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Buying Wildlings online is quick and easy. But is it also sustainable?

After closing the Wildling doors on Global Strike Day so we could dedicate the whole day to the topic of sustainability, one of the first things we realised was this: We’re already doing quite well in this area!

But so many points seemed - and seem - so obvious to us that we don't always realise how unusual it is in the shoe and textile sector to be doing what we’re already doing.

The textile industry is one of the world’s most resource-intensive and environmentally damaging sectors. According to a report by Deutsche Welle, it produces more greenhouse gas emissions per year than all flights and ships put together 

(Source in German: Deutsche Welle).

Foto: Lotta Löthgren

Up to now the sustainability aspect has often only come up when we have to justify restrictions in the function of our minimal shoes.

We are often asked critical questions relating to sustainability, and we’d like to address them.

In this post we consider the question of whether online shopping is sustainable, or whether the transport of Wildlings cancels out our efforts in other areas.

Where can we buy your shoes? Online! Why only online? Here’s why:

Online shopping is generally popular, and the advantages are obvious: Products are available any time and from anywhere; you can take time to read the product descriptions, look at ratings or compare various suppliers.

If you notice that you need a particular product, you open the browser and find out which are the best suppliers - regardless of whether you're in your pyjamas on the sofa or on your lunch break at work.

On request, the ordered shirt or book is delivered the next day to your front door or to a pick-up point. And it’s always fun opening the parcel! If you’re not happy with the product, you simply send it back.

How sustainable is online shopping?

That's a question you might ask when the book you ordered arrives in a huge box with loads of packaging material. Or perhaps when you’re driving through narrow streets in the town centre and constantly have to manoeuvre round parked parcel-delivery vans.

Is online shopping more sustainable than driving to the nearest shopping centre yourself and buying the products there? As is often the case, it depends...

Are the products also available locally?

To be clear before we start: At the beginning, only selling Wildling shoes online was a question of feasibility rather than sustainability. With our tiny, crowd-funded production run and the few orders at the beginning, the total number of Wildlings was much too low for it to be worth supplying retailers.

With online shopping we can keep prices lower, because we don’t have to factor in retail costs (in which case the shoes would quickly cost twice as much) or our own shops and sales staff.

Nevertheless we want to know how we stand with our online shop, and whether delivery and returns cancel out our efforts in the area of sustainability.

Imagine that Wildling Shoes has shops at a dozen locations in Germany. By chance there's one where I live. At first glance it seems logical that it would be more environmentally friendly to get the Wildlings there rather than having them sent via the online shop.

Now, when I drive my own car to the shop which is 10-50 km away, I’d like my favourite pair of Wildlings to be available in my size. In order to guarantee that, each shop would need regular deliveries, which would come by lorry. You also need energy in order to supply all those shops with electricity (for lighting, for example) and heating, and this scenario draws even more private cars into our overcrowded towns and cities. And already the question of whether a physical shop is more sustainable than online shipping has become more complicated.

How are the products packed and shipped?

Busy paws pack the Wildlings gently into their transport boxes so that they arrive at their new homes in one piece.

The boxes are made of recycled paper and are secured with paper parcel tape. We pack several pairs of Wildlings in one box - they like to cuddle up anyway. With as little extra packaging material as possible they then start their big journey with DHL Go Green.

No doubt some of you will have had the experience where you order something small - a book, a shirt or a coffee cup – only to find that it’s delivered in a huge box. Inside you find either huge amounts of packing paper (to fill the gap) or - even worse - large plastic air pillows. And the popular polystyrene balls are not good at all. For a fragile coffee cup it might make sense, but for a shirt or book, probably not. Often you can do without plastic or polystyrene filling material altogether and put the items in more suitable packaging.

Smaller packaging means less volume, so more packages can fit into a delivery van. That’s more efficient and more environmentally friendly.

When there are different delivery options for your goods, the more environmentally friendly option is usually standard shipping. In that case, the lorries are filled up, and a route is worked out that avoids unnecessary kilometres, even if it means waiting a bit longer until the lorry’s full. If you choose the “immediate shipping” or “express” option, etc., it often means that lorries go off half-full, so that the goods get to the customers on time. Of course that leads to unnecessary fuel consumption, and that's why we decided against offering such an option.

To sum up: In order to avoid extra kilometres, choose standard shipping, and be at home when the package arrives. If that's not possible, suggest an alternative: a drop-off point, a neighbour who’s often at home, or the little tailor's shop on the corner where they’re happy to take delivery of parcels in return for a little chat. That way, your parcels don’t get sent to the next depot or post office, and also the van can continue its journey with less weight (lighter van = lower fuel consumption).

Avoid returns

Let's be honest: It's probably the same for (nearly) everyone who's ever ordered clothes online - whether for themselves or for their children. You can't quite decide whether to choose the red shirt or the yellow one, whether to order the shoes in the same size as usual - or do they maybe look a bit smaller in the picture... Oh forget it - just put it all into the shopping cart and if necessary you can send it back.

In the fashion sector, the return quota is over 50%. In other words half of all deliveries are sent back. Many online shops offer this service “free of charge”, although free simply means that the costs of the return are already calculated into the price of the goods.

To get a returned product ready to be sent out again, it takes about an hour of human working time for unpacking, processing in the system, testing for defects and repacking. Here, too, the costs are calculated into the price of the goods - otherwise returns would be a real loss-making venture!

There probably isn't a simple solution, but we’re trying quite a few things in order to avoid returns.

We provide various ways of finding the right size before you purchase. In addition, our customer service team is happy to help if you’re uncertain. Our hope is that no one will have to order different sizes in order to be sure of finding the right one. Up to now our returns quota has been at 25%, which is pretty low for shoes sold online. That's a small success - but it’s not enough for us.

That’s why we’re continuously working to optimise the size-finding process. At the moment we’re developing an app that will help you find your size with even more precision, using a photo and a matching method.

Wildling is on the right track when it comes to sustainability. But we want to achieve even more!

Only 25% returns - that's a good average in this sector, but we want to keep working as a company to reduce that figure even more. What can each of us do to keep the process as sustainable as possible? Finding your size using the FitKit and advice from the community - these are just a couple of the many suggestions. In the community we're collecting more ideas (link). What other possibilities are there?

At the moment, only selling our shoes online is still the most sustainable way. But who knows how it’ll be by the time we reach our 10-year anniversary in 2025?!

You’d prefer to try on and purchase Wildlings on site? Come and visit us in the warehouse shop, in the showroom in Cologne or at an event somewhere in Germany

Run wild! Anna, Ran & Team Wildling

Header: Maria Herzog Fotografie

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