Consumer interest in sustainable products has grown significantly in recent years, driven by young, conscientious millennial and Gen Z shoppers.
However, one of the biggest impediments to widespread adoption of eco-friendly merchandise has been the steep costs for materials and for overhauling production practices, which gets passed on to the customers in the form of higher retail prices.
A great deal of progress has been made, but is it enough to make buying green affordable for everyone?
Executives at major footwear brands weigh in on where things stand with sustainable sourcing.
Does making sustainable product always cost more?
Mario Moretti Polegato, founder and chairman, Geox: “Sustainable materials are not always necessarily more expensive and therefore it is not always a matter of cost. Most of the time, constraints are determined by technical requirements that are overcome by progress and experience on field.”
Prasad Reddy, CEO, Twisted X Global Brands: “Yes, unfortunately, all the sustainable materials we use — for the laces, outsoles, midsoles, upper materials — they all cost more than conventional materials. We as a company, we decided we’re not going to pass that cost to the consumer, though. We absorb it because we still want to sell as many products as we can. So pricing-wise there’s no difference; cost-wise, yes.
Marketing director, Jambu & Co.
“Yes and no. Theoretically ‘vegan/PU’ styles can be considered ‘sustainable,’ and that is a shortcut and inexpensive road to sustainable sourcing. But true sustainably sourced materials are expensive. When we say our materials are sustainable we don’t mean we’re using PU materials; we are truly using sustainably sourced materials such as hanji paper derived from the bark of the mulberry tree. The material is organic, biodegradable and environmentally friendly.”
Erik Burbank, VP of Keen Effect, Keen: “Developing sustainable solutions does not necessarily equate to higher prices, but it does require significant effort and commitment. In 2014, Keen implemented a comprehensive program to remove the toxic chemicals commonly found in footwear supply chains. We’ve been able to remove PFCs and biocides from our supply chain and reduced the use of solvent-based glues.”
What will it take to bring down costs?
Sean McDowell, VP of design and product development, Sperry: “Sustainable materials and processes can often result in products costing more for consumers. At Sperry, we have been working hard to close this gap, by being more efficient, partnering closely with our factories and using economies of scale.”
Reddy: “I think that as more and more brands and manufacturers use these materials, maybe the suppliers will work with us so we can get a little more competitive price.”
What new innovations are you introducing?
Polegato: “[Geox] recently started a collaboration with a company that primarily produces recycled nylon. This collaboration will debut within the spring ’21 season in the Aerantis range and continue with a new product, Spherica, for fall ’21. These shoes contain regenerated nylon that can be recycled infinitely. That means no waste, no new resources and endless possibilities.”
McDowell: “Our [Sperry] SeaCycled collection, set to debut in spring ’22, is anticipated to be cost neutral, meaning customers won’t have to pay more for stylish, more-sustainable products. Each pair in this collection is made using plastic waste recovered from land and sea.”