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What does the sneaker industry need to become sustainable?

We asked the Global General Manager of Vibram

What does the sneaker industry need to become sustainable? We asked the Global General Manager of Vibram
Vibram Vintage Ads
Vibram Vintage Ads
Vibram Vintage Ads
Vibram Vintage Ads
Vibram Vintage Ads
Balenciaga x Vibram "Toe" Collection
Brain Dead Energy Absorber Zoccolo Clog
Matthew M. Williams x Stüssy x ROA Boots
ROA FW19 Lookbook
Vibram Vintage Ads
Vibram Vintage Ads
Vibram Vintage Ads
Unreleased Vibram Prototype
Vibram Vintage Ads
Vibram Vintage Ads
Vibram Vintage Ads
ROA SS20 Lookbook
Suicoke FW19 Lookbook
Suicoke x Vibram SS20 Campaign
Arc'Teryx Norvan LD 2 GTX
Balenciaga x Vivram Toe Shoe
COMME des GARÇONS HOMME PLUS Cross Trainer
Matthew M. Williams x Nike Free TR 3 SP
New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro v6
ROA Gray Andreas Hiking Boots
Suicoke x Vibram Five Fingers
Supreme x Clarks Originals Wallabee
The North Face Purple Label Nuptse Boots
1017 ALYX 9SM Vibram Sole Contrast Panel Boots
1017 ALYX 9SM Vibram Sandals
Rayon Vert for Vimbram Component Project
New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro v2
Gio Pastori for Vimbram Component Project
Gio Pastori for Vimbram Component Project
James Shaw for Vimbram Component Project
James Shaw for Vimbram Component Project
James Shaw for Vimbram Component Project
Ruth Neubauer for Vimbram Component Project
Rayon Vert for Vimbram Component Project
Rayon Vert for Vimbram Component Project
UGG Miwo Trainer

Sneakers are a vast world that, in recent years, has moved towards a process of expansion that shows no sign of stopping. One of the most historic companies in this world is Vibram, a brand born in 1937, and for decades remained in a leading position in the footwear industry thanks to the quality of its product but also thanks to its corporate philosophy, always attentive to the nature and sustainability of production.

While many big fashion brands talk about sustainability with triumphalist or opaque terms, the voice of a brand like Vibram has always been very clear on the subject – and that's why the editorial staff of nss magazine interviewed Paolo Manuzzi, global general manager of the company to ask him some questions about the progress of sustainability in the sneaker game.

Sustainability is the word of the year in the fashion industry but Vibram is one of the few brands engaged for years in reducing its ideological footprint. What are the difficulties in maintaining your leadership position in the field and how is your experience made to fruite?

Today everyone is talking about sustainability, maybe it's the story to tell. Everyone has to have one and the word "sustainability" sounds good because it has a wide spectrum and therefore is experienced by everyone even in a different way. Vibram has always believed in sustainability. Ours is an outdoor company, linked to nature and the mountains. It has always been in our DNA, our corporate philosophy is based on not harming nature, on the community of those who love the mountains and the open air: if we destroy it, we destroy our future first and then our business. Vibram had already started in the 1990s with recycling and processes at km 0, with companies close to factories to reduce consumption and transport.

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Vibram Vintage Ads
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What was it like to talk about sustainability before it was mainstream?

It was like talking about it empty, it was the last topic on the list. Also because what is difficult to make understood is that being sustainable also implies increased costs because new processes, new technologies and different attentions must be implemented. In those days, in the face of costs, it was preferred to leave it alone. In the 1990s then there was the race to the Asian market with its factories and the goal was to reduce costs and even the final consumer was not ready.

How is sustainability affecting sneaker industry trends? 

In my opinion, it is still not changing anything: you see small changes but on the part of a few companies. We are behind and we still have a lot of steps to take. I don't know if it's the sneaker industry is more or less sustainable compared to the rest of the footwear industry, but this world is also adapting. Today fashion is also made by sneakers and therefore sneakers must also adapt to the market and try to be more sustainable.

Gio Pastori for Vimbram Component Project
Gio Pastori for Vimbram Component Project
James Shaw for Vimbram Component Project
James Shaw for Vimbram Component Project
James Shaw for Vimbram Component Project
Rayon Vert for Vimbram Component Project
Rayon Vert for Vimbram Component Project
Rayon Vert for Vimbram Component Project
Ruth Neubauer for Vimbram Component Project

There are many types of sustainability: from the CSR of the corporate world to those who talk about a positive ecological footprint, those who talk about sustainable materials but not about processes. How could you create the universal standard of a green process for businesses?

Today the word 'support' says everything and nothing, even to the final consumer who often does not know. It's also difficult to pass aligned messages for all businesses. The best thing is to have certifications made by external bodies with standard parameters, at the moment it is too broad-spectrum to have a sustainability standard. There are companies that are being born and certifying not so much the product as the process and the industry – a product can be sustainable but not an entire production, or it can be produced with sustainable materials but without a sustainable process. It should be everyone's corporate philosophy, an awareness that goes from the last of the workers to the head of the company – each of us in his own small way must make a product or process more sustainable than others.

New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro v6
Matthew M. Williams x Nike Free TR 3 SP
COMME des GARÇONS HOMME PLUS Cross Trainer
Balenciaga x Vivram Toe Shoe
Arc'Teryx Norvan LD 2 GTX
ROA Gray Andreas Hiking Boots
Suicoke x Vibram Five Fingers
1017 ALYX 9SM Vibram Sole Contrast Panel Boots
1017 ALYX 9SM Vibram Sandals
Supreme x Clarks Originals Wallabee
The North Face Purple Label Nuptse Boots
UGG Miwo Trainer

Vibram has a particular position in the market because it dialogues with both direct consumers and companies. You have a privileged point of view in observing the behavior of other brands.

Vibram has a privileged point of view because we have relationships with big brands but we do not evaluate whether they are more or less sustainable, even if there are more receptive brands than certain products. There are still many steps to take because it is a broad concept not digested by everyone.

From this point of view, the latest products that Vibram has made have been interesting, such as the Component series or the Repair If You Care initiative in which the classic dynamic of the dialogue on sustainability between brand and consumer is changed. Could this be a less superficial way of dealing with this issue?

We believe in these projects. Reaching the final consumer and leading him to request certain products, the market adapts. If consumers demand a sustainable product, the market will go in the right direction. The goal of Component and Repair If You Care is to engage the end consumer to make them a supporter. If the market offers only a certain type of product, introducing new ones becomes difficult – when there is opportunity and demand then the market adapts more easily or faster.

Balenciaga x Vibram "Toe" Collection
Unreleased Vibram Prototype
Matthew M. Williams x Stüssy x ROA Boots
New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro v2
Suicoke x Vibram SS20 Campaign
Suicoke FW19 Lookbook
ROA SS20 Lookbook
ROA FW19 Lookbook
Brain Dead Energy Absorber Zoccolo Clog

In my opinion, the pandemic, the new search for nature and smartworking have helped this step: everyone is looking for more informal and comfortable clothing and have discovered that certain brands and products are both more comfortable and versatile. With this in mind, consumers want to make their lives easier and use products suitable for every occasion. Shoes represent the most important point of this step: today a sneaker is accepted in every social situation, from work to formality. The outdoor shoe is also more performing because it adapts to any weather situation.  This trend will be stronger and stronger, like the trend of 10 years ago with jeans. The outdoor product is becoming everyday – even in line with sustainability, that is, having fewer products and more versatile.