The collaboration network Parley for the Oceans has made a name for itself by partnering with adidas to design sneakers made from recycled plastic waste. Founder Cyrill Gutsch takes us inside his fight to stem maritime pollution, and his vision of radically transforming global production methods.
Eco-responsible products seem more important than ever. What’s your impression?
A lot of the leading brands are moving towards Eco Innovation. More and more of them are making it an integral part of their identity. When you look at consumers, they expect their brands to do the right thing. More and more customers trust a brand for its quality, design and environmental commitment. Our success with adidas has proven our vision of “making purpose the new luxury”. Hundreds of companies are reaching out to us, to find their own way into this new economy. In a few years nobody will be able to afford making product with harmful materials, because there will be no market for it.
Is it a growing market?
It is a rapidly growing market, if done right. With that, I mean that consumers recognize true commitments and differentiate them from public relations stunts. For a long time ‘Sustainability’ was located in most of the companies under communication or risk management, to defend the company practices. We repositioned ‘Sustainability’ as ‘Eco Innovation’ and encourage our partners to locate it next to marketing and product design and let it influence the whole company culture and the design process.
Can you describe your partnership with adidas?
At Parley we started by focusing on marine plastic pollution. Plastic never dies. It is discarded in wastewater and ends up in our oceans. To combat this we created ‘Ocean Plastic®’ a material made of plastic waste. Adidas made one million products with Parley Ocean Plastic® in 2017 and they are making five times more this year. These products are more expensive than comparable items and yet sell out way faster. The consumer buys these products to make a statement, to be part of the movement, to use their wallet to support us.
Is Parley Ocean Plastic® just one step in your project?
The material is interesting as a first step, because it helps to stop making more plastic and removes plastic from nature, but… it is still plastic. So Parley Ocean Plastic® is just a step, because our true objective is to put an end to plastic made from fossil fuel. Our strategy for change has three pillars: Avoid. Intercept. Redesign. The third is where the real change happens. We started a new program called Parley Biofabricate, which aims to propose commercially feasible alternatives within the next 5-7 years. Last December we declared the Material Revolution, and we believe that redesigning is the next big change in our society.
Beyond maritime pollution, you are talking about an examination of our entire society.
While we focus a lot on wildlife, on fragile eco systems in our oceans, we have a very clear point of view when it comes to how we treat our own species. Child labour and unjust labour conditions should already be memories of the past. But they aren’t. Parley for the Oceans is building a model that includes education, access to a bank account, legal immigration status.
Is this kind of awareness a worldwide phenomenon?
Parley has a global network and our partners are operating in over 100 countries. And what you can clearly see is that everyone is worried about the future of this planet. There is this basic feeling that tells us that something is drastically wrong, something I would call instinct. A new economy is rising, one built on creativity, eco innovation and collaboration. And every company who gets it early enough will be the future leader. Adidas was the one we felt could help us to make the first big step. Very soon we will announce partnerships with a lot of other big players in the fashion industry, automotive industry, furniture and retail. We are negotiating with governments and collaborating with organizations like the United Nations and World Bank.
Which areas are the most advanced?
Fashion has a big part to play and we are inviting the whole fashion industry to take the lead, to become the spearhead of our movement. Because fashion has the superpower of establishing trends and creating desire. But fashion’s situation is paradoxical. It is the least innovative in modernising its production methods, but still, we believe fashion can become an important agent of change. To be fair, it is very hard as a company to do the right thing, there is such pressure for competitive pricing. But it’s what we need to do to protect a turtle from a plastic straw entering its nose, or birds growing up with plastic bottle caps in their stomach. Even recycling is not the solution, you have to think about tomorrow – about alternative energy and water conservation.
Which projects seem most exciting in your eyes?
Environmentalism as we know it is an old model. You will not succeed with warning signs, protests or petitions. Now is the time for people with vision who share the idea of a blue future, of a planet that is the magic home of all these wonderful creatures. That’s the tomorrow I look to.
> Smart Square : A 360° offer for smart fashions
In September at the show, discover Smart Square: our space dedicated to responsible creation. A total of 800 m2 with 4 areas:
• Smart Services & Partners – a selection of specialized players in sustainable development
• Smart Library – a forum of eco-friendly and innovative products
• Smart Talks – to discuss the issues of tomorrow’s fashions
• Smart Wardrobe – an exhibition of fashion brands’ finished collections.
In the heart of Première Vision Leather, Hall 3. Exclusively in September.