NEW YORK — Sustainable thought-leaders took the stage at Parsons School of Design The New School to discuss the trials of plastic-free innovation.
The event was held at Tishman Auditorium Thursday afternoon and billed speakers such as Celine Samaan, founder of The Slow Factory; Amanda Parkes, chief innovation officer at Pangaia; Sian Sutherland, cofounder of A Plastic Planet; Luke Haverhals, founder and chief executive officer of Natural Fiber Welding, and Eric Liedtke, founder of Unless Collective, among others.
Called “Our Incredible Future Now,” the event was hosted in partnership with professional nonprofit AIGA NY, Parsons, and architecture and design magazine Dezeen.
WWD spoke with Unless’ Eric Liedtke and NFW’s Luke Haverhals prior to the event on how they’re challenging the status quo. If there is a fruition of a regenerative future, it’s found in “The Degenerate” sneaker from Unless Collective, which uses entirely plastic-free, plant-based materials from NFW. Since its limited December launch, the shoe already sold out and anticipates a restock on Feb. 15.
Though the sneaker is a novelty, the broader footwear industry has yet to replicate its success despite cost parities.
Liedtke reflected on his time at Adidas, “As a big machine the best we could do was move to recycled PET (rPET)….The thing that bothered me was it was still plastic,” he continued.
So far, Unless has demonstrated better sweatshirts, hats, sneakers — and soon socks. Three upcoming undisclosed partnerships are in the pipeline too. Haverhals said Natural Fiber Welding is “one capital raise away” from making the foam needed for a running shoe, which Liedtke said would be a performance “game-changer” for Unless and the industry. Until then, they have the cumulative advantage of being a “lighthouse for others to follow,” in Liedtke’s words.
As concerns over plastics and chemicals (issues which many mycelium innovations aren’t free of) circulate in fashion and footwear, the fine print matters. One question is how safe is the waterproofing used in many everyday items? Why turn to PFAs or “forever chemicals,” which New York recently moved to ban in clothing, when vegetable oils work just as or almost as well as, per Haverhals? These are the conversations happening now and illuminated on the Parsons stage.
“Nature already has the solutions that are waterproof,” he said. “What’s the consequences of the oil rigs and fracking? We’ve been sold this vision.…You don’t need plastic solutions to solve [everything].”
In the near future, Haverhals said the biggest footwear brands will come into the mix, unlocking tens of hundreds of millions of units as more large factory partners are onboarded. Last month, NFW collaborated with A Plastic Planet — a pro-business, pro-solutions advisory organization — to launch an online resource library for creatives and businesses as they pave a plastic-free future.
“The future that we’re imagining is our future,” stated Jos Harrison, global head of brand experience and design at global consumer goods company firm Reckitt, in a keynote. “That future must be one where your ideas as creatives make a disproportionate contribution to a safe, sustainable and equitable future for all life on this planet.” He underscored that, “Consuming can’t be the thing that defines us” as it’s “a culture that’s rapidly eroding.”