Unlikely Pair: Collaboration in the Race to Low-carbon Footwear

Unlikely Pair: Collaboration in the Race to Low-carbon Footwear

04/30/2021

Leading the charge in sustainable collaborations is Adidas and Allbirds, who announced in May a partnership to innovate manufacturing and supply chain processes, and to explore renewable material resources together to create the lowest carbon footprint ever recorded for a sport performance shoe.

It was an infrequent and buzzy move from two brands who are seen as competitors in the athletic space.

“It is about realizing that maybe this industry has been in the wrong race for a while,” Hana Kajimura, sustainability lead at Allbirds, told FN during the Fairchild Media Group Sustainability Summit last week. “What if we can expand upon all of that energy we put into breaking records and performance with our products and put that same attention into breaking carbon records. Our scale of impact is not going to be great enough if we go at it alone.”

In that spirit, Allbirds made its carbon footprint calculator open-source and available online this month, at Freethefootprint.com.

For Adidas, collaborating with a brand they might typically see as competition required a change in perspective. Kate Ridley, senior vice president of brand at Adidas North America, said, “We have to have a certain sense of humility. We don’t know everything. We’re not experts in everything and we need support. We need to collaborate. That’s what innovation is. It’s being able to take risks and smash models that aren’t working anymore.”

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Both companies are on a mission to reverse climate change with better business. To do that, holding brands accountable to what they say and do is needed from the industry as whole. That requires working together.

“There’s so much that can be done today that we’re kind of afraid to do in many cases because it defies conventional wisdom about how to achieve business success,” Kajimura said.

The goal is not only to generate value for both Adidas and Allbirds through this collab, but to also inspire other firms to follow their lead.

“Collaboration is so much more important than competition,” Ridley added. “It’s double the amount of eyes that are measuring and ensuring that we are really pushing it forward.”

Outside of the partnership, both brands are separately looking toward materials in a big way to help reduce their carbon footprints and create a more circular production. Allbirds is investing in regenerative wool, while Adidas is making strides with Mylo — a new mushroom-based material.

In 2021, more than 60 percent of Adidas products will be made with sustainable materials. Adidas — a partner of environmental organization Parley for the Oceans — also said it will produce 17 million pairs of shoes with recycled plastic waste from beaches and coastal region this year. By 2025, nine out 10 Adidas products must be sustainable.

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