Unlike other industries, few footwear brands are taking part in the sustainability trend. The ‘recycling loop’, where the product cycle continues after it wears out, is one example of how brands can reduce their carbon footprint and improve the longevity of their products and materials. In the time where consumers are growing more conscious about sustainability, it is crucial for brands to come up with environmentally-conscious solutions in the design stage through to the end of the cycle to improve their products.
As an outdoor footwear and apparel company, Timberland is well-known for its values of sustainability and awareness for the environment. Recently, the company was involved with the Redress Design Award 2022. Retail in Asia had the opportunity to speak with Puneet Khosla, the Vice President and Managing Director of Timberland APAC, on Timberland’s involvement and the importance of community-driven green initiatives.
RiA: Today’s fashion is defined by constant change and novelty. How have Timberland’s products remained popular across several decades and what has contributed to your success?
Khosla: Next year we’re going to celebrate 50 years, so that just goes to prove that we build stuff that arenot just built to last, but also from a consumer standpoint, how consumers engage and relate with us. Boots and apparel that are designed to be durable, almost built to serve. And then if you look at how Timberland evolved over the past few years, we have Timberloop™, we have an eco innovation design. We are focusing on circularity and we’re aiming to make sure that we are evolving with our consumer and the needs of the market that we work in. So there is a need for sustainability, there is a need for circularity and that’s our commitment. We’re not doing it because it’s fashionable to say this, but we’re doing it because we mean it, it’s part of who we are. So just how we’ve evolved and how we have made sure that by being able to engage with the consumers, we remain popular, we remain close to what the consumer wants. I think that’s the reason why Timberland continues to be where it is.
RiA: Could you explain the concept behind Timberloop™?
Khosla: Timberloop™ is an eco innovation platform that showcases how we are rethinking new products and new technology. We also launched the Timberloop™ take back program. If you go to our stores in Europe, we take back products from the consumer and then we look at whether we are able to refurbish them. That’s how we make sure that we prevent as much as possible from the products ending up in landfill. So we are doing all of that not just from a platform standpoint, but also how we take back and look at the product from a consumer standpoint. Following the launch of the Timberloop™ take-back program in the U.S. earlier this year, we have expanded the program to include the UK, Germany, France and Italy. Additional European markets as well as APAC will follow. The consumers can bring back their old product and then we can see how we can extend it or how can that one product otherwise be recycled. So we’re living that commitment..
Timberland recently won Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana (CNMI) Sustainable Fashion Award 2022 for the Circular Economy category. This award recognises the outstanding work of fashion brands that are demonstrating principles of the circular economy. Ultimately, all designers are problem solvers, and we have to find the solution to make sure we are working towards a circular supply chain. We aim to inspire the next generation of designers to think about products that have longevity, and are built to have value for the future, not just built to last.
RiA: How important is Timberland’s partnership with the Redress Design Award 2022 in terms of inspiring emerging designers to incorporate circularity and sustainability?
Khosla: It goes back to who we are as a brand. We understand that as any brand or any fashion brand, you have an impact. Therefore, from the beginning we’re always trying to focus on how we minimize the impact, it’s in our DNA, that’s who we are. To be able to move along and also shape the industry, we want to partner with young designers and make sure that we’re able to create this ecosystem where this evolves over a period of time. There’s a role that we want to play and there’s a role that Redress plays in building this ecosystem where we are then able to partner with emerging designers. We teach and we learn. Young designers are coming with fresh ideas, they have a different perspective, so we are able to educate them in terms of how something like the process works in our industry and they’re able to bring in their ideas and share with us how they think some of it will evolve. So it’s a win-win for all of us. I think that’s the exciting part of these collaborations.
RiA: How did you communicate Timberland’s sustainable product design concept with consumers and what specific marketing techniques brought this concept forward?
Khosla: When we design new shoes, apparel, accessories I think we don’t only look at it in terms of how good it looks but also what will the impact have and how can we work towards minimizing that impact.
The entire notion of our commitment where we believe in a greener and more equitable future for our communities is something that we live with. This is how we want to communicate or how we communicate as a brand with our consumers. To give you some examples on how our brand always considers where the product goes when the product lifecycle ends, in 2020, we launched our first boots made from Regenerative Leather and in 2021 we introduced GreenStride™ Comfort soles, made using 75% natural sugar cane and rubber from trees. Our Earthkeepers® products, which were first launched in 2010, are the highest iteration of our expertise in creating noteworthy sustainable fashion that not only minimizes the environmental impact, but also features cutting-edge style and function.
We are constantly injecting this idea into our products and we talk to our consumers about it and therefore the consumers see it’s manifested in our design and manifested in everything that we do.
RiA: Are these newly introduced products well received by your customers?
Khosla: With any innovation you would always have that famous bell curve. Our boots are our icons, but for any brand, the way a consumer connects with us is very important. We are showing our customers that we’re evolving through our eco-conscious products. Customers know our credibility and this is how we expand. So we are using all of that to progress and to show that progression. The consumers will come along with us and I don’t have any doubt about it. We just have to be consistent about it, which we are.
RiA: Could you offer any advice for Redress Award finalists on their pursuit of sustainability?
Khosla: I believe that it is important for them to remember as they embark on this sustainability journey to keep very focused around being purpose driven. And also how do they continue to elevate their skills and deepen their skills around sustainable production marketing? Because, what’s important is also scale. So to that extent, when you think as a designer, how do you make sure that you’re able to think of it beyond, so that you’re able to bring about impact through scale.
The second advice would be to use platforms like this, like the Redress Award, to engage with others because there’s that opportunity to get exposure, not only with organizations like ours, but also with other like minded people. Meet a community of people who think in this progressive manner, so these things take a while to change. So as you expand that thinking and you get more people part of that community, it spreads even further. So I think that’s where they’re able to gain these valuable skills through the educational challenges, they’re able to develop their creativity and problem solving. So I think it is a great journey and they should think of it as being an evolving process through which they want to learn.
RiA: How does Timberland enhance circularity and sustainability in the apparel and footwear industry?
Khosla: 2020 was when we launched our first boots made with regenerative leather. 2021 is when we introduced GREENSTRIDE™ where the soles are made using 75 percent natural sugar cane and rubber from trees. For Timberland, specifically, there are a whole host of products that we create through the use of regenerative materials.
Our entire strategy is based around making sure that we are able to minimize the impact and give back more than we take.
RiA: Is it possible to maintain the same quality of products, while using regenerative materials?
Khosla: We have to pass very stringent standards that we keep for ourselves. I don’t think a consumer will make a trade off saying that, okay, you can give me inferior quality, but it’s a check for your sustainability. I think it’s and and it’s not or. To that extent, there is that entire investment we make in research and development, our back end, our responsible sourcing and our materials.
Organisations like VF Corp. and Timberland are able to achieve sustainability because we are committed to it. And it’s not just we do it one time and we forget about it. If we put out a product, whether it’s GREENSTRIDE™, which we’ve been doing now for a couple of years or building a technology platform for ourselves, we will keep on evolving. It’s an evolution process.
RiA: So it is a win-win situation for both you and your consumers? You are adding more value and educating the consumers.
Khosla: The consumers today are becoming more conscious, especially the younger Gen Z. So all of that is also helping us to be able to communicate more easily, to elevate how sustainability may have been five years back and how it is now.
Five years back we would probably just be talking about organic and regenerative, and now we’re talking about circularity. So it’s a progression for all of us.
RiA: Brands like Timberland can have a real impact on them because customers trust you.
Khosla: Loyalty comes from trust, and trust comes from your ability to engage with the consumer on a regular basis. And your ability to engage when you’re being relevant to the consumer. Consumer relevance is so important. So obviously we have that trust and loyalty, but we don’t take it for granted. And that’s why we’re constantly evolving and innovating.
RiA: How does Cooperating with the Redress Design Award help support Timberland’s 2030 goal of 100 percent products in circularity design and 100 percent product in regenerated agriculture material?
Khosla: I’ll go back to what I said in the beginning, that we are actually focused on creating a greener future. This is a part of a long term commitment, to make sure that we’re making a product responsible while protecting nature and strengthening our community. So that’s the centerpiece of what we do now in order to address the environmental impact of our operations and the industry at large. Like I said, our focus is giving back more than we take. And therefore our collaboration with Redress is important.
If we take the Redress Award winner, Federico, why did we choose him? One reason is because of his ability to think a little outside the box, and then he had this very interesting collection and concept called Micro Rain, where he’s trying to use zero waste technique. All of that shows his willingness to understand an issue and trying to resolve it.
RiA: How does Timberland increase the traceability and transparency of fashion value chains?
Khosla: Trust is about transparency of the front and that’s where I think we are fortunate to be a part of a larger enterprise called VF Corp., so if you look at the traceability maps that we have on the VF website, they’re excellent examples of the way we are sharing our supply chain information, including Timberland, with our consumers and public. And it’s a constant evolution, you can see a commitment out there and spread out publicly through VF.
RiA: How are your consumers embracing the concept of sustainability across Asia, especially here in our region?
Khosla: You can see people becoming more conscious, but with anything like this, it’s a start where in the initial part of the curve there are gaps in the market. I think there’s an opportunity for us to raise awareness from the consumer standpoint through collaborations like we are doing here and through other partnerships. The Gen Z consumers are leaning into sustainability more, whether it’s through fashion, whether it’s through use of recycled products, bottles, glasses, all of that. You can see that progression. And I think that’s where we have the opportunity of being able to work with them, work with partners like Redress to further educate them.