Material Exchange

Sustainability scoop newsletter #4

January 2023 | Sustainability Bulletin No.4

Happy 2023!

Material Exchange has stepped into the new year committed to another 365 days of driving change in fashion and global material sourcing! And we’re working hard to solve your sustainable sourcing needs from the bottom-up – from the feet, that is.

Yes, January is Shoe-uary here at Material Exchange. To celebrate Shoe-uary, we hosted a Footwear and circularity webinar last week; we’re producing the Global Footwear Sourcing area at Texworld NYC at the end of this month; and we’re bringing you a footwear-focused issue of the Sustainability Scoop right here.

Let’s infuse more sustainability into footwear products so we can all step into a sustainable, low-impact, and equitable future by putting our best feet forward! 

Yours in sustainability,
The Material Exchange Sustainability Team

Reducing footwear’s footprint

Can you guess what shoes and supply chains have in common?

Both are complex and made up of many components!

Caleres, whose brands include Allen Edmonds, Sam Edelman, Naturalizer, Vionic, Famous Footwear, and more, joined our Footwear and circularity webinar on January 17th to discuss the challenges surrounding creating low-impact footwear and the ways to alleviate them.

Here are our top-three takeaways on sustainable shoe design, shared at the webinar by Andee Burton, Senior Manager of  Sustainability, Product Sourcing, and R&D at Caleres:

footwear fashion
  • Focus on both innovative and basic materials: Incorporate new and exciting materials for some components and return to the basics, such as Leather Working Group leathers and recycled textiles, for others. Caleres does just that! They use innovative alternatives like Bloom’s algae-based foams along with recycled polyesters and recycled microfibers in their shoes.
  • Create an in-house database to keep track of unused materials: Caleres has a system available to their 14 brands that tracks excess yardage. Designers can then search the system, select their materials, and use what they already own to create products and eliminate waste. 

  • Utilize the FDRA Footwear Factory Zero-Waste Program: As a partner in this project, close to 60% of Caleres’ tier one strategic factories have a goal to contribute zero waste to landfills. They’re achieving this first through the processes of reducing, reusing, and recycling whenever possible, then sending any remaining waste to nearby incineration plants to be turned into energy for the community.

Want to learn more? Watch the Footwear and circularity webinar recording here and learn loads about making footwear better for the planet!

Notes from the footwear field

We sat down with plant-based passionista and Founder and Creative Director of vegan shoe brand Sylven New York Casey Dworkin. During our conversation, we asked Casey for material recommendations on creating low-impact footwear.

Casey says, “As a concerned Earth citizen, I look for nature-based solutions when designing shoes.  Exciting materials I’m using right now include coconut-husk insoles and 100% natural lactae hevea tree sap outsoles, to name a few.” Dworkin also mentions innovative material use for uppers: “I work with the materials, as opposed to against them. That means, for some of the materials, such as apple leather and cork, which don’t have a good deal of stretch, I add more seams to the body of the shoe style.

sylven new york

“This allows the material to comfortably contour around the foot. Plus, the added benefit is more seams mean smaller pattern pieces; and smaller pattern pieces equal better material consumption; so I’m using less material and reducing cost waste, too!”

Check out Casey’s line here and learn more about sustainable footwear materials at the Global Footwear Sourcing area in NYC on January 31st!

Material Exchange Educates:
Monthly sustainable sourcing strategies explained

Material Exchange is committed to sharing ways to reduce social and environmental impacts from the processes and practices of our industry. In the second half of 2022, our Sustainability Scoop dove into decarbonizing, dematerializing, and conserving water when sourcing and designing. Now, let’s kick off 2023 discussing the places we produce our footwear and fashion styles, and minimizing impacts in those locations.

With the digitization and automation of fashion and global sourcing, the methods we use to source, produce, and market our styles are changing. But we need to think about how to change the places we’re doing business as well.

That’s our focus this month in our Material Exchange Educates section where we share ways to reduce natural resource consumption in footwear and fashion products – by using place-based thinking as a design and product strategy. 

Place-Based Thinking

Why it’s important: Harmful consequences that result from decisions and actions made while creating materials and products are often unknown to designers, sourcing managers, CEOs, and other movers and shakers in fashion. These consequences negatively impact the quality of life for those working and living in communities along our global supply chain.

sustainability icon

What it means: Acknowledging and working to reverse those consequences. Place-based thinking requires careful and critical evaluation of the well-being of the communities where our businesses and partners are based and operating, and how our practices affect the lives in communities along our supply chains and any consequences they experience. It’s important to think deeply about where our partners are situated when designing, sourcing, and producing products and specifically assessing who, what, and where will be affected – and why.

Once you consider and assess these consequences, place-based thinking seeks to improve the quality of life for those people and places, and commits resources so they can make change and improvement happen. This type of strategic thinking makes your business a vibrant part of the community and one that causes no harm to people or the environment with its practices.

How to achieve it: Try shifting your mindset by listening to the places where you produce. Give this place-based exercise a shot when deciding on your next supplier: 

  • Have all sourcing and purchasing team members plus three additional people at the table (whether virtual or physical).  
  • Assign the following roles: factory worker; resident living near the factory; fish who swims in a waterway near the factory (or a cow, dog – you get it!). These are your place-based meeting members.
  • Make sure every person (or fish, cow, tree) gets to speak at the table, and ensure all viewpoints are heard.
  • Ask each person how sourcing from this supplier will affect them: How will they benefit? What disadvantages, if any, will they experience? How, if your company decides to do business at <fill-in-the-blank with supplier name> with <fill-in-the-blank with materials they will use> will it affect their lives now and in the future?
  • List the responses on a whiteboard. Re-read them.
  • Evaluate all viewpoints. Consider what surprises you about what might happen in a community that you or your contractors do business in and what you may be unaware of.
  • If this is a supplier or region you want to work with, what actions can you take that will help reverse any disadvantages the factory worker, neighbor, or fish mentioned.
  • Implement one of those actions.

Which materials get you there: Select factories and suppliers with community initiatives in place and, if they don’t have any, ask if you can partner together on a social, labor, or environmental community project with them. Choose materials which are locally and regionally made in order to reduce fuel use and transport emissions. And consider insetting projects where you invest in clean energy along your company’s supply chain. This is a super example of place-based thinking when working to burn less fossil fuels in a community and neutralize your company’s Scope 3 carbon emissions.

Who has them: Mirza International does! Mirza International is a gold-rated LWG (Leather Working Group) tannery based in India that works to better the community it operates in. With 100% chrome recovery and an assurance against oil leakage, Mirza reduces the impact on the environment around them and for the individuals residing in the community.

Not only does Mirza decrease negative environmental impacts, but with all their place-based action, they also increase positive social impacts.

mirza international ltd materials

Another example is that Mirza International operates the Mirza Charitable Hospital, providing eye operations, general medicine, diagnostics, and more health services free of charge to low-income members of the community. Mirza also supports the Quami Ekta Inter College in Unnao, for which they have brought in clean drinking water, built new bathrooms, and more!

Want to learn more about place-based thinking at Mirza International? Stop by the Global Footwear Sourcing show at Texworld NYC from January 31 – February 2!

Join us at these upcoming events!

Global Footwear Sourcing at Texworld

Global Footwear Sourcing at Texworld
January 31 – February 2, 2023
Javits Center, New York, NY

Fashion Assessment and Circularity Workshop

Fashion Assessment & Circularity All-Day Certificate Workshop
February 23, 2023, 10am-4pm PST
Los Angeles, CA

LA Textile February 2023

LA Textile
February 22-24, 2023
California Market Center, Los Angeles, CA

Thanks for reading and enjoy the rest of Shoe-uary!

Material Exchange