Fashion’s waste problem is widespread and isn’t unique to single categories like luxury, sportswear, fast-fashion, footwear, or accessories. No matter the focus, everything has an impact. If you’re creating something new, it’s important to consider how Earth-friendly the approach is. There’s too much opportunity for brands and the minds behind to be better, and not blindly pump out more product season after season, drop after drop.
Eric Liedtke hopes to instill change in the industry through a new venture that prioritizes sustainability within streetwear. The former adidas executive recently announced his new clothing brand UNLESS, which commits to using no plastic and producing zero waste once items are available on shelves. An early look at the upcoming inaugural collection features a graphic T-shirt and an overshirt jacket that the brand says will be produced using plant-based, organic alternative materials. It’s an approach that allows products to “harmlessly decompose” once it reaches the end of its lifecycle.
This is an important aspect of UNLESS for Liedtke as what the industry may deem as eco-friendly in an item may turn harmful later in its post-consumer phase. “Even recycled plastics ultimately become unusable and are either put in the ground where they can leach toxic chemicals or break down into harmful micro-plastics,” Liedtke told FUTUREVVORLD. “Plastic waste is also often incinerated, emitting harmful carbon emissions into the atmosphere. We’re pursuing a better way, with materials that can be safely returned to the earth, creating zero waste at the end of a product’s useful life.”
There is a chance to truly do something different, something right. “With UNLESS, we see a real opportunity for change,” said Liedtke in a separate statement. “An opportunity for a better way. A way driven by cutting-edge innovation married with the desirability of streetwear. An innovative solution for consumers so they can truly feel as great as they look knowing their choices will have a positive impact on the world.”
Liedtke’s vision goes beyond creating just another brand for the sake of creating apparel he’d like to wear. His vision is to create purpose and action for UNLESS. “We are a regenerative force for good in the world,” Liedtke told us. “We are innovators, engineers, artists, and activists, building the first streetwear brand making products that leave zero plastic waste at the end of life.”
Liedtke is no stranger to developing both high demand product and eco-conscious processes within a brand. He has 25 years of experience at adidas, including his final role as Executive Board Member responsible for Global Brands, where he led the sportswear giant into energy capturing moments and partnerships such as Yeezy with Kanye West, and Ivy Park with Beyoncé. His priority focus has been sustainability as he launched the partnership between the Three Stripes and Parley for the Oceans during his tenure, which eventually led to the development of the recycled ocean plastic performance material Primeblue. Liedtke still serves as a member of the Steering Committee for Parley for the Oceans.
“Fashion is arguably the world’s second-largest polluter,” said Liedtke. He’s enlisted a group of his executive peers from adidas, Quicksilver, and ad agency R/GA to help build what’s possible for tackling this problem through UNLESS. Although some are critical for his approach landing in streetwear without the “proper” roots in sub or counterculture, Liedtke’s new chapter is an example that even streetwear can and should further its shift into being more conscientious of Earth’s future.
FVV: What does UNLESS make?
Liedtke: Inspired by our home in the Pacific Northwest, influenced by the utility and style of skate, outdoor, cold-water surf, and workwear, UNLESS makes streetwear built from the elements, to be worn in the elements, to be safely returned to the elements. Born at the intersection of modern design and the relentless pursuit of zero waste at the end of life.
Today, all of our products are made from plants, but we are working with world-class partners to create many types of innovative material solutions that can not only bring uncompromising style and comfort, but that will always decompose at the end of life, leaving behind zero waste. Many of the materials we use are familiar, like cotton, while others are surprising, like nuts. With each product drop, we will provide a fully transparent list of ingredients including thread, trims, embellishments, dyes, and inks.
What are some of the material and/or manufacturing innovations are you excited to explore with UNLESS?
The fashion industry is overly reliant on plastic. Because these materials do not biodegrade, they end up in landfills, in our oceans, in our food, and in our bodies. UNLESS takes on the problem of plastic waste with a regenerative creation model that changes the way footwear, apparel and accessories are designed, distributed, collected, and safely returned to the earth.
Our first collection is made with materials that are 100% plant-based, which means zero plastic. Because of this, our products can harmlessly decompose at the end of life, leaving behind zero plastic waste. We are relentlessly pursuing new solutions for the design, development, distribution, and re-collection of our products, by first starting with the end in mind. This means we are also exploring end-of-life strategies such as repair and re-use, recycling, and composting – but If one of our products should end up in a landfill, or even buried in your backyard, it will decompose naturally.
How is UNLESS considering its carbon footprint?
We are committed to minimizing our carbon footprint, but our mission is to solve the problem of plastic waste in the fashion industry. Because of this, our starting point is at the end of a product’s life, understanding what needs to happen to make it harmlessly return to nature, or usefully return to the supply chain. From that place, we work backward, making the best decisions we can to responsibly make our products with as light a footprint as is possible.
Expect the first UNLESS collection to release later this fall, and discover more from the brand at unlesscollective.com.
In other clothing news, producer Mike Dean released an eco-friendly merch line with Toronto-based sustainable collective This Is Your Brain On Plants.