Producing nearly 900 million products a year, Adidas is understandably exploring new ways to minimize waste and recycle products.
At the Design Talks NYC + Impact Summit earlier this week, James Carnes, vice president of global brand strategy for Adidas, spoke at length about Futurecraft.Loop, the brand’s first 100 percent recyclable performance running shoe, as a sign of things to come. Four years have passed since Adidas first worked with Parley for the Oceans to create an upper made entirely of yarns and filaments reclaimed and recycled from marine plastic waste and illegal deep-sea gillnets.
Knowing how thirsty his own two iPad wielding children are for information even though they haven’t reached the age of 10, Carnes spoke about the importance of catering to highly engaged and informed consumers. He also mentioned how Adidas is investing in start-ups such at Stuffstr, alluding to its new sports accelerator program “Platform A” at Station F in Paris where Adidas supports 13 start-ups.
Asked about collaborating with other apparel and footwear companies, he pointed to the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, but noted that the hard part is making progress. Some of that stems from the number of different circumstances facing companies and where they produce product. “From our point of view, it’s not an area that is about competition. We’ve opened up and are heavily promoting the purchase of Parley yarns to other brands and competitors. Some competitors like the idea. Some don’t.”
Carnes noted how the industry has a long history where companies have built their brands with the competitive edge of innovating fibers and materials. As eco-innovation grows, many companies are trying to figure out if and how to share information they may consider competitive. “But the attitude is changing in a positive way and everybody is trying to make progress,” said Carnes, citing Adidas being a founding partner — along with a number of its competitors — of Fashion for Good as an example.
Adidas executives have discussed way to further motivate shoppers to be more environmentally minded by creating a system that would indicate the current value of the items they purchase, and the devolving value based on number of wears. Then consumers could have them picked up, sell them back or donate them, Carnes said.
Contrary to five years ago, Parley, recycling and sustainability are topics that come up quite often with shareholders, in particular individuals with high-profile investors who see that it adds value to the company, Carnes said. In the past, their interest was more in sport or performance innovation and style collaborations, but sustainability is of increasing interest even without plausible metrics, he said.
Adidas has “great interactions” with officials New York City Mayor’s office about the prospect of collecting not only “our own shoes but any other TPU packaging that would come from waste in the city of New York. They would be able to provide that, but we don’t have a centralized infrastructure in the city of New York for us to separate those materials to get our shoes back [for recycling purposes],” said Carnes, adding that a plan to create a supply chain is not in the works.
As for creating more affordable sustainable products, Carnes said ”over time once we get the scale, we will make the [Parley shoes] more affordable. The most important thing is that we start with something that is of the same quality and high performance.”
Through “a huge experiment,” Adidas has determined that the number of fibers that come off recycled fleece garments is 50 percent less than new fleece garments. That kind of information can be further incentive for consumers to buy recycled, he said.