It’s 2021, information is more readily available than any other time in history, and yet, whenever a new pair of sneakers pops up on my Instagram feed, there’s still no clear, trusted data to signify exactly what materials make up that shoe. Is it animal, synthetic or plant-based leather? What kind of adhesive does the brand use? Whose write-up can I rely on?
The next steps play out like an old sad saga. I embark on a journey of due diligence by checking the product descriptions on the company’s website, sometimes that information will be extensive, in other instances it will be sparse, but most typically, it will be inconsistent. Then, if I think the popular sneaker blogs will provide some reliable insight while they’re sprinting to post new releases and rumors at the speed of light, I’m often mistaken.
It all leads me to wonder: why can’t we standardize this info into a fashion equivalent to the nutrition facts that are mandated on the food products we consume on a daily basis?
As brands begin to move, some quicker than others, to react to the fashion industry’s environmental impact by introducing new product innovations with slick marketing terminology, we’re still often uninformed with regards to the material makeup of most sneakers.
Currently, the Federal Trade Commission in the United States does not require footwear products to have material labels, a law that hasn’t been revised since 2014, despite the growth in eco-conscious consumers over the last five-plus years. With over 60% of consumers seeking to make more environmentally responsible purchases, according to Accenture 2020, it stands to reason that customers will forge deeper relationships with brands who are open and transparent. This means, brands will need to come as clean as possible, pun clearly intended.
“The global sustainable footwear market [is] expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 5.8% from 2020 to 2027,” according to Grand View Research, which ostensibly affirms the question of whether customers will reward the brands that stake their claim with enthusiasm as opposed to reluctance.
In 2020, I did some design exploration with Roy Cranston of WØRKS Studio on how this idea could be applied to the sneaker industry. Expanding on the design language of the widely-recognizable “nutrition facts” graphic whose roots date back over 100 years, our project was similarly based in an effort to avoid deceptive claims and fraudulent materials/ingredients. “Truth in labeling” is nothing new, but it’s time for it to be expanded upon and standardized beyond just materials; carbon scoring is another trend that comes to mind.
If what we’re seeing in materials awareness does truly align with trends in the plant-based food community, the explosion of attention should yield greater responsibility for the fashion and footwear industries.
The actions that are, or even aren’t taken in the immediate future will be integral to the levels in which we positively or negatively impact the course of history. Inaction will accelerate climate change further, and failure to mandate the clarity of materials is another surefire way to blindly avoid responsibility.
So while brands like Nike, adidas, Allbirds and others decide how far to take their commitment to being more environmentally responsible, and we aimlessly meander toward any concrete “truth in labeling,” independent factions like TÜV SÜD have launched a vegan product certification for apparel, footwear and home textiles. Companies will be able to use the exclusive certification on it’s product, packaging, website and/or marketing materials. “Consumers purchasing such goods can simply and easily learn the characteristics of the product, to ensure that the goods purchased do not contain animal-sourced ingredients, for peace of mind,” TÜV SÜD states.
In 2020, the British Retail Consortium reacted to the growing popularity of veganism by issuing a new guideline claiming that a “‘vegan’ declaration is a complex process as many product materials are derived from animals, such as glue, dyes and chemicals,” according to Future Market Insights. As a result, “retailers [will] need to verify the raw materials used in the vegan footwear that is sells.” Certainly a step in the right direction, however such regulations may slow the growth of the vegan, sustainable footwear industry.
The directive is simple, consumers need to demand greater transparency. The clear path forward is to continue to amplify our voices, as it’s clearly obvious that brands are watching – and our other option is to view our purchases as a type of currency, a vote to demand better practices. When I ponder whether truth in labeling is directly tied to the health of our planet, I have no doubt, it is.
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