Emma Foster-Geering, our new Head of Sustainability at Vivobarefoot shares her view on the Vivo vision and journey towards a more sustainable business future.
“Being a part of the Vivobarefoot team is a fantastic opportunity to really show how a company that makes stuff can also be taking bold and rapid action to only design products that are improving the health of people and the planet.
There are many people out there who claim to know what it means to be truly sustainable. Today, the word is used extensively to infer something is good, or at least ‘not bad’ for our planet
Truth is, if sustainable products are those that only leave a positive impact on the planet, and to be a sustainable business you must have people and planet at the very centre of everything you do, then absolutely no-one is nailing it yet. But there are many businesses giving it everything to get there.”
“Vivobarefoot is a business fixated on reconnecting people and nature. Sustainability is having the health of ecosystems and people embedded in its DNA.
Here, it’s not just about doing less harm, but about actually enabling life to flourish on Earth. At Vivobarefoot we are empowering a community of people to create an epidemic of health and wellness.
But just like any other shoe brand, for now Vivobarefoot cannot totally get away from the fact they take resources from the earth and put back a product that may pollute, isn’t totally recyclable, and involves processes that can include harmful substances. This is something Vivo are committed to changing, showing the industry it can be done better.
In the meantime, over 1 million people have engaged with Vivobarefoot sustainability ethics via our VVagon events, 20+ swimrun races, online and social content and healthy living ambassadors; growing a passionate and dedicated community of sustainability advocates around the world. This engaged community is a great hope for the future we can build together.
There is no doubt about it, the planet is sick, people are sick, and we must all urgently take action to better our bodies and our ecosystems. Vivobarefoot has a goal of using 100% sustainable materials by 2021, but what does this really mean? And can it help us truly prosper on planet Earth?
For us at Vivobarefoot, it means moving towards products that are made from either recycled, natural or biosynthetic materials. We aim to cut out all virgin oil-based materials. This is a clear rejection of the fossil fuel industry whose disinformation clogs public discourse and is responsible for so much ecological and humanitarian destruction.
This commitment requires Vivobarefoot and all the supply chain partners to totally re-think the way products are designed and materials are made. It also means forget the big profit margins - these materials just flat out cost more.
When you buy products from brands using more sustainable materials, these become popular on the market and eventually this brings the cost down. But opportunists are still selling ‘sustainable’ at a premium and labelling them incorrectly; not giving two hoots about the climate and biodiversity crisis. Until governments step in to stop businesses playing Russian roulette with the term ‘sustainable’, this won’t change, and brands will continue to be able to ‘greenwash’ consumers.
So let’s take a deeper look at what Vivobarefoot means by ‘sustainable materials’.
First and foremost, Vivobarefoot believes that barefoot shoemaking is sustainable shoemaking. The ‘less is more’ design approach always puts minimalism, form and function first.
Seeing as Vivobarefoot will phase out virgin oil-based materials, all our materials will be either:
NATURAL – from plants, animals or soil. These are made from renewable materials with useful physical properties which will help to achieve things like reducing the need for chemicals, or being able to be recycled easily. They include hemp, cotton, wool, silk, leather, tencel and rubber.
RECYCLED – reusing materials reduces the need for taking anything new from the planet, preserving nature. It also lessens the manufacturing impacts needed to make new materials. Ocean plastics are a great feedstock for this.
BIOSYNTHETIC – using renewable alternatives to petroleum oil-based materials which feed the fossil fuel industry. Vivobarefoot currently uses algae bloom and corn-based materials at the moment.
There are still many issues with these materials. When using synthetics (even those made of corn) there are a myriad of chemicals that need to be avoided in the manufacturing process, as well as loads of challenges to recycle them.
There’s no denying that intensive animal agriculture has a devastating effect on the planet. Vivobarefoot is vehemently opposed to it, and this is why we are aiming to use only use wild hide leather.
These leathers are produced as a bi-product of the meat industry. This is why they are naturally scarred, they are sourced from only free-roaming cattle from small-scale farmers. Leather is an important material for Vivobarefoot being able to design shoes that are durable and aren’t made of plastic. Doing natural materials right is an important part of not filling the world with any more plastic.
Leather tanning is also notoriously toxic. So Vivobarefoot aim to use chrome free or vegetable-tanned leather, the traditional way of tanning leather using tannins derived from plants.
For people who love Vivobarefoot shoes, the coming seasons will also bring a lot more choice when it comes to exciting, non-leather natural materials.
We know we’ve got a long way to go, but here’s a snapshot;
Over the past 12 months, Vivobarefoot has improved around 500,000 lives through making shoes that are as close to barefoot as possible, strengthening our bodies and improving our overall health and wellness through sensory feedback with nature.
Vivobarefoot has created communities around barefoot shoemaking in India and Namibia through truly natural footwear from the earth, designed to go back to the earth.
Using recycled plastics, natural leather and innovative biosynthetic materials, over half these shoes were made using the best choice of materials available to meet their sustainability expectations at the time, and all of them were designed to meet uncompromising standards on improving form and functionality.
Vivobarefoot’s aim is to be radically transparent about our sustainability journey.
The team of people who lead the company are bought in on sustainability. This is reflected in the business strategy. In many companies, this is the hardest step and it can take years.
When it comes to calling ourselves sustainable, it’s not just what we do that matters – how we run the business and our suppliers matters too, it matters a lot. We need to help make sure everyone around us is also sustainable.
Vivobarefoot prides itself on having great, direct partnerships with all our suppliers, but we want this to go beyond what is legally required. We need to constantly keep pushing for strong policies and procedures to do this.
The whole industry has a lot to do, not just Vivobarefoot. What do you think – is it important to you that brands are talking about what they are and aren’t doing yet?
WHAT WE'RE DOING NEXT
Thanks to so many educators and activists around the world, from Greta Thunberg to David Attenborough and everyone in between, according to the JWT report ‘The New Sustainability – Regeneration’ 64% of global consumers and 91% of millennials now choose brands based on sustainability.*
Vivobarefoot wants to be at the forefront of this community.
Launching early 2020, a range using one of the most sustainable & high performance fibres in the world, wool. Working to the highest standards in collaboration with Australian merino sheep experts Woolmark.
Creating softness and flexibility, a sustainable viscose fibre called Tencel will also feature in these shoes; using organic solvent and wood pulp from sustainably-managed forests.
In an industry that has strict standards on quality for footwear and apparel, Vivobarefoot will be in unchartered territory.
I know the climate and biodiversity crisis is already much, much worse than most people think. From government-legalised burning of the Amazon rainforest to decaying and toxic oceans caused by sewage pollution and fertiliser run-off, it is already a disaster.
I believe the only way for business to exist in the future is to regenerate the planet, not just do less bad.
I am working hard to create Vivobarefoot’s 2023 Sustainability Strategy which will outline how we are going to make this happen. I look forward to sharing it with you as we shape and put it into action…. watch this space!”
Author Emma Foster-Geering Head of Sustainability at Vivobarefoot An eco-revolutionist and business leader with a prominent track record in corporate sustainability across several industry sectors. Dedicating life to putting the plants and animals first and dismantling systems that are screwing them up.