Since this summer, Spanish footwear brand Camper has been B Corp-certified and has launched a number of groundbreaking sustainability projects in recent months, from the introduction of recycled leather and plant-based leather alternatives to a take-back program, shoe recycling and a lifetime warranty on individual models.
Camper has always been ambitious - so far mainly in terms of design. Last year, however, the focus was on other issues: social and environmental responsibility, more sustainable production methods and products, the establishment of circular flows of goods, and the recycling of used shoes with the launch of the ReCrafted collection. All together, it is an impressive package for a shoe manufacturer whose industry has so far tended to lower its sights when it comes to sustainability. Leticia Sandoval Godinez, Camper's sustainability manager, talks about the new solutions Camper is already working on, and the issues that still require a big, concerted effort.
Camper is currently placing much emphasis on the topic of sustainability when communicating. In which areas has Camper already become more sustainable?
Leticia Sandoval Godinez: Our Mediterranean DNA means that people work in harmony with nature and treat the land and the sea with respect. This was something we had in mind long before sustainability as we know it today became a concept.
We asked ourselves the question of how we wanted to grow. What does a Camper of the future look like? We knew how to make good shoes from quality materials, but could we honestly say that our product would have no impact? No, we couldn't.
So we started with the materials, because that's where we could make the biggest difference - and that's where most of our impact lies.
We focused on switching to renewable natural raw materials, reducing our carbon footprint and making our products last as long as possible. During this process, we have developed some innovative footwear models, but our greatest achievement is the evolution of the entire product, indeed the entire collection. This F/W 2022 season, for example, 80 percent of our uppers and linings are made from certified materials, including organic and recycled textiles.
Camper became a certified B Corp this summer. What does this development change for you?
B Corp certification is a 360° approach to becoming better as a company. That's why we pushed ourselves to become one. It's not just about making a better product - it's also about being a better employer, a great partner or customer, and a more responsible member of society.
It has helped us focus on specific aspects of our business and create a roadmap for how we can improve in the future. The result is that every area of our business is affected. Every employee has incorporated ESG [Environmental Social Governance, ed.] criteria into their annual assessment and development process. Becoming a B Corp is truly something everyone here at Camper is proud of.
Camper traditionally uses leather. But leather has an image problem among the younger generation. What do you think about “vegan leather”? Is that an alternative for you?
Over the years, we have always discussed what would make a shoe less harmful and what ingredients we would need for it. The way the animals are raised is extremely important, including the health of the land and the rights of the workers. For this reason, we source wool certified by the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) and work with Leather Working Group tanneries to achieve better traceability of all our leathers. However, we are aware that more can always be done.
Also, we are not completely convinced by the current alternatives to leather. When we started thinking about vegan alternatives, we realised that most of them are made of plastic. That didn't seem like the right solution for us. During the process, we also realised that moving away from leather could affect the longevity of our products and make them less susceptible to repair.
That is why we have actively decided against the production of vegan shoes.
So what materials do you use?
We continue to use leather because it is a great material that has real advantages. In addition, we use a variety of natural materials and manmade natural fibres. For example, we may need to incorporate a plastic component into our outsoles to ensure durability. In fact, some recycled options have not stood the test of time, but of course we continue to innovate! We're also embracing innovative new materials like Mirum® and Tencel, which are made from renewable natural materials.Our goal is to stop using new plastics in our uppers and linings by 2030 - which we have already achieved in 96 percent of our products. We are also improving the traceability of our leather, not only by using hides certified by the Leather Working Group - which is a must - but also by working more with tanneries to select responsible farms and expanding our regenerative leather projects.
At the same time, we make products that can be repaired and offer a lifetime warranty. We use leather to make both of these initiatives a reality.
How many different ingredients make up the average Camper shoe?
A shoe can have up to 30 components and different techniques to hold it all together. We often talk about how designing shoes is something similar to architecture or engineering.
How can the production of shoes become more sustainable? Where does one start?
Less polluting shoe production starts with design. Can we choose better materials that use fewer chemicals and come from renewable sources? Can we eliminate material blends so they can be easily recycled? Can we use fewer components to use fewer resources and less energy? Can we build a shoe that is recyclable, repairable and easy to disassemble? The design process and collaboration with like-minded ethical manufacturing partners allow us to make our shoes more responsible from start to finish.
What does that mean in concrete terms; how do you develop a shoe so that it lasts a long time or can be recycled?
If we want to make a shoe that lasts forever, we need to use materials that can be repaired and construction techniques that make them repairable. To build a shoe that can be recycled, we need to reduce the materials used and make it easier to disassemble.
Simplification saves materials, minimises waste, reduces energy consumption and supports our efforts to promote the circular economy.
Our team at Camper is currently developing shoes made with a one-piece knitting technology that really helps simplify by reducing the number of components, total waste - since there is no cutting waste in the production of the upper - and CO2 emissions.
Even at CamperLab, we are really pushing the concepts of innovation and simplification in projects like Tossu's, which uses direct injection technology to mould the outsole directly to the upper from a 3D knitted sock, without using seams or glue - making it fully recyclable and more circular after use, while reducing the overall amount of components in the shoe and achieving a unique aesthetic with just six ingredients.
We have taken this idea of circularity to the next level at Camper with the introduction of Kobarah, a one-piece sandal made from a single material with a unique design that is also fully recyclable.
We realise that we cannot take the same approach for every shoe in the collection. Therefore, we must constantly innovate with the best ingredients and technologies.
Better ingredients means for Camper certified renewable or recycled natural raw materials, recycled plastics and innovative biomaterials. This is especially challenging because of the outsoles, but we are constantly working to find substitutes that are lightweight and durable so we can continue to give our customers what they expect.
How are you incorporating the end-of-life phase into planning?
This is a problem that our designers are constantly trying to solve. We have two challenges: to design new shoes with circular concepts and to rethink existing lines to be less burdensome.
Our Pelotas Ariel, the quintessential camper icon, is a good example. Over the years, our customers have consistently told us that their pair lasts for years. The Pelotas Ariel is extremely durable because it is made of such high-quality materials and is so well constructed. That is why we decided to give it a lifetime warranty. Now we can replace the rubber outsole once it wears out and make repairs to make sure the Pelotas really does last a lifetime.
What other goals are you pursuing in terms of sustainability?
We have many goals, but unfortunately there is currently no magic formula for solving the fashion system. So we are looking at how we can make more circular shoes, how we can reduce our emissions and how we can avoid Camper shoes ending up in landfills by offering take-back or repair programs. We also reflect on our role as a company in Mallorca and understand our role in supporting the development of the industry.
Our major goal is to achieve a waste-free supply chain. To achieve this goal, we are implementing various measures, starting with prioritising durability, that is making products that last longer while being easier to repair and ultimately recycle.
Some targets, like our take-back program, need a stronger push. Our goal to reduce absolute Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2030 - with base year 2019 - has been approved by the Science Based Target Initiative (SBTi). We plan to achieve net zero emissions in all areas by 2050.
But Camper shoes are also very fashionable. Can this be sustainable at all? Do you ask yourself this question?
Our goal is to make durable footwear that will last through the seasons. For us, that means focusing on design, not trends. We build our shoes to last - both aesthetically and physically.
The footwear industry will have to solve the problem of recycling in the coming years. How far along is the industry as a whole?
The fact is, as an industry, we're not very far along yet. We all have many small projects that need to scale up before we can really make a difference. That means more investment and more collaboration.
In 2019, we made a commitment to send no shoes to landfill. Then in 2020, we launched our in-store take-back program, which is currently only available online. We have also launched several circular shoe projects, including ReCrafted, which takes used Camper shoes and turns them into new pairs. Of course, this is only a very small percentage of the total pairs sold.
Deconstructing shoes is extremely complicated, especially on a large scale. Manually, it is very time consuming. Mechanically, it can work, but only for certain shoes. While we will try to resell as much as possible from our take-back program, we also know that waste and resources have to be factored into the planning from the beginning.
The fashion industry seems to be more active on the topic of sustainability. You don't hear much from (leather) shoe brands, on the other hand. Why is that?
The reality is that less than ten percent of the shoes produced each year do not end up in a landfill, and that's a big problem from an environmental point of view, because it means that more than 90 percent of shoes become waste. That's why longevity is very important to us, because we think that if you wear a shoe for nine months longer, you can reduce not only the amount of waste you generate in a short period of time, but also the amount of carbon emissions.
Whether you're a sneaker brand that uses leather or a traditional shoe manufacturer, making a better product should be on everyone's agenda. What differs is how we communicate and how we as consumers evaluate products. Is it better to buy a natural product that lasts forever, or a recycled product that donates part of the profits to charity? We would say that both have their merits, but appeal to different types of consumers. The challenge that we are all facing is communication. We need to educate, not persuade. We need to use facts, but not bombard our customers with science. We need to communicate comprehensive information without confusing them.
Honest communication based on data without overwhelming the public. We need to show why and how we are trying to get better, while making it clear that we still have a long way to go.
We ask them to return Camper shoes to us via our return program. As a thank you for participating, we even offer them a voucher worth up to 30 euros on their next order. To significantly change the life cycle of our products, we really need everyone to participate.
This article was originally published on FashionUnited.de