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Washington Shoe Follows Consumers’ Lead on Sustainability

When it comes to sustainability in footwear, it’s more important than ever that companies commit to walking the talk.

As responsible manufacturing continues its evolution from nice-to-have to requisite, quite a few brands are feeling the pressure to keep up. Those that aren’t, meanwhile, likely aren’t paying close enough attention. According to The NPD Group, 40 percent of consumers said eco-friendly/sustainable materials are very (10 percent) or somewhat (30 percent) important.

For Staheekum, the luxury footwear brand owned by Washington Shoe Company, this has translated into developing a sustainability mission taking the long view. Karl Moehring, Washington Shoe Company CEO, said today’s consumers are eager to buy from companies making that very important green effort.

While Staheekum’s typical customers can be divided into two groups—the original, repeat customer drawn to the brand for its classic slippers, and the younger buyer seeking a timeless, authentic brand—what they share in common is an appreciation for both the outdoors and a need for quality footwear.

“Sustainability has gone from a nice thing that some brands did, to today where you have to address sustainability to be relevant,” Moehring said. “We’ve received feedback via email and social media on the small steps we’ve already taken with reduced box waste and our partnership with Trees for the Future, in which we plant a tree for every purchase on the customer’s behalf.”

With that said, not all consumers who care about sustainability are lovers of living al fresco. In fact, far from it. Many who prioritize purchasing sustainable goods are often simply motivated by an innate sense of responsibility, according to findings from a Cotton Incorporated study. “You don’t have to be an active outdoorsman to appreciate and care about the planet,” Moehring said. “Today’s consumers are more knowledgeable than ever before. They’re concerned about the Earth and realize they can effect change with their purchases.”

To address these concerns, Staheekum is taking several steps to reduce its carbon footprint, including using responsible tannery partners when a leather alternative is not workable. It also utilizes recycled components for its laces, insoles and outsoles, as well as materials sourced via sustainable environmental practices. For 2020, the company’s entire Staheekum line will feature some sort of sustainable element, a goal it undertook because of the importance to its consumers, Moehring said.

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“We’re very excited about the increased availability of materials that are using recycled plastics, such as water bottles, as well as bio-based foams like algae,” he added.

Beyond product, the company’s greener goals take a holistic approach that gets deep into the weeds of its own operations.

“We look at sustainability as a larger task than just product decisions,” Moehring said. “We have a 2019 goal of reducing our office waste. We have gone to compostable single-use utensils, composting onsite our food waste, going paperless whenever possible, and participating in cleaning up the local community with monthly team trash pickup events.”

To be sure, while the demands for sustainably made footwear are increasing, the challenges of getting consumers to pay more for them still exists. Just over one-quarter of consumers said they will pay a little more for eco-friendly footwear, according to The NPD Group.

“The willingness to pay more is still trailing the actual cost increases,” Moehring noted. “I’m hopeful that with economies of scale, the conversation of having to pay more for sustainably made product will be a distant memory.”

Industry cooperation is key in communicating the benefits of sustainability to consumers. For retailers, this means supporting brands by partnering together for new ideas of reducing packaging and shipping waste, as well as offering in-store footwear recycling options, Moehring said. By working together, both brands and retailers will be able to balance the calls for eco-friendliness with the need to maintain retail prices that don’t deter consumers.

Click to learn more about Staheekum.