After launching its first footwear collection in 2019, Reformation pressed the pause button on the category a year in. The sustainable company said it underestimated the challenges when it came to making eco-conscious footwear, but now, Reformation is back with shoes 2.0.
“We thought we could take some of our learnings and our standards that we had really honed in on in apparel and translate them to the new category,” said Reformation’s chief sustainability officer Kathleen Talbot. The main hurdle, Talbot added, was the amount of components shoes have in comparison to ready-to-wear.
“In our first go, we applied really strict [sustainable] standards for that main material, on the upper. But we didn’t even know how to get started with everything else,” she said.
This time around, the brand has a refreshed supply chain and a new material strategy. This led to the decision to manufacture in Brazil. Previously, the shoes were made in China and Portugal.
“Sourcing was kind of the underpinning of our country of origin selection. So this selection of Brazil was almost entirely about the colocated leather supply chain, as well as a great amount of traceability that’s enabled there,” Alison Melville, the brand’s GM of footwear and accessories, told FN.
Despite Brazil’s challenging position amid the COVID-19 crisis, Reformation has not seen much impact on its production having built in a time cushion to combat delays. Plus, the brand has on-the-ground partners in Brazil, who have been able to oversee production during the pandemic.
Melville added, “In order to have any impact on that part of the supply chain, we need to know where our farms are. And we need to be able to actually know where the impact is of the cows that we’re using in our supply chain. To that end, we focus really heavily on traceability.”
With that, Reformation knows 100% of its farms and works with only gold and silver-credited leather tanneries, which means they uphold high ethical standards when it comes to environmental policies and procedures, energy consumption, water usage and more. As a result, 97% of skins are batch-level traceable, and the company cut virgin plastic in its shoes by 75%.
While there are some vegan, textile-designed options in the collection, Reformation chooses to work with leather because many bio-based leather alternatives still use various amounts of plastics — which goes against its sustainability practices.
The goal, however, is to find a plastics-free leather alternative, which is why the firm has partnered with the Materials Innovation Initiative to accelerate that target.
Launching today, Reformation’s updated shoe line consists of 15 styles, including strappy heels, 90s-inspired sandals and platform flip flops. Additional looks will drop throughout the summer. The shoes are available direct-to-consumer, in sizes 5 to 11, online and in select stores. Prices range from $98 to $278.
In addition, focusing on end of life of the product was also top of mind in the relaunch. Reformation partnered with Looptworks on a shoe take-back program that allows the brand to recycle 100% of the shoes. More details on the initiative will roll out in the fall.
It’s a step in the right direction, said Melville, who said repair and resale should be priorities before the product reaches the recycling point.
“It’s a manual process right now. It requires disassembly. It’s not a one-waste stream. So I think a lot of brands shy away from it. It requires an investment. We’re going to have to pay to do it. But we think it’s the right thing to do,” she added.
Based in Los-Angeles, Reformation was founded by Yael Aflalo, an entrepreneur and former model, in 2009, with sustainability part of its core ethos. Since then, the label has continued to push its eco-conscious values forward. This year, for example, Reformation has been dubbed a Climate Neutral Certified company, which means it has offset its entire carbon footprint through a partnership with non-profit Climate Neutral that helps measure emissions and then provides strategies to reduce those emissions.
Talbot said, “A decade ago it was quite lonely. We were trying to do some of this work and we were getting a lot of blank faces and discouraging kind of responses from partners across the board. Now, I’m incredibly encouraged and inspired by what this industry has been able to accomplish in the last five years in particular. That being said, there’s still so much work to do.”