When you enter the shoe market as a small start-up, especially in a niche market such as “barefoot shoes”, everyone always knows more than you about what’s possible and what’s not.
“Shoes made of organic materials? Forget it!” “You want to manufacture in Europe? That’ll be expensive!” “You’re not going to glue the fabric on the inside? That won't work!”Yes, we had to listen to lots of stuff. But we stayed true to ourselves, and in particular in the area of sustainability we’ve implemented lots of things that others considered impossible.
And that's why we're so pleased that the #FridaysForFuture movement is currently creating so many waves, and we have the impression that it’s making its mark in many areas. Companies that want sustainability in production and sales are no longer laughed at by suppliers and manufacturers, and there are more and more interested and persistent customers asking exactly which materials come from where, and under what conditions products are manufactured.
Nevertheless there is still often a lack of transparency, both in the supply chain of materials and products, and in companies’ communication with their customers.
So we thought we’d use Global Strike Day for exactly that: We decided to hold virtual and analogue discussions with anyone interested, regarding companies’ responsibility for environmental protection and climate change, considering together what we as a company are already doing and can continue to do, and also where each individual can start to become active.
So on the day of the Global Strike for Future, or #GlobalStrikeDay, 24th May, 2019, Wildling Shoes closed its online shop and the warehouse shop, in return opening its doors in Cologne to offer a peek behind the scenes. Via livestream we shared the event with all those interested in sustainability at Wildling.
“Because it's in the public interest to know what companies are doing for sustainability”
At about 10 a.m., the event was opened by Janine Steeger, - also known as Green Janine. After reminding the audience of the story how Wildling came to be, founder Anna explained why we now also want a public discussion of topics such as the responsibility for environment and climate.
“Because these are questions that are not only relevant to us as a company, but are also of interest to society. After all, business plays a considerable role in climate change. And we’re also glad of any knowledge from the hive mind that might come out of it, because sometimes you can't see the wood for the trees.”
We’ve invited sustainability expert Stephan Schaller from CSCP (Collaborating Centre on Sustainable Consumption and Production) in Wuppertal. Stephan normally supports companies who want to focus on and implement sustainability measures. With his many years of experience and the “view from outside”, his assessment was very important and helpful for us - on Wildling’s journey up to now, where does it stand in terms of sustainability and transparency? Which way can we go in the future?
Stephan: “My favourite definition of sustainability is that it's about a good life in harmony with existing, limited resources. What is a good life? Sustainability is often associated with restrictions and giving things up, but you can also link that with a lot of positive things. Your shoes, too, promote the joy of living, rather than austerity. So how can you use positive messages to get lots of people on board? Where is less really more?
From a global perspective we already have a good life. How can we now manage to continue to live well, but with a smaller footprint? “In harmony with existing resources” doesn’t mean reducing our consumption to zero, but turning it down to an acceptable level.
We often ask first about how far the topic of sustainability is spread throughout the company itself, or whether it's being imposed from above. Here, Wildling has already achieved a lot. Each team has an eye on the subject in their own working area. That's something I was happy to note for a start.
And then, in a next step, we can see what the special questions are for Wildling, and what focus you want to set. Climate neutrality, for example, is a very big topic, but not the only one. Biodiversity is another important point. That's why we don't do pure “CO2 analyses”, because the climate protection topic is too complex. Other questions are, for example: What are the social aspects in production, and what influences water consumption? Where do I have goals that relate to several of these points? Then you can take specific steps, looking at the challenges in the supply chain and the production process.”
Anna: “That's exactly the conflict that we constantly find ourselves in: Wanting to do everything at the same time without tying ourselves in knots, but rather by focussing on certain aspects such as the use of sustainable materials. And in spite of everything not forgetting the business aspect - after all as a business-owner I have also have a responsibility to the people who work for Wildling. Janine: “Can you say which areas of Wildling are most affected here?”
Anna: “It actually affects all areas of our work, but the biggest effect is probably in the supply chain and the materials. Where do the products come from and how are they produced? Cradle-to-cradle or recyclable shoes are larger projects for the future, but we’ve already taken specific steps: Choosing organic materials, building long-term relationships with suppliers so that we can also influence the choice of material and the working conditions. That only works if you have planning security and cooperation based on trust.”'
Marco Scheel from Nordwolle (who provide the wool we use for the linings and sometimes also for the uppers of our winter models) is our guest for the day, and interjects here: “Our Pomeranian sheep are a good example of that: At Nordwolle we started with small flocks of sheep. A female sheep gives birth to a maximum of one to two lambs per year. If Wildling says they want three times as much wool next winter, then that’s not possible next winter, but only the winter after that. So it's an interaction where time, in the sense of a long-term perspective and the ability to plan, is a deciding factor.
At the same time, diversity plays a role in our partnership. We take wool from endangered sheep species in order to maintain diversity and thereby keep those populations alive. If we can count on Wildling as a long-term purchaser of our wool, then we can plan accordingly.
Im Gespräch über Nachhaltigkeit und Klimaschutz: rechts Gründer Anna & Ran, in der Mitte im Hintergrund Marco von Nordwolle
After the general discussion about sustainability and companies’ responsibility, things got more detailed: In four different zones there were experts on hand to discuss where Wildling still has potential for improvement and where the biggest effect for sustainability would be. Everyone was free to move around the space, share thoughts about the various topics, collect ideas and take part in discussions. Then the results were presented and also shared with interested parties via livestream. Wildling will continue to work with the results, always continuing to set new goals for their implementation.
Next steps at Wildling
In the “Product” zone, the following points were discussed: There should be a requirements catalogue for manufacturers and suppliers, containing transparent and comparable information about what they need to provide in order to be considered as our potential partners. We want transparency on both sides. If a company is not prepared to answer these questions, then it can't be a Wildling partner.
Designing the shoes in such a way that, at the end of their life-cycle, all parts can re-enter the resource cycle or be recycled (cradle-to-cradle) would bring our shoes closer to a “zero footprint”. With a minimal shoe which, by definition, only consists of a few elements in the first place, that is certainly a realistic goal. The longevity of a shoe, too, is a key point when it comes to sustainability. That's why we're glad when customers get broken parts of their shoes repaired or take them to a cobbler. Here, too, we work together with partners.
In the “Logistics” zone it was discussed how transport and storage can be organised in as environmentally friendly and climate-neutral a way as possible. Possibilities are using as little extra packaging as possible during transport, or doing without fancy tissue paper. The “Customers and Communication” zone focused on the question of the significance of sustainability. For us, sustainability has always been a given, but up to now we haven't actively put much emphasis on its significance. It's normally only used as a justification when there are difficulties with the shoe itself. “No, our barefoot shoe isn't completely waterproof, BUT it is made of organic cotton”, or “No, we don’t currently have enough shoes in the warehouse, BUT it wouldn't be sustainable to keep lots of space for shoes that in the end nobody buys”.
We want to move away from this reactive communication, showing instead, for example, which criteria a material, a glue, an accessory needs to fulfil so that we can work with it with a clear conscience.
And in future we also want to underline the challenges facing a company in the area of sustainable shoes. As Team Wildling, in the final zone we gathered ideas for how we can think about sustainability beyond the product itself. How would it be if each member of the team were given time off for voluntary and community-serving activities? Can we introduce an organic veggie box for all employees? With our digital way of working, can we use “green” tools and eco-electricity?
Janine briefly summarised the findings, then asked Anna whether she was satisfied with the day and whether we at Wildling would be able to work with the results.
Anna: “It was great to have a whole day to discuss these topics across teams, rather than always making spontaneous decisions in the middle of our day-to-day work. We’ve achieved a lot in the short time, and have also noted points without immediately questioning their implementation. It was good feedback that we are actually already doing a lot and can now think again about what has the biggest value-add and what can be implemented quickly and meaningfully. We were able to organise the many ideas that we already had and will now set up a timeline for what we want to do next. Thanks to all of you for being here, for shaping the day with us and for contributing your questions to help us move our deliberations forward in a productive direction!”
Here on the blog we want to continue to share our journey towards even more sustainability, and we want to know which points you find particularly interesting, where you'd like more information, and what makes Wildlings special for you, in terms of sustainability. We’re glad to receive each and every comment.
Run Wild - Anna, Ran und Team Wildling