improving the sustainability of the products themselves. Within the footwear and apparel categories, Deckers has identified materials as a key opportunity area to achieve both goals.
A common challenge for manufacturers is retaining the quality of a product while also thinking about the end of its lifecycle. While a brand may produce one style entirely made from a recycled polymer, this isn’t necessarily scalable – nor desirable for longevity or performance. Identifying components that can be replaced or even eliminated, without compromising performance, is necessary in order to see real results.
“I think inherent in these products is that they have to perform really well and a big part of sustainability is longevity – a product that lasts,” said Garcia. “It’s hard to balance this with something that can ultimately be disassembled or repurposed in some way, but at Deckers we are proud to work towards this goal.”
Within the Deckers brands, individual brand targets have been set but all brands have a common commitment to increase their use of recycled, repurposed, regenerated, renewable and natural fibers. UGG, known for its comfort products, has committed to eliminate virgin wool or ensure any usage is Responsible Wool Certified Wool and developed a regenerated plant-based faux fur. HOKA and TEVA have increased their use of recycled polyester derived from recycled plastic water bottles and Sanuk created its SustainaSole collection which utilizes bottom units that consist of recycled foam content.
Supporting sustainable growers also provides appropriate compensation to the workers at the beginning of the supply chain, which is a critical part of corporate responsibility. As part of its target to source cotton fiber only from responsible cotton schemes, Deckers has not sourced from either Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan in 2020, due to their forced labor practices.
“I always say, we could be doing everything right by way of climate and clean energy, making carbon neutral products and whatever it may be, but then we have a catastrophe at one of our factories – and suddenly it doesn’t matter,” said Beshai. “Everything that we’re doing on the environmental side doesn’t matter if we’re neglecting our people.”
This emphasis on taking care of their people has informed the growing number of initiatives under Deckers’ Equity, Inclusion and Diversity (EID) umbrella. Like many companies in 2020, Deckers has been expanding its conversation around creating an inclusive and supportive workplace for all employees.
Part of these efforts have included the introduction of a framework for Employee Resource Groups, and the rollout of a three-part mandatory course on unconscious bias. Deckers has also announced certain targets aimed at increasing diversity among its employee base, including 25% representation of BIPOC in the U.S. at Director levels and above.
But these endeavors are not just limited to staff at Deckers headquarters.
“One of the things that I am most proud of is seeing the impact that we’re making in our supply chain by way of our partnership with HERproject,” said Beshai. “We are inspiring the next generation of female leaders in Asia, which is where we are predominantly manufacturing. Getting to see it and witness it first-hand has definitely changed me and changed my outlook.”
The HERproject collaboration has resulted in the empowerment of over 33,000 women to date; Deckers has set a goal to reach 100,000 women by 2027. Not only do these projects educate and equip women in the areas where Deckers manufactures, but the women are then able to share these learnings with their local community, creating a ripple effect.
Giving back in this way is an essential component of the company’s corporate responsibility program. Each brand has a number of partners that it chooses each year, who meet all of the Deckers requirements while also speaking to that brand’s particular identity. And across the board, the company coordinates larger volunteer efforts and encourages all employees to give back.
“People feel good about doing good and this breeds momentum,” said Garcia. “Through all this, we had our Art of Kindness Week, where we mobilized our global employee base to volunteer. During these times, that’s something that contributes to the communities During these times, that’s something that contributes to our communities and brings us all together.”
2020 has proved a challenging year for the industry on all fronts, but it has only accelerated the interest in creating long-term change. Both Garcia and Beshai spoke about feeling optimistic about what is to come from the fashion industry, noting the value of taking one step at a time. With new developments in sustainable innovation emerging every day, this is an exciting period of opportunity – for those who are willing to put in the work.
“We believe in a conservative and humble approach because we always know that there is more that can be done,” said Beshai. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with recognizing your company’s strength and opportunities. I believe consumers appreciate honestly and transparency.”
Deckers is excited for the future and looks forward to finalizing its product materials lifecycle assessment so that they can develop and design more sustainable products, evaluate more sophisticated carbon reduction measures, examine footwear recycling opportunities, and support regenerative farming practices.
There is no doubt that the future is bright for Deckers sustainability program and, for Garcia, the key to success is to make sure that the direction is coming from leadership. Without collective buy-in, it would be impossible to drives a more a passionate and dedicated culture of doing the right thing and having a higher purpose.
“I think our momentum comes when there’s alignment and buy-in from the top,” said Garcia. “When you have the right structure, when you have the right structure, things accelerate, and you are able to harvest the collective passion of the people in the organization.”