The fashion industry remains infamously dirty, responsible for more annual carbon emissions than all international flights and shipping combined. In fact, fashion may be second only to oil in terms of overall environmental impact.
Rothy’s, the billion-dollar leader of the “slow fashion” movement, believes that with its community of brands, it can model more responsible business methods and thereby significantly reduce its industry’s toxic footprint.
The secret is simple, says Rothy’s. It’s “making and buying fewer things, better things that last longer.” For this reason, Rothy’s, the Bay Area’s global lifestyle brand, focuses on transforming eco-friendly, bio-based materials into machine-washable staples like shoes and bags.
Think recycled bottles. But also algae-based foam, hemp fiber, castor seeds and many other innovative and natural solutions to stem our uncontrolled collective consumerism. The idea is fashion that stays “like new season after season”.
This is one of the main definitions of “circularity”, the latest iteration of sustainability and Rothy’s main goal. “At Rothy’s, we see it as a continuous loop that renews itself, from material and manufacturing to product and recycling. Our vision is to use twice recycled materials in new products, to close the loop, like nature does.
Best foot forward
In reality, Rothy’s aims to be fully circular by 2023. Exactly what this means is still a work in progress, as there is no perfect model and there is no definition strict policy of “circular production”. But Rothy’s looks at sustainability holistically, says Sasksia van Gendt, Director of Sustainability, considering “every part of our entire business operations and production. How can he everything to be more respectful of the environment? »
By extension, van Gendt explains, the company defines circularity as filling all the gaps in a product’s lifecycle journey. “It starts with the materials we use, the way we design each shoe, the way we produce it in our exclusive property. [China-based] plant and eliminate waste through things like 3D knitting,” she says. “We design products to be washable and to really last as long as possible.”
Then, at the end of a product’s useful life, the company works on innovative ways to bring it back to life as a new item. “Circularity fills gaps from start to finish,” the company says.
So, by next year, Rothy expects all of its products to be made with Primarily Recycled, 2x Recycled, and/or Bio-based materials – and every product Rothy launches on the planet will have an “end-of-life solution.” Rothy’s also plans to achieve carbon neutrality in 2023 by reducing its footprint and investing in nature-based solutions for any offsets that may still be needed.
The success of this ambitious mission strongly depends on the company’s continued commitment lead with us efforts – intense collaborations, including knowledge sharing within the organization and its industry. That’s why, in 2021, it brought together a Sustainability Council, a group of scientists, designers and other experts whose mandate is to co-create industry-leading zero-waste solutions.
Enter the fray
One of the members of this council is van Gendt herself. Prior to joining Rothy’s in 2020, she was Senior Director of Sustainability at Icon Method Products, an eco-friendly icon, and prior to that worked at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for six year.
“At the EPA, I was looking at how we were avoiding waste and mitigating climate change through more innovative solutions,” van Gendt says. For example, “How can we prevent plastic in the oceans through different packaging innovations?” She has also worked on multiple partnerships with municipalities to establish recycling programs.
Among everything she learned at Northwestern and Leiden University in the Netherlands was “the science and methodology of calculating a carbon footprint.” Later, working in a “forward-looking part” of the EPA became “a testing ground for the idea of sustainability. How you practice this science is so different from what you learn in a lecture hall, says van Gendt.
In the private sector now, she says she is thrilled to see a significant and measurable impact. Nearly half a million pounds of ocean-bound marine plastic and more than 125 million single-use plastic bottles have been turned into Rothy’s signature yarn to make its shoes, handbags and accessories. It’s not a drop in the bucket.
Walk a mile in the customer’s shoes
Likewise, by studying environmental science, you get no practice in answering that age-old marketing question that comes first in a customer’s calculation – sustainability or pure quality. Yet this question is no less relevant today at Rothy’s than at nearly any resolute company.
Van Gendt cites the “timelessness…durability and versatility” of its range as key purchase drivers. But comfort might be number one. Van Gendt and many online reviewers have mentioned that Rothy’s shoes made from recycled bottles require “no break-in period.”
If you’re a five-year-old company in a super-competitive space, then of course, van Gendt says, it helps Mandy Moore, Katie Holmes and Meghan Markle to be photographed in your shoes and quoted praising them. But chances are they, like all customers, probably wouldn’t wear them if they weren’t “incredibly comfortable” in the first place.
Van Gendt says, “We’re still at the point where customers are buying primarily based on attributes” other than sustainability. Still, when it comes to goodwill and the ensuing word-of-mouth, “that kind of customer engagement is everything,” she says. So, “companies have a responsibility to start by making a truly amazing product.” Yes, “Durability has to be built into all of those elements of a great product. But first and foremost, the product, in this case the shoes, has to be really comfortable. It has to be really tough. It should have that performance built in. It That’s why customers will always come back to a business.
“However, we are seeing in other markets, for example Europe and the UK, more customers buying with sustainability in mind as a primary consideration,” says van Gendt. “So I think there’s a tipping point where at some point sustainability might become a primary buying driver” in the US market.
How to flip this toggle? Van Gendt recommends: “At the enterprise level, I would really encourage companies to look at science and data-driven strategy to develop what they should be looking for. Take the time to do a materials assessment and understand where you might be generating waste along your supply chain. Take the time to do a carbon footprint and really look for the biggest chunks of your carbon footprint.
“In this confusing world of sustainability,” she says, “there are these reliable methodologies and data that can really inform the direction companies can take, to seek out the lowest rewards, the greatest opportunities they have. And later, of course, they can think of some of these perhaps more ambitious innovations that are not yet available to them.