October 20, 2020

‘It’s the industry’s responsibility to educate and offer more sustainable choices’

7 min read

Camper and Lenzing have joined forces and designed a shoe. We discussed how this cooperation came about, whether the demand for sustainable products has increased in Corona times and why we have to change our consumer behavior, with Birgit Schnetzlinger, head of global business development for functional wear at Lenzing and Cecilia Llorens, product design director at Camper.

 

Can you tell us a little bit more about the collaboration between Camper and Lenzing? What made it happen?
Birgit Schnetzlinger: In their search for sustainable materials, Camper came across our Tencel branded lyocell fibers and immediately liked the idea of wood-based materials. The driver was certainly a great interest in sustainable offerings with good quality and further potential. The unique properties of new materials inspire and sometimes challenge design ideas–the innovative power of manufacturers is therefore also crucial to achieve the best results when using soft and comfortable materials, while at the same time offer support and stability.

Birgit Schnetzlinger, Lenzing

Birgit Schnetzlinger, Lenzing

Cecilia Llorens: Eighteen months ago, we reviewed our sustainability strategy as a business and we made some big changes. We’ve always been a brand with consideration for the environment and have always worked hard to take care of the details but it was time to step it up–to make a real difference.  A key part of this project was our product and how we could make it with as little impact as possible.

Having assessed all our materials against the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Higgs Index, we looked at how we could improve every material–looking for the best partner at each stage. This quite naturally led us to talk with Lenzing.

 

Did the Covid-19 pandemic increase consumer demand for sustainable products? If so, why?
Schnetzlinger: Absolutely. Many people have experienced climate impacts caused by the global disruption from the pandemic and we have seen upsurge discussion on sustainability trends, so I believe sustainability will continue to gain more public awareness. In addition, Covid-19 is an accelerator for online selling. Online channels open the opportunity for brands to talk more about the credibility of their products whilst educating consumers. This provides brands with the opportunity to highlight features of quality products, such as those made with Tencel branded fibers, which are credible for its environmental benefits.

Llorens: We were already seeing an industry shift in the purchase of more considerate products in 2019. This had already been started by an increase in global activism, but Covid-19 really accelerated what we thought would come a year or two later.

Selling online really allows a consumer to see the story behind a product, and of course, its features. It also allows the consumer to really make comparisons from one product to the next. During these last months, aside from our inability to head to the shops to buy, and the feeling that we needed to protect the world more than ever before, everyone also had more time to consider things–and that includes the type of product they want to buy.

Cecilia Llorens, Camper

Cecilia Llorens, Camper

In this context the question also arises, what is the impact of Covid-19 on the general footwear industry and upcoming footwear trends?
Schnetzlinger:  What I see is a growing interest in sustainability and an increasing number of inquiries for sustainable and circular solutions from the industry. There are many efforts and initiatives out there aimed at transforming the linear fashion industry into a more circular one and helping to reduce waste and the usage of scarce resources. With the development and progress made in sustainable innovation, I believe within the next few years there will be an increase in sustainable products.

To help tackle the waste problem, Lenzing developed the pioneering Refibra technology. I am really excited about this product, which allows us to take cotton waste and turn it into high quality Tencel Lyocell fibers which are compostable and biodegradable at the end-of-life.

Llorens: I think we all agree collectively that after this period, digital buying, the quest for quality and the movement towards sustainability are key trends that the footwear industry will see.

From a design point of view, we will see brands being able to challenge the development of their products to become more sustainable–the design, the material and the processes.

When we started 18 months ago, our challenge was to find materials that had all the sustainable requirements we required, with the durability that textiles need for footwear. Lenzing has unbeatable environmental performance and also answers our additional design and performance criteria. During the next two years we will see massive growth in this sector. The availability of better, more durable and cost-effective materials means that all shoes have the ability to be better.

Camper x Lenzing collaboration

Camper x Lenzing collaboration

How difficult is it to reconcile sustainability, comfort, trends and style?
Schnetzlinger: Sustainability as a purchase criterion is definitely not enough. The most important purchase criteria for a shoe are still comfort and style. Sustainable materials should also offer the wearer specific functional advantages and be comfortable to wear. Moisture management is an inherent fiber property of Tencel Lyocell fibers and contributes to breathability and a better microclimate in the shoe.

Llorens: As Birgit says, as shoe designers we need to reconcile a lot of factors when developing a product and sustainability is a part of that mix. We have a big responsibility from the minute a designer´s pen touches the paper–we are using resources and energy from that moment on.

From a designer´s perspective, some natural materials can have more limited aesthetic opportunities, more sustainable materials often have a higher unit cost and some materials are too weak or not durable enough to stand the test of someone commuting through a city for the next two years.

But combining all those factors is becoming easier–so that we can bring affordable, beautiful and sustainable models to market. We actually see this as a great opportunity to rethink everything that we are doing. By questioning how we can be better, we are seeing greater innovation, and this applies across our industry as a whole.

In the case of Upright, here was a design that had been one of our bestsellers these last years and a style that is extremely adaptable. In this instance, our designers wanted to give it a more contemporary look but maintaining all the elements that you´d expect. Working with Lenzing enabled us to explore different Tencel branded fiber mixes so that we could achieve the look we wanted. This type of open collaboration will enable brands to achieve better results and a better end product.

Camper x Lenzing

Camper x Lenzing

Do you have a good advice for brands in shifting towards sustainability?
Schnetzlinger: A sustainable approach is a holistic approach with many different aspects and there are many sustainability initiatives out there. In my opinion, the Science Based Targets (SBT) initiative of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals provides a very good guidance.

Fighting climate change and reducing the carbon footprint can be tackled from various angles, such as raw material selection, production or transportation. It’s important to have clear goals, get started and improve over time.

 

What can we as consumers do to act more sustainable when it comes to consuming?
Schnetzlinger: Consuming less but more consciously with better quality products. The best way to do this is to make conscious purchasing decisions and do your utmost to learn about where the fibers come from and how the product is made. Purchasing products made with natural or botanic fibers ensures less harmful waste produced when washing products, such as microplastics that can be shed by synthetic fibers. Many consumers don’t even know about the impact of the products, so it’s the industry’s responsibility to educate and offer more sustainable choices. Just like with food, you can’t imagine a supermarket without organic food.

Llorens: As a brand we know that sustainability is a complex subject but for consumers it’s a minefield. Do you go for organic, recyclable, fair trade, low carbon, zero KMs–there are so many different ways to apply this that it can become very confusing. As an industry we need to work to make it easier for consumers to consumer better products. The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) is working to make a more standardized measurement to achieve that.

In the meantime, I think there are some key steps we can all consider: Does it have good ingredients? Is it good quality? Does it follow an ephemeral trend or can you see yourself wearing it for a long time? Then lastly, can I clean it and repair it, and will I be able to dispose of it responsibly? By thinking of these points, you can really think about making a more long-lasting and sustainable footwear choice.

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