Jul 03, 2024
by Karl Smith
Parley and Sky High Farm Offer a Next-Generation Vision for Collaborative Fashion
by Karl Smith
Jul 03, 2024

For almost as long as it has existed, Parley for the Oceans has been synonymous with plastics. Not in the way that most brands are, churning out petro-poison ad infinitum with no regard for the human or environmental consequences, but in a much more positive sense. Still, the association is there.

For twelve years now, in fact, Cyrill Gutsch and his team have been rescuing plastic from the world’s oceans and repurposing those materials to push recycling at the fashion industry’s highest levels. Working with the likes of adidas, Dior, Iris van Herpen, and other marquee-level names, Parley Ocean Plastic has become a seal of progressive approval and a sustainability standard in an industry that is notoriously fearful of both.

But all good things must come to an end. And so it is with Parley’s plastics journey. Not because it isn’t working – what Parley has achieved in terms of fashion and footwear’s willingness to change is proof enough that it is – but because, having had that success, it’s necessary now to take it to another level and to accept that there can be no further progress on a plastic platform. The question is, though, what comes next?

“When we launched Parley 12 years ago and presented our AIR Strategy – Avoid, Intercept, Redesign – we said very clearly that we have to avoid using plastic and other toxic materials and intercept toxic trash, and make it lucrative to do so,” Gutsch explains, “We have to create value for these materials, because it costs a lot of money to clean up trash from these remote ecosystems. These first two pillars of the AIR Strategy are the preparation for phasing out plastic, but you can only phase out plastic if you have an alternative to the products that people depend on. We understand that we cannot end plastic consumption just like a light switch, we have to deliver alternatives and the alternatives cannot be compromised in quality, usage or even in aesthetics.”

What this means, of course, is not that Gutsch is now swinging wildly, looking in all directions for another way forward, but that Parley already has a plan – a new route planned out. And a new collaboration with Sky High Farm Universe is about as neat of an encapsulation of that fresh direction as it’s possible to get.

“My target is to turn the people in companies, governments, and finance into rebels, so they fight the system from the inside. For too long, the environmental movement came from the outside — posters, banners, shame, pointing fingers. It should happen in the boardroom. Large industries and governments have the power to help invent new materials and rapidly scale the transformation of global supply chains.” – Cyrill Gutsch, Founder and CEO of Parley for the Oceans

Working not only with the philanthropically-minded New York label but also with the likes of TômTex, Nature Coatings Inc., BANANATEX, and Ponda, this collection hinges not on recycled petrochemical waste salvaged from our seas but on innovative, next-generation materials which are derived from lower-impact sources such as agricultural leftovers, wood pulp, and mushroom. It’s a big shift – but it isn’t one that happened overnight.

“To answer our Redesign aspect of the Strategy, we launched Parley Future Material®. This is our step into utilizing and investing in more eco-innovative, biomaterials – like Bananatex®, TômTex, Sparxell, Modern Synthesis – and connecting them with our brand partners and designers,” says Gutsch of Parley’s latest venture, “The ultimate goal is to drive the material revolution, radically fast, and do that with fashion as the pacemaker, where the designers define luxury. Parley is the glue that brings together these different interests and needs, to help develop new materials and work with the innovators to bring the materials to a premium quality. To make sure they have the right feel, the right look and also the right economic model, so that the designers in the Maisons or brands support us in this new direction of establishing innovative materials that can replace harmful, toxic textiles typically used.”

Gutsch, now something of a veteran, knows this isn’t something to be undertaken lightly – and, even more to the point, that it isn’t something to be undertaken alone.

“That’s why it is so important to develop products for and with smaller brands and designers who are willing to branch out and take risks,” the hands-on founder and CEO agrees, “We have come so far in just six months, from presenting one jacket made with Bananatex® at the Biofabricate Summit earlier this year, to now showcasing a full range of garments at Future Fabrics Expo made with multiple eco-innovative materials. I fully believe the brands, the nations, the industries that act first to leave harmful, wasteful and exploitative materials and methods in the past will be celebrated as champions of eco-innovation.”

This, then, is where Sky High Farms Universe comes in. The brand, which is frequently the junior partner in big-name collaborations with the likes of Converse and Denim Tears, is accustomed to upcycling as a route to curbing the issues surrounding fashion industry excess and – along with its mission to create food equality – already knows a thing or two about what it means to see the world differently.

Parley and Sky High Farm Universe are both creative led, mission driven organizations. The most obvious connector is that we are both anchored in the art and fashion community. It is a part of both of our brands’ DNA and we collectively realize how big of an influence fashion has on reaching people and shifting mindsets of individuals that otherwise wouldn’t care,” offers Gutsch, asked about what connects the two forward-thinking outfits. “From a wider perspective, Sky High Farm Universe’s focus is on humans and feeding people, while being in collaboration with nature. And our focus is on protecting the oceans. To me, these two focuses go hand in hand and are expressed and celebrated in this collaboration. You can’t provide healthy food for people, if nature is not in collaboration with them and they are not being stewards of the land. And we, on the other hand, can’t see a future where humans live in harmony with nature, if there’s no collaboration on eye level.”

So, what does all this mean in practice?

“It has been really inspiring working with Sky High Farm Universe and witnessing the products that we were able to develop together that show how everybody, everyday, can make a decision and vote with their wallet. This partnership is a proof of concept that challenges traditional systems set within the fashion industry and helps to rewrite the script to actually create systemic change.” – Cyrill Gutsch, CEO and Founder of Parley for the Oceans

Well, in the literal sense it means a fairly low-key offering of good-looking and practical apparel; aesthetically, we’re looking at an all-black capsule collection ranging from denim jackets and jeans (made with BANANATEX’s banana waste fiber) to cruelty-free leather outerwear (made from a mix of BANANATEX and TômTex’s biofabricated alternative material) and classic puffer jackets (stuffed with Ponda’s wetland-regenerating BioPuff).

It’s a far-cry from Sky High’s penchant for eye-popping coloration and madcap illustration, but – contrary to how it might sound – that’s part of what makes this so interesting. With Parley departing from plastics and Sky High taking leave of its usual visual sensibilities, it feels like this collection is designed – above all else – for maximum impact: there is a sense of mass appeal to these garments, which are sleekly designed and clearly well crafted – still maintaining Sky High character, with tonal branding and a splash of color-pop embroidery – all of which is far more likely to put these materials in the hands of consumers and show them what the future could look and feel like.

It’s an impressively practical approach which resists any notion of ego without sacrificing identity in the creative sense. And, speaking of practicalities, it’s also worth mentioning that one of the pieces – the puffer jacket, insulated with Ponda’s BioPuff material – is crafted primarily from Parley Ocean Plastic. This requires pointing out not because it’s a cop out or a failure of the collection, but because it’s indicative of a larger truth: that full-scale systemic change doesn’t happen overnight – it happens in phases. And that’s something we all have to remember.

Say it together: Progress Over Perfection.