November 21 will mark the second anniversary of the death of Jake Burton Carpenter, the founder of the snowsports and outdoor label Burton. Passionate about his sports and building up the brand, he was also known for implementing sustainable production ethics early on.
Since then, Burton has been headed by John Lacy as CEO and Donna Carpenter, owner and chair of the Burton board of directors, who took over from her late husband Jake.
But beyond that, the US company has made several other new appointments. One is the promotion of Ali Kenney as chief strategy officer, who has served in various positions for more than 14 years, most recently as SVP of strategy and insights.
The other addition is Adrian Margelist who has been on board as creative director for just under a year. The Swiss brings experience from companies such as Liebeskind, MCM, Esprit and most recently Mammut.
We spoke to both of them to find out how they are carrying on Jake Burton's legacy.
Ali, you have been promoted to chief strategy officer at Burton. What exactly is the strategy for Burton for the next five years?
Ali Kenney (AK): Burton is in a very exciting time where we are really focusing deeply on our customer to understand what motivates and drives them so that we can connect with them in a way that we’ve never done before. Areas of focus include creating the most functional and durable products that convey unique style, becoming a better digital retailer and also driving innovative ways to improve the sport of snowboarding. We are also continuing to invest more and more into improving our impact on people, the planet and sport. We want to lead the way globally on our commitments in climate, eco-friendly materials, living wages, diversity and inclusion, and responsible sourcing.
Adrian, you joined Burton about nine months ago. What were the first projects you worked on? Which creative tasks did you tackle first?
Adrian Margelist (AM): Correct–I started October 1, 2020 and was directly diving into collection work ’23 and brand creative work ’22. The first important “creative” work is/was to get to know my colleagues and teams. In these new days of Zoom–a challenge but we all learn and adapt fast.
Sustainability over style or vice versa? How do both of you find a compromise between the coolest design and the best for nature?
AM: The outdoors and Burton specifically are very much on the forefront and leading here. The two go hand in hand these days. The mindset of our people is already working that way, things which are not sustainable are not even considered to be used in a design or development. That’s why we create the coolest stuff in a fully sustainable manner.
AK: Style is not the same as fashion. We are not a fashion brand–we combine function and style, and thus style and sustainability are not trade-offs in our eyes. You can absolutely do both if you have long-term commitments to sustainability. At Burton, there is simply not an option with our people to make functional and stylish products if they are not sustainable, durable and high quality.
What can we expect from Burton in terms of (sustainable) material innovations in the next seasons?
AM: Our material team is constantly seeking new ways and new, even more sustainable materials and techniques. Something very interesting in the hopper for coming season is graphene treated fibers.
AK: We have serious commitments in materials, such as 100% organic or recycled cotton, 100% Bluesign materials, 100% PFC-free DWR and complete reduction of hazardous chemistry in our supply chain. We are at 99% organic cotton and 78% of our product offering is PFC-free. To hit these aggressive commitments around sustainability and simultaneously improve performance, we are bringing in new material innovations constantly.
AK: This is a blessing. The more that people and businesses start to consider and talk about the impact that their actions have on the world around them, the more we can shift behavior and consumption. It is still hard for customers to know what is truly sustainable, thus the more we can educate and clearly communicate, the more people can actually choose to vote with their dollar and make responsible choices.
How sustainable can design be on a scalable level? Isn’t it a bigger challenge for a large company like Burton (compared to small upcoming labels)?
AM: Of course, the challenge might be bigger as a leading brand with global reach–but we also see our responsibility bigger, therefore we are tackling and taking all those challenges. If we lead by example, we have the chance to educate the consumer and other brands alike.
AK: As a brand that has been around since 1977, the harder challenge for us has been how to completely shift the way that we do business to have sustainability at the center. Smaller, new brands can do that from the start. But as a brand that is influential in our space, we can also help drive larger shifts in the world, by educating and inspiring consumers around sustainability and also driving change in how products are sourced and built–we have gotten entire supply chains to shift toward environmentally friendly production because it is the only way we will do business with them. That is powerful change.
Since Corona, there has been much discussion about whether consumer behavior with regard to fashion will change and thus become more sustainable. Is this wishful thinking or is something actually changing?
AK: From our studies, we have seen a shift in our consumers’ mindsets and approaches to life since the start of Covid, and they are saying that they want to move toward more sustainable ways of living. It is too early to tell if this will directly translate into action. There is always a gap between what people say and what they do. But my deepest hope is that people start to wake up and change behavior before it’s too late.
AM: Governments and law might support or accelerate in certain areas–but our true believe is that we as brands need to be there for our consumers and the community. We believe if we change together our way of thinking and the way we approach things, behavior will change–for the better. Mindset over law.
AK: Law always helps raise the bar so that everyone has to improve and that what was optional is now required, thus driving larger cultural shifts. At Burton, we will always choose to lead, but for those companies that are chasing low cost and profits above all else, law is like the tide–it raises all ships–and it will help drive the larger shift we so desperately need across all industries.
You both have been working many years with the brand/in the fashion industry: What has developed positively in the fashion world? And what needs to be still improved?
AM: To me it is “fashion”–fashion and sustainability is a contradiction. Because fashion implicates newness–which we know became faster and faster the past decades. We are creating the best technical performance gear with the clear aim for longevity. We want the consumer to buy less but better.
AK: It’s positive that more and more people, and even banks and investment groups, are talking increasingly about sustainability and environmental impact. We need to shift dollars toward companies that are producing responsibly, and I think that is happening. The big gaps that I still see are: finding universal ways for customers to truly understand and know if they’re making the more sustainable choice through labeling and consistent scoring of products, and most importantly, driving a shift in consumption away from more stuff to less stuff that is made responsibly and more durable.
It seems like there is a short roster of brands that are really committed to changing the way products are made, and then there is a long roster of companies that get away with producing cheap junk that damages the environment and people–we need to change laws and consumption or the quality of life in this world will continue to degrade.