Fashion / Feature

Is the future of fashion sustainable? In conversation with Nike

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Our climate crisis has began to accelerate at an alarming speed, and with the onslaught of natural disasters in the past three years - which have caused devastating affects for communities across the globe - it has never been so important to shift focus. As we begin to understand the ways in which we can inspire change, we turn to our beloved fashion industry. Fashion and the production of clothing is responsible for around 8% of all manmade greenhouse gas emissions, a percentage which is only set to grow in future, and doesn't even account for what ends up in landfill, which is an estimated 84% of what is produced.

The responsibility falls on both consumer and brands to adopt change for the wellbeing of our planet, and Nike doesn't take such responsibility lightly. With the implementation of its 'Move to Zero' initiative, the brand has committed to embarking on a journey toward a zero carbon and zero waste future. At the centre of which is the brand's commitment to science-based targets and ultimately, taking positive steps to reduce emissions. Here, we're in conversation with Nike Chief Sustainability Officer, Noel Kinder and Senior Design Director, Golnaz Armin to learn more.

 

What are the next steps Nike is taking globally to move towards sustainability?

NK: At Nike, our purpose is to use the power of sport to move the world forward, and that has never been more important than it is today. Historically as a company we have been committed to sustainability over the course of decades, but last year during Climate Week, we shared that we’re accelerating our efforts through the Move to Zero Journey - our journey toward a zero carbon and zero waste future to help protect the planet and create a better future for sport. At the centre of that is our commitment to science-based targets and committing to a target tied to the Paris Climate Accord to stay below 1.5 C; that means an absolute reduction of carbon by 30% by 2030. We’re also moving to zero waste, which again is a big aspiration and something that we take very seriously. We are optimistic about how our size and scale can drive meaningful change, not only reducing overall environmental impact.

 

When reimagining existing, well-loved products to fit sustainable practices, what are some of the key design points that you look to adjust?

GA: We’re highly focused on advancing sustainability while maintaining our high standards for performance and style. If you look at the data, more than 70% of our environmental impact comes from the materials we use, everything from the water that goes into growing cotton, to the energy that goes into finishing textiles. So every detail, every decision that you make on the materials that you're choosing for your product has an impact. Understanding that is key so we have a great team of material designers at Nike that contribute that important work.

With this in mind, we’re constantly looking at how we can incorporate circular design practices into our products. Space Hippie was this pivotal point at Nike to rethink how we design and create product; it was a new radical way of thinking around transforming trash. That philosophy now informs many of our beloved products. Let’s look at the HO20 Air Force 1 Crater, for example,

This material is not only more lightweight and responsive but, through the use of Nike Grind, is a great way for us to utilise surplus manufacturing materials and minimise waste.

When we started thinking about this product, we had a workshop with our Nike Grind team and piles of materials and waste. Our challenge was to recreate the product using that waste material. One of the ideas that came out of that was not hiding the waste and revealing that cool material and the story behind it to the consumer and you can see that at the AF1 upper. That also inspired the Marble Ecodown Jacket made from recycled polyester, transparent shell, and then the down inside of it is an eco-down, which is a recycled fill. Being able to create sustainable products on a large scale is really important and there’s going to be more product that we’re going to bring into this philosophy.

 

What does zero waste mean to you as a global brand?

NK: Our priority is zero waste, period. Our vision is a circular future in which the very concept of waste doesn’t exist. We are eliminating waste wherever we can, beginning by designing waste out of our products and optimizing our manufacturing processes. We know that making these key design and process shifts are critical to us achieving our environmental goals. Circularity is a key element in waste reduction as well.

Through the Nike Grind program, and other waste reduction efforts, we’ve made great progress in our supply chain. For the past two years 99.9% of Nike footwear manufacturing waste was recycled or converted to energy.

 

What are some of the key goals for the Move to Zero journey?

NK: Nike’s Move to Zero journey is not set against a specific timeline. The systems are complex but we know we can’t just wait for solutions – we have to create them. That is why we are pursuing science-based goals to aggressively reduce our carbon footprint and are innovating to reduce waste. We measure our sustainability progress based on five year targets that are reported on in the Nike Impact Report. We’re currently in the process of closing out 2020 targets and will share our 2025 targets next year. To highlight a few of our milestones, We will power our owned and operated facilities with 100% renewable energy by 2025, and have already achieved that milestone in North America and Europe; More than 1 billion plastic bottles per year from landfill go into Nike products, transforming them into yarns for new jerseys and material for Flyknit shoes, among other products; We are diverting 99.9% of all footwear manufacturing waste from landfills.

 

What have been some of the challenges moving from sustainable ideation to realisation?

GA: Sustainability is quite complex and there’s no single answer to that question. In the ideation phase anything can be possible, what becomes more complex is working through how to scale those ideas. With products like Space Hippie, it was important to embrace both the constraints and character of the materials you have to work with, which drive creativity in the design process and can unlock new opportunities.

 

As a global brand with many eyes and a loyal customer base, do you hope to see other brands follow suit in implementing more sustainable practices to production?

NK: Climate change is beyond the scope of any single organisation or industry, so it’s imperative that we all come together to accelerate progress. When Nike leads on sustainability, we create value for our business. We raise the bar for our industry, and we deliver on our potential for positive impact in the world. We spend a lot of time with organisations like the UN Foundation and Global Fashion Agenda because coming together will play a critical role in helping our industry move faster.

Image credit: @nikewomen

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