VF Corporation, the global specialist in branded lifestyle apparel, has recently announced that starting from this year several of its brands are releasing new product collections that take advantage of regeneratively sourced natural rubber, through VF’s pilot program in Thailand with Terra Genesis, an international regenerative design firm.
The project is based on a variety of environmentally and socially conscious practices, which aim to help support biodiversity, enhance water cycles, improve soil health and sequester carbon. This approach not only changes growing practices and helps improve the lives of farmers, it also helps replenish and strengthen the soil, plants and the surrounding nature.
Jeannie Renne Malone, vice president of Global Sustainability, VF, explained The SPIN OFF how the group wants to operate in this direction.
At VF, we aim to leverage our scale to build sustainable supply chains that will benefit not only our own brands, but also the broader apparel and footwear industry and beyond. And as a family of brands, we are working collectively to meet our science based targets.
We are focused on sustainable materials' substitution as a key pathway to meeting our targets, and have established a Sustainable Materials Vision, aiming to source our top materials from regenerative, responsibly sourced renewable or recycled sources. Rubber is one of these top materials, and we hope that this is just the start of incorporating regeneratively sourced rubber into our products.
Starting from which season will products including regenerative rubber be available?
Some of the products featuring regenerative rubber are already available, with more to come throughout the year.
Timberland, for example, will have more than 120 styles of shoes that contain regenerative rubber this year and Vans is offering approximately 80 SKUs that consumers can get right now.
Could you tell us more in detail?
On February 2nd, Timberland launched its first product featuring regeneratively grown natural rubber - the Greenstride Motion 6 Hiker. Designed for six ways of motion, this boot features Greenstride comfort soles, balancing performance and function with four-way traction, comfort and breathability, and outsoles made with 55% regeneratively grown rubber.
In late March, as part of its 50 Anniversary activations, Timberland also featured regeneratively grown natural rubber in its Greenstride Motion 6 Hiker model, which also includes outsoles made with 55% regeneratively grown rubber.
As part of our next projects, this fall, The North Face will incorporate regeneratively grown rubber throughout most of the brand's Surface CTRL outsoles, making up 10% of the outsole in all but three shoe models that use them, including popular styles such as the Back-to-Berkeley boot, Hedgehog hiking boots and new Summit Vectiv Pro.
Where does this rubber come from?
Currently, all the farms that participate in our regenerative rubber program are based out of Thailand. Traditionally, these farms have been monoculture rubber farms. Now, as part of our regenerative agriculture program, they’ve diversified their cultivation to include crops such as fruit, coffee, honey and others.
Importantly, the growers saw the impact of this change immediately. Where previously these monoculture farms were fairly calm and quiet, now there is flourishing biodiversity, with pollinators, insects and birds in the air as well as mushrooms sprouting.
Overall, regenerative agriculture offers a holistic approach to farming that can help address a range of environmental challenges while also helping to improve the resilience and productivity of agricultural systems.
Beyond the biodiversity benefits, some of the environmental benefits of transitioning to regenerative farming practices can include sequestering carbon, improved soil health, improved water quality and a reduced use of synthetic chemicals such as synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, which can have negative impacts on soil health, biodiversity, and human health.
What are the benefits for consumers using shoes made with this rubber (apart from lowering the impact of their purchase)?
Aside from lowering their environmental impact, consumers can be proud that they are purchasing products that help improve the livelihoods and economic status of farmers. Instead of relying on one source of income, farmers who incorporate regenerative practices typically diversify their revenue streams by growing more than one crop, helping to provide a more consistent flow of income throughout the year rather than relying on seasonally dependent mono crops.
Is the use of this rubber causing any problems in terms of shoes' technical characteristics like resistance, grip, durability, difficulty in creating specific models?
No! As our brands work to incorporate more sustainable materials into products – such as regeneratively sourced rubber – we never do so at the expense of product performance and quality. All of our shoes must meet our high standards for performance and these are no exceptions, with qualities such as resistance, grip, and shoe durability.
As with any commodity, prices fluctuate. We work with those fluctuations and with increased agricultural adoption, the increased supply will drive down the price and allow us to continue to scale. At the end of the day, there is a benefit to farmers and the environment. As we continue to source these materials for our products, in the long term we hope the cost will go down as supply increases over time with wider adoption.
As you mentioned, VF is also involved in using other materials originating from regenerative practices like, for instance, cotton, wool and leather. Where do single brands and the whole group using these materials stand?
As part of our science-based climate targets, we are highly focused on sourcing more sustainable materials to help meet our goals and achieving our Sustainable Materials Vision mentioned earlier. Seventy percent of VF’s environmental impact comes from raw material extraction, processing, and production, and therefore we are focused on sustainable material substitutions as key emission reduction opportunities.
In addition to our recent introduction of regeneratively sourced rubber into our products, we are already sourcing regeneratively grown cotton and regeneratively sourced leather, and in collaboration with New Zealand Merino, we launched the world’s first regenerative wool platform. As these programs scale and grow, these materials will be found in more and more of our products.
It’s hard to have an exact timeline at the moment, but per our Sustainable Materials Vision, we aim to source our top materials from regenerative, responsibly sourced renewable and recycled sources as a key pathway to meeting our 2030 science based targets.