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Yesterday, Adidas CEO Kasper Rorsted went on CNBC to discuss the company’s recent financial performance and to drop this enticing nugget: Adidas sold 1 million pairs of shoes made from recycled plastic last year. That’s significant, considering that the brand only started marketing recycled ocean plastic sneakers a few years ago, but TheCurrent reports that the brand wants to clear a much higher bar. Adidas intends to use repurposed ocean plastic in all of its products by 2024.
If you, too, are like, hhhhwhat, that’s insane... yes. Adidas exec Eric Liedtke shared that “moonshot” goal on a SXSW panel earlier this week, adding that the brand expects to sell another 5 million pairs of recycled sneakers this year. Still, Adidas makes 450 million pairs of shoes annually. It’s going to have to ramp up its recycling capabilities in a huge way to get there.
To create its recycled plastic products, Adidas works with Parley for the Oceans, an organization that gathers plastic waste from beaches and the sea, cleans it, chips it down, and turns it into yarn for use in consumer products. (While recycling seems preferable to using new plastic, some environmentalists are concerned about the effect of plastic microfibers shed during the process.) At the moment, Adidas sells a variety of products that are made partly — but not entirely — from Parley plastic, like a knit pair of Adidas by Stella McCartney sneakers ($230) and a peach-colored cutout yoga top ($100).
Adidas’s new sustainability push is pretty grandiose, but it’s not surprising. The French luxury group Kering has spent the last few years rebranding itself as a leader in sustainability, and Patagonia’s longtime commitment to environmental activism has been winning it new fans in the Trump era. In the startup space, designated cool-girl brand Reformation sends out regular sustainability updates to its customers, while Girlfriend Collective has been picking up steam with its line of leggings made from recycled water bottles. H&M has tried to offset its fast-fashion business model with a “conscious” collection that features recycled plastic and organic silk.
Among clothing brands, there’s no standard practice or cadence for reporting sustainability improvements — unlike with financial data, which publicly traded companies have to release each quarter — so it can be challenging to ascertain how much good a given brand is actually doing. What’s clear is that prioritizing the planet is definitely good for a brand’s street cred.