Using purposeful production to make products for people and the planet

The fashion industry is still notoriously dirty, responsible for more annual carbon emissions than all international flights and sea freight combined. In fact, fashion may rank second only to oil in terms of overall environmental impact.

Ruthie, a leader in the billion-dollar “slow fashion” movement, believes that she, along with her brand community, can design more responsible ways of working and thus dramatically reduce the toxic footprint of her industry.

Rothy argues that the secret is simple. It’s “making and buying fewer and better things that last longer.” That’s why Rothy’s, the Bay Area’s global lifestyle brand, is focused on turning eco-friendly and biological materials into a machine-washable wardrobe like shoes and bags.

Think recycled bottles. But also algae-based foam, hemp fiber, castor bean and a host of other innovative natural solutions to stop our uncontrolled mass consumerism. The idea is fashion that remains “as good as new season after season.”

This is one of the main definitions of “circularity,” the latest iteration of sustainability, and Rothie’s main goal. “At Rothie, we believe it is a continuous cycle that renews itself, from materials and manufacture to product and recycling. Our vision is to use twice-recycled materials in new products – to close the loop, as nature does.”

Best foot forward

In fact, Rothie plans to be fully circular by 2023. What exactly this means is that it is still a work in progress, since there is no perfect model out there – and no strict definition of “circular production”. But Ruthie looks at sustainability holistically, says Sasksia van Gendt, Chief Sustainability Officer, considering “every part of our entire business and production operations. How All To be more responsible towards the environment? ”

By extension, says van Gendt, a circular company is defined as filling every gap in the product life cycle journey. “It starts with the materials we use, how we design each shoe, and how we produce them entirely in our own hands [China-based] factory, eliminating waste through things like 3D knitting,” “We design products that are washable and really last as long as possible.”

Then, at the end of the product’s useful life, the company is working on ways to rebirth it as a new ingredient. “The carousel closes the gaps from start to finish,” the company says.

So, by next year, Rothie plans all of its products to be made with a majority of recycled, twice-recycled and/or bio-based materials — and every product Rothy launches on the planet will have an “end-corrosion solution.” Rothie also plans to reach carbon neutrality in 2023 by reducing its footprint and investing in nature-based solutions for any offsets that may still be necessary.

Success in this ambitious mission is highly dependent on the continuation of the company drive with us Efforts – Intensive collaboration including knowledge sharing across the organization and its industry. That’s why in 2021 it brought together the Sustainability Council, a group of scientists, designers and other experts whose mission is to co-create industry-leading zero-waste solutions.

Stepping into battle

One of the members of this council is Van Gundt herself. Prior to joining Ruthie in 2020, she was a Senior Director of Sustainability at eco-friendly Icon Method Products, and prior to that she worked for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for six years.

“At the Environmental Protection Agency, I’ve been looking at how to avoid waste and mitigate climate change with more innovative solutions,” says van Gendt. For example, “How can we prevent ocean plastics through various packaging innovations?” She has also worked on multiple partnerships with municipalities to create recycling programs.

Among all I learned at Northwestern University and Leiden University in the Netherlands was “the science and methodology of calculating a carbon footprint.” Later, work on the EPA’s “forward-thinking part” became the basis for demonstrating the idea of ​​sustainability. How you apply this science in practice is very different “from what one learns in the lecture hall,” says Van Gendt.

In the private sector now, she says she’s pleased to see a meaningful and measurable impact. Nearly half a million pounds of oceanic marine plastic and more than 125 million disposable plastic bottles have been turned into Rothie’s signature thread to make their shoes, bags and accessories. This is not a drop in the bucket.

Walk a mile in a customer’s shoes

Likewise, in studying environmental science, you don’t get any practice to answer the age-old question of marketing that comes first in a customer’s account – sustainability or absolute quality. However, this question is just as relevant today at Ruthie’s as almost any company with a purpose.

Van Gendt cites “timelessness…durability, versatility” in her line as key buying factors. But comfort may be number one. Van Gendt and several online reviewers have stated that Rothy shoes made from recycled bottles require no downtime.

If you’re a five-year-old in a super-competitive space, it’s definitely worthwhile, says Van Gendt, to picture the likes of Mandy Moore, Katie Holmes and Meghan Markle in your shoes and quote praise for them. But it’s possible that they, like all customers, probably wouldn’t wear them if they weren’t “impossibly comfortable” first.

Van Gendt argues, “We’re still at the point where customers shop primarily based on attributes” other than sustainability. But in terms of goodwill and word of mouth that follows, “This kind of customer interaction is everything,” she says. Therefore, “it is the responsibility of companies to start making a truly amazing product.” Yes, “sustainability has to be woven into all of those elements of a great product. But above all, the product has to be, in this case the shoes, really comfortable. It has to be really durable. That performance has to be built into it. That’s why customers will continue to Back to the company.”

“However, in other markets, in Europe, for example, and the UK, we are seeing more customers who are shopping primarily with sustainability in mind,” says Van Gendt. “So I think there is a permutation where at some point sustainability may become a primary buying driver” in the US market.

How do you flip this switch? Van Gendt recommends, “At the company level, I would really encourage companies to look at science and data-driven strategies to develop what they should be pursuing. Take the time to do a materials assessment and understand where you might be producing waste throughout your supply chain.” Take the time to make a carbon footprint and track down the biggest pieces of your carbon footprint.

She says, “In this confusing world of sustainability, there are these trusted methodologies and data can really tell which direction companies can go, to go after the lowest outstanding fruits, the biggest opportunities they have. And then later, of course, they can think of some of those innovations that might be far-reaching and not yet available to them.”