Parley for the Ocean x Adidas: design at work.

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A summary of the Smart Talk held 20 September 2018 at Première Vision Paris. Parley for the Oceans. Purpose is the new luxury / Alexander Taylor

The collaboration between Parley, an organisation dedicated to protecting the oceans, and equipment-manufacturer Adidas illustrates the decisive role of design in eco-responsible production.

In 2015, industrial designer Alexander Taylor was tasked by Adidas management to come up with the first pair of sports shoes made from recycled plastic waste, which had gathered on the coastline by the Parley network. At Première Vision Paris, the designer looked back on this ground-breaking experience.

The challenge was significant: he was given a mere eight days to develop a prototype for Parley and Adidas to present as the concrete result of their partnership at the UN climate conference.

What was expected of him? To draw on his ability to create products that depart from supply-chain norms. To import know-how from other industries, interact with all the interested parties, and design new materials. “That’s what I had done in my first collaboration with Adidas in 2007 for the manufacture of a performance shoe,” says the designer.

Parley made its broad network of collaborators and its knowledge of plastic waste collection, industry, and materials chemistry available to him. Usually, a designer draws on the abundant materials developed by industry, selects glues and assembles. “Working on this Adidas project,” says Taylor, “I was encouraged to rethink all the design steps and considerably expand the scope of collaborations.”

While a Boston-based chemistry lab used an in-house extrusion process to refine nylon 6 from fishing net shipped from Africa to La Rochelle, Taylor and his London team refined their model daily up till the final development of the prototype. The product was exhibited at the agreed date in New York. For Adidas, this was the beginning of a wide-scale exploitation of plastic waste, from which the brand has since created millions of tee-shirts, pairs of shoes and accessories.

It is a story that reminds the designer how crucial our commitment to the planet is, and how it can be moved forward step by step in line with opportunities and projects. The recyclability of these products is the next challenge. He knows that the process itself goes against the current. “You have to overcome the resistance,” he notes, “and present it as a long-term investment. And you need to rely on coming generations of consumers who will be even more committed.”