With the last few blog posts shining the spotlight on sustainability improvements in the vein of personal care, we decided it might be time to spice things up a bit by discussing what may be a more intriguing topic to some: fashion.
The $2.5 trillion fashion industry provides employment to approximately 60 million people across the globe. It also supplies an incomprehensibly large number of people with a variety of articles of clothing, all made in different styles, fashioned from different materials. However, the fashion industry also falls short in a multitude of ways, being criticized for both its poor working conditions for laborers, and the environmental sustainability (or lack thereof) of its current model.
The Beginnings of Progress
In many ways, the fashion industry is a microcosm of modern consumerist culture, reflecting the criticism that products these days are not made to last, but made to break and be replaced, promoting more frequent customer spending. Furthermore, the industry itself has an enormous environmental footprint. “By some estimates, the fashion industry is responsible for up to 10% of global CO2 emissions, 20% of the world’s industrial wastewater, 24% of insecticides and 11% of pesticides use,” writes Forbes’ Georg Kell.
However, a good amount of progress has been made on this front, with several icons of the fashion industry developing infrastructure and initiatives with the aim of reducing their environmental footprints. For example, the North Face has implemented solar and wind energy, organic food, conservative irrigation, and recycled building materials into their stores and offices. Additionally, they offer lifetime warranties on items and design them to be long-lasting, aiming to minimize the amount of clothing that ends up in landfills. Patagonia’s Worn Wear initiative does something similar, offering used clothing from previous buyers up for sale. Furthermore, both companies fashion their products from recycled or otherwise sustainable materials.
So too, does Allbirds.
An Unlikely Partnership
Nine years ago, Tim Brown and Joey Zwillinger were introduced by their wives. The former made leather shoes, unhappy with their discomfort, and the latter was a bioengineer, researching sustainable fuel. Over a meal, they decided to form a partnership, and from there, Allbirds was conceived. Inspired by his native country of New Zealand, Brown looked to merino wool as a solution to his quandary, inspired by the sheep of Aotearoa. Prioritizing sustainability and comfort, the duo designed their shoes to be worn with neither discomfort nor guilt: in fact, their footwear is made from a plethora of green materials, such as recycled plastic bottles and cardboard, sugar cane, castor oil, wool, and tree fiber.
Resistant to light rain, and washable, Allbirds are versatile in use, and understated in appearance. The company offers three products: runners (their equivalent to traditional sneakers), loungers (slip-ons), and skippers (a sort of hybrid of the two). Each product is also only offered in two to four colors, with a variety of other color options only making limited-time appearances on their online store.
For The Greater Good
All that being said, perhaps Allbirds' biggest strength is not its dedication to flourishing as a business, but to bettering the world one step at a time. Recently, the company received $50 million in funding, which they intend to put towards materials research. Having already publicized the details of their sugar-based foam technology, it stands within reason to assume that the company will publicize the details of any other technological breakthroughs they have to an extent. As Zwillinger said himself, “Comfort, design, and sustainability don’t have to live exclusive of each other. Climate change is the problem of our generation and the private sector has a responsibility to combat it.”
(Cover Photo: instagram @allbirds)